"Whatever happens, we have got. The Maxim gun, and they have not."
—Joseph Hilaire Pierre René Belloc
(Swans - April 25, 2011) It was the great Simón Bolívar who said: "The United States appears to be destined by Providence to plague America with misery in the name of liberty."
As a citizen of the world it's becoming increasingly difficult for me not to think that the gods destined the West to plague the rest of mankind.
I have often wondered what it'd be like to be a citizen of a Western nation. What does it feel like to belong in a society that has such scant regard for human lives, and one that has such fickle understanding of basic human relationships?
What does it feel like to belong in a place where friendship fizzles away at the flick of fingers and allegiances are not even skin deep?
I know all about Lord Palmerston's assertion that "There are no permanent allies, no permanent friends, only permanent interests," and I have read George Orwell's classic, Nineteen Eighty-Four. But how would I feel to be led by people whom I see kissing somebody today and raining bombs on him tomorrow?
I really don't know.
I lived in the West and still visit occasionally, but the place remains as incomprehensible to me as though it exists in another planetary system. The mentality of the leadership/scholarship of the Western world remains enigmatic to me. And when you thought you have seen it all, they come up with a whopper that dwarfs everything you considered insane about them.
I was old enough to remember the Iran-Iraq war where, as is usual in any trouble spot in our wide world, the West took sides. They supported a rather nasty customer because they were still peeved by their loss in Iran -- like the country belonged to them. They goaded Saddam Hussein to spend a great part of his national income to buy their arms. They gleefully sold the dictator all he needed to give himself the illusion of grandeur.
A few years later, Saddam had an issue with the West's latest paramour, the rulers of British-invented Kuwait. With dizzying speed, the West changed sides. With alacrity, they assembled the coalition that raced with dispatch to destroy the weapons they sold to their erstwhile puppet.
Jules Henry wrote one very excellent essay I read during my school days. It was titled: "Social and Psychological Preparation for War," which was originally published in The Dialectics of Liberation (Penguin, 1968).
Mr. Henry informed us of the reason why it is very easy for the United States to wage wars at the drop of a hat, so to speak. He wrote:
It is clear, therefore, that in preparation for modern war an interdependent world political economy has within it sufficient conflicts of interest to make all nations potential enemies to all others. One of the "evolutionary achievements" of modern culture has been to make the idea that "anybody can be my enemy at any time" acceptable. A consequence of the definition of the enemy as part of one's own social system is a psychological predisposition to accept almost any nation at all as inimical when the government chooses to so define it.
I have on my computer system pictures of "democratic" leaders like Britain's Tony Blair, King Sarkozy, and Emperor Barack Obama meeting with and shaking the hands of Muammar Qaddafi. I also have pictures of Berlusconi kissing Qaddafi's hand.
That this same man, who today has been successfully morphed into an ogre, received warm embraces from many Western leaders is easily forgotten by Western pundits.
Today, without any compunction, without even batting an eyelid, Western leaders are falling over themselves to condemn the man whom they were welcoming like a bosom friend just a few months ago. Today, their planes are raining bombs on the North African nation.
They needed him then and he knew it. Having bankrupted themselves in fighting their insane wars, and to bolster their insatiable and gluttonous lifestyles, they needed infusions of raw cash, which Qaddafi happens to have in abundance.
So, those who today beat their chests as champions of human rights, very conveniently forgot all about the atrocities Qaddafi was said to have committed. The brutality he was alleged to have perpetrated was buried deep in the quest to separate him from some of his money. A donation to their so-called prestigious London School of Economics bought his son a Ph.D.
In a narrative that looks suspiciously like one scripted against Saddam Hussein, we are told that Qaddafi is brutalizing his own people who are fighting for freedom. And being responsible, freedom-loving democrats, Western leaders could not watch as the brutal dictator massacred his people.
But is this the true story and are the rebels in Libya what they are made to be by Western media? Are the guns, artillery, and tank-wielding people we see in Benghazi simple blokes agitating for the rights to protest?
Even though I did not study political science, I have enough sense to know that one of the prerogatives of states is to be the sole custodian of organized instruments of violence within its territory. For states, the question of who bears arms is existential.
Whether a democracy or a dictatorship, no country will ever countenance an armed insurrection -- as this directly threatens its corporate existence.
Nigeria provides ample evidence of what happens when a people pick up arms against a government. Whole villages like Odi were razed. Even the authorities in the U.S. went for broke when confronted in Waco, Texas.
This makes the position of the director of Human Rights Watch Emergencies, Peter Bouckaert, quite curious. Speaking about the Libyan rebels, he reportedly told South Africa's Business Day: "The protesters are nice, sincere people who want a better future for Libya."
Are we to accept that armed confrontation with legitimate governments now form part of human rights?
It is totally wrong to elongate the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt to Libya. The material conditions of Libya and of Libyans are totally different from those of its neighbours; they are vastly superior.
Corruption of the effete ruling elite in Tunisia and Egypt has created armies of unemployed youth who became shock-troopers in the protests marches. Nationals of Tunisia and Egypt have voted with their feet in large numbers and are to be found as economic refugees across Europe. Many of them are cramped into Clichy-sous-Bois and the other ghettoes of France.
In contrast, one would hardly find a Libyan outside of his country and definitely not as a refugee. It is wrong to look for economic misery or deprivation as the reason for the Libyan uprising.
Protest for basic freedom also does not fully explain the situation. As human beings, we all yearn for our freedom; we want to be free.
But even in the most democratic of countries, authorities set the parameters for protests. Going beyond these always invites the heaviest of sanctions, as witnessed during huge protests that usually trail G8 meetings.
What happens when protesters turned to armed insurrection and started hoisting flags of an ancient regime? What happens when local protesters are joined by trained British SAS commandoes, as witnessed in Libya?
One endearing picture I saw in both Tunisia and Egypt was the dignity of the protesters. In spite of the colossal violence Ben Ali and Mubarak troops visited upon them, the protesters refused to be goaded into mindless violence. None of the Tunisian or Egyptian protesters raised old flags (the Egyptians could have raised the flag of King Farouk). Their refusal to stray from the honorable path lends great credibility to their struggle as one of authentic indigenous uprising.
What we saw in Libya, by contrast, is that those who genuinely hated Qaddafi (nothing wrong there), went beyond simple protest. We saw how the protestors pandered to tribal and racial sentiments. And we saw them in full-fledged armed rebellion.
In both Tunisia and Egypt, the Arab joined their black compatriots to confront their common enemies -- hated dictators.
In Libya, we saw the rebels displaying gross racism. We saw them vociferating loudly about Qaddafi using "African Mercenary" like there are no blacks in the Libyan army or government. They even forgot that they are also Africans. We saw many innocent black Africans killed and mutilated.
The protesters in both Tunisia and Egypt were successful largely because they refused to play into the hands of their dictators. If they had picked up arms, it's doubtful the military would have remained neutral. If the protesters in those countries had chosen the path of a face-off with the army, the outcome would definitely have been different.
Another salient point we should not forget in a hurry is the emergence of a council in the Libyan rebellion. This is very important, perhaps more important than the issue of the flag, as it suggests an organized action rather than spontaneous uprising by oppressed people.
In Tunisia and Egypt, to make their revolutions an authentic people-led revolt, the protesters flatly refused to accept any form of leadership. Opportunistic politicians that ran home in both countries were firmly put in their place when the youth refused to acknowledge their relevance. In Egypt, Mohamed ElBaradei withdrew in some humiliation when the youth rejected his leadership posturing.
In Libya, a National Council was formed and a leadership put in place led by a man named Mahmoud Jibril. This is where things get interesting. Mahmoud Jibril is a man with some interesting background.
Prior to working with Qaddafi, Jibril studied and taught political science at the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the 1980s where he, allegedly, worked closely with agencies of the US government. He also happens to have very high level contact with both the French and the British governments. In Libya, Jibril worked closely with Qaddafi and headed Libya's biggest think tank, the National Economic Development Board (NEDB). The board was created by US and UK consulting firms to facilitate US/UK investment and trade interests in Libya. See this PDF document from the United Nations Public Administration Network.
In the narrative of the West, Jibril was a natural democrat intending to improve the conditions of some long-suffering Libyan people.
In truth, like most Western-sponsored agencies, the NEDB's sole aim is to promote Western interests, steal the resources, and spread poverty, illiteracy, and sickness in the already poor countries.
The history of Western agencies in the poor countries does not make sterling reading.
And to the fascinating role of France in the ongoing drama. So, the president of France, the dwarfish and totally irritating King Sarkozy woke up one morning in his Élysée palace and discovered how badly Libya needed democracy and human rights. At least that is the narrative the West is peddling. This, of course, is arrant nonsense.
Any number of Africans will attest that France remains one of the most hostile countries to African immigrants. The country that continues to pursue the most wretched neo-colonial agenda in Africa is also the one that finds it most difficult to extend any form of hospitality to Africans.
What are Africans in France, who daily have their freedom and rights trampled upon by rabidly racist French police, supposed to think when they see French killing machines raining fire on an African country? See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZGK33rkk6E
One of Qaddafi's sons, Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, recently made the revelation that his now maligned father sponsored the election of President Sarkozy. Nothing new there when one considers the fact that France has always looked towards its colonies (mind you, I didn't say former), to fund its politics.
Another important fact that gets deeply buried in the cacophonous noises from the Western media is the small question of French investments in Libya.
From a WikiLeaks-published US State Department cable dated 6/4/2009, we read the following: "1.(C/NF) Summary: Libya's National Oil Corporation (NOC) renegotiated the terms of its production sharing agreements with France's Total and its partners in Libya (Germany's Wintershall and Norway's StatoilHydro), adjusting the existing stand-alone contracts to bring them into compliance with the Exploration and Production Sharing Agreement (EPSA) rubric. The renegotiation of Total's contract is of a piece with the NOC's effort to renegotiate existing contracts to increase the Libya's share of crude oil production... the renegotiated agreements could adversely impact his revenue stream. End Summary."
We now come to the mother of all questions: why is it that the West can only offer violence and mayhem in place of diplomacy and the peaceful resolution of conflict?
There must be something fundamentally wrong in a society where people cannot think beyond raining fire and brimstone on their enemies. Rather than destroy Libya's infrastructure, the West could have used the same military machines to compel both parties to a conference, but that will not gel with the militaristic mindset of the West.
Ironically, it is the same people that go around the world preaching the doctrines of "love your neighbor," and "turn the other cheek."
The assault on Libya offers important lessons for Africa, and it is to be hoped that African leaders wake up from their stupor and start to smell the coffee.
First, they need to remove the blinders from their eyes and start to think in realpolitik like the rest of the world. It is a jungle out there and it's time our African leaders start taking into serious consideration how they can begin to take good care of African interests.
For far too long, our leaders have been bewitched by the smiles of their so-called friends in the West. Even an old fox like Qaddafi fell for the charm offensive of those who today are bombing his country.
To dull his senses and vigilance, they lavished him with smiles and high protocol. He allowed them to sweet-talk him into dismantling his military capabilities. For the offer of "integration into the International Community," he dismantled his putative nuclear and chemical industries. Today, he must be ruing his stupidity.
Another lesson our leaders in Africa often fail to learn is the issue of taking care of their security. It remains sad that outside of South Africa, no African nation has a military capability that counts for anything on the global balance of power.
It is time African leaders also question their role at the United Nations. It should be intolerable that whilst France and Britain (with populations of 62 and 61 million respectively) wield veto powers at the Security Council, Africa, with its one billion people, remains without veto. The reform progress has dragged on for far too long, a withdrawal or threat thereof will concentrate minds on getting our continent at least one veto.
Whereas the tiniest of European nations is fully armed and capable of defending itself, with NATO acting as a backup, African leaders continue to think that by awarding contracts for Western military surpluses that are good only for "independence" parade and to intimidate opponents, they are defending their countries.
African leaders can learn a lesson or two from North Korea. United Nations' resolution or not, no country in the world is prepared to take on the Koreans because they know that it is not going to be an easy ride. The North Koreans are not going to be sitting ducks.
Qaddafi reportedly spent US$25 billion in the last ten years on military expenditure. That's good money that could have been spent on building viable indigenous defense industries and systems.
If he had, the result would not be the humiliation Africa is forced to witness today.
A voice from Africa worth hearing... Please consider a
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About the Author
Femi Akomolafe (see his profile on Swans) is a computer consultant, a writer and social commentator, an avid reader, and a passionate Pan-Africanist who lives in Kasoa, Ghana. Femi is known to hold strong opinions and to express them in the strongest terms possible. As he likes to remind his readers: "As my Yoruba people say: Oju orun teye fo, lai fara gbara. It means that the sky is big enough for all the birds to fly without touching wings." Femi Akomolafe's views, opinions, and thoughts can be accessed on the blog he maintains: http://ekitiparapo.blogspot.com/. (back)