Like in the story of the elephant and the six blind men, slain Libyan strongman Col Muammar Gaddafi, came off as a different person to different people. Most of his countrymen knew him as thin-skinned dictator who broached no dissent. To the West he was bloodthirsty narcissist who meant them harm. The late US President Ronald Reagan famously called Gaddafi “The mad dog of the Middle East”.
Gaddafi the gift giver
But to many Africans, Gaddafi was a hero on a par with any the continent has ever produced. It’s not uncommon to see people on social media use his likeness as their profile picture or even post comments about how his removal from power and murder robbed Africa of its best leader. That Gaddafi for some people shares the same exalted place in the pantheon of great African heroes. Many on the continent, till this day, mention him in the same breath as Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba and, yes, even Nelson Mandela. Why is that? Part of the reason for it was Gaddafi was never afraid to stick it to the West. For obvious and legitimate reasons, there’s a deep reservoir of anti-imperialist feeling in Africa and Gaddafi knew how to play to those feelings, whether at the United Nations (UN) or when he held court at African Union (AU) meetings.
The other way in which Gaddafi earned the affection of many on his continent was his reputation for showering people with gifts. The documentary “Mad Dog: The Secret World of Gaddafi” features many tales of people receiving wards of cash after meeting “The Brother Leader” . His largesse wasn’t just in the form of valuable currency either. He also showed his esteem in other more spectacular and permanent ways. For example, he built Uganda and Tanzania the largest and second largest mosques in the region.
Many on the continent, till this day, mention him in the same breath as Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba and, yes, even Nelson Mandela.
The Real Muammar Gaddafi
Though he banged endlessly on about Pan-Africanism, Gaddafi at his core was an unrepentant racist who considered Africans to be beneath him. It is not hard to find out the truth about how Gaddafi felt about Africans. It is all on the public record. For example, during an official trip to Rome in August,2010 Gaddafi very openly warned the Europeans about letting “ignorant” Africans through their borders because the “barbarians” will destroy their “advanced” continent.
“We don’t know what will happen, what will be the reaction of the white and Christian Europeans faced with this influx of starving and ignorant Africans,” he said.
“We don’t know if Europe will remain an advanced and united continent or if it will be destroyed, as happened with the barbarian invasions,” he added.
According to the BBC, Gaddafi made all these repulsive comments while standing next to then Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
It is not hard to find out the truth about how Gaddafi felt about Africans. It is all on the public record.
“Bring me that black slave”
If you’re still not convinced that Gaddafi was a racist in his heart of hearts, here’s another account for you. This one is by Gaddafi’s former chief of Protocol Nuri Al Mismari. Mismari had this to say to the Editor in Chief of Al Hayat Ghassan Charbel about how Gaddafi used to speak about African leaders behind closed doors.
“Imagine Gaddafi used to say to me. Bring me that black slave in reference to the president of an African state who was preparing to visit him,” said Mismari.
“And when the president would leave, he would say: The slave is gone. Give him something.”
When Charbel asked the former Chief of Protocol if Gaddafi despised Africans he replied: “Yes he did”. “Even those whose compliments pleased him. He described them as idiots,” said Mismari of his former boss.
King of Africa
Gaddafi’s contempt for Africans was so total that the continent wasn’t even his first choice of where he wanted to reign as King. He first tried out the charm offensive he later used in Africa in the Middle East. His efforts went nowhere because many leaders in the region saw he was unhinged and dangerous.
When Gaddafi failed in the Middle East, he turned to Africa. He wanted African leaders to bow before him as their self-appointed King. The romance was good for both sides at first but then Gaddafi bared his teeth and revealed his true self. African leaders soon learnt that Gaddafi was dangerous if he didn’t get his way. He unleashed the forces of hell in West Africa through surrogates like former Liberian leader Charles Taylor who was trained and funded by him.
Jendayi Frazer (born 1961), the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, has said that during her stint at the US State Department, several African leaders confided in her that Gaddafi tried to kill them. In the end, even African leaders turned their backs on him. But Gaddafi would not relent. He saw becoming the “King of Kings of Africa” as his heavenly ordained right.
He wanted African leaders to bow before him as their self-appointed King. The romance was good for both sides at first but then Gaddafi bared his teeth and revealed his true self.
So he changed tact. Instead of African leaders, he paid off traditional leaders from across the continent to crown him king and they did. Months before he was overthrown and killed, he was crowned the “King of Kings of the United States of Africa. The ceremony was attended and officiated by a motley crew of traditional leaders from across Africa, some of dubious reputation. Kenya, for example, was represented by Kamlesh Pattni, a disgraced swindler turned preacher.
In the end, Gaddafi bought what he wanted but even he must have known his victory was hollow.
Some myths are harder to kill than others. Don’t let this be one of them. Gaddafi was a racist. Praising him as an African hero is a sign his own desperate myth-making worked better than even he planned.