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Tracing Colonel Gaddafi’s dubious history of collusion with Western interests, Horace Campbell stresses that current developments in Libya must push towards a people-centred democratisation of the country’s society.

The news of the massacre of innocent citizens of Libya by the dying regime of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi reminded the world of a number of basic facts. The first is that dictators everywhere are weak and require brute force to remain in power. The second is that an organised and dedicated people can enter the political stage and bring about revolutionary situations. Third is the new awareness that once the people gain confidence and the wave of revolutionary energy sweeps through Africa, no external force can contain this energy and no foreign military intervention can derail liberation. And fourth is the reality that money cannot guarantee political loyalty for long. It is for these reasons that in the last seven days, not even the US$150 billion of foreign reserves controlled by Gaddafi and his sons can save the regime from a people who want basic freedoms. These points have been driven home by the rapid disintegration of the governments in North Africa and the Middle East with the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions leading the way to a new era of political change in world politics. It is apt to term the Libyan uprising a revolutionary situation to distinguish this first phase of the Libyan rebellion from the robust forms of self-organisation that had matured inside of Tunisia and Egypt.

From Ethiopia to Gabon and from Djibouti to Yemen and Bahrain, the stirrings of the oppressed have exposed those governments that used the so-called ‘War on Terror’ as a smokescreen to exploit the mass of the people. In every country of Africa and the Middle East, dictators are calling on each other to dust off manuals on repression as people defy the weapons and torture to demand a new mode of economics and politics. The struggles for freedom in Libya and the dying spasms of Gaddafi are particularly noteworthy because Gaddafi and his Western backers had calculated that this dictator could use the billions of dollars from hydrocarbons to not only buy weapons but also to seek to bribe all and sundry. On Tuesday 22 February the Security Council of the United Nations expressed ‘grave concerns’ about the mass murders that were being carried out by paid militia persons as the permanent members of the same UN Security Council rushed to cover their tracks in relation to their military support for Gaddafi. The Arab League expelled Gaddafi while numerous governments in Europe lined up behind cameras to condemn the killing of innocent civilians. Belatedly, after the Arab League expelled Libya, the chairperson of the AU Commission, Jean Ping, expressed ‘deep concern’ about what was going on in Libya. It is in the face of the timid position of the leaders of the African states that this statement wants to forthrightly express solidarity with the peoples of Libya and their demand to end the Gaddafi police state.


We seek to distinguish between the peoples of Africa who have been oppressed by Gaddafi and his allies and those mercenaries who are now on the streets killing innocent civilians. One can understand the anger of the citizens of Libya, who are being killed in cold blood, but it is urgent that in the process of a rebellion, xenophobia and racist ideas are not brought into the opposition to Muammar Gaddafi. Instinctively, Libyans who are mourning the more than 1,000 persons who have been massacred will curse those Africans who supported Gaddafi, but it is in moments like these that those fighting for freedom in Libya should remember that Africans in Chad, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Uganda did not blame all Libyans when Gaddafi supported genocidal violence and the worst dictators in Africa.

Because of the level of repression in the police state of Gaddafi, the levels of political organisation by the Libyan working class were underdeveloped. This social and political limitation meant that Gaddafi benefitted from chauvinism among differing regions, to the point that many Libyans identified with Europe and accused Gaddafi of squandering money in Africa. This anti-African posture was accentuated by the reports that Gaddafi had recruited mercenaries from ‘African countries’ to repress the people, as if Libya was not an African state.

It is in the midst of this confusion it is necessary to say just as how Tanzanians did not classify all Libyans as supporters of Idi Amin of Uganda when Gaddafi used his mercenaries to back up that dictator in invading Tanzania in 1979 so it is also necessary to distinguish between poor African migrant workers in Libya and mercenaries and military entrepreneurs who are the leftovers from the military adventures of Gaddafi. This kind of clarity is necessary so that Africans in Libya and in other parts of the continent can distinguish between the oppressed and their oppressors in order to form the solidarity that could bring about true revolutionary transformation of relations of peoples across the Nile and the Sahara.

As the flames of revolutionary energy fan across North Africa, not even the bombing of cities and shooting of innocent civilians from helicopter gunships can deter the people from taking to the streets to demand the removal of the regime. Unlike in Tunisia and Egypt, the revolutionary demands of the people in motion had been distorted because Gaddafi himself had distorted the meaning of revolution and socialism in Libya. This distortion is most manifest by the fact that in a country with billions of dollars in reserves, there was more than 20 per cent of the population unemployed, with another large percentage underemployed. This unemployment existed in a country with close to 2 million foreign workers, as foreign workers are easier to control because of the insecurity associated with being migrant workers.

Forty-two years after Muammar Gaddafi seized power in the coup d’état against King Idris in 1969, the form of personalised rule of Gaddafi and his family meant that the spoils of the capitalist state did not trickle down to the mass of 6.7 million Libyans. In a state sitting on one of the largest deposits of hydrocarbons in Africa, Libya had squandered the wealth of the society as Gaddafi and his children recycled the wealth to Western arms manufacturers and financial interests while the standard of living of the people remained very low. Libya is supposed to be the country in Africa with the highest Human Development Index ranking in Africa. Yet, even with significant oil reserves, the wealth of Libya did little for the peoples of Libya since only a small clique around Gaddafi and his family benefited from the billions of dollars of oil revenue. Gaddafi and his ‘revolutionary committees’ did very little to address the deep exploitation and marginalisation of the peoples of Libya, especially among the country's largely young population. It is this squandering of the wealth that serves as an abject lesson that wealth does not come from money, but from wealth creation arising from the sweat of workers and the transformation of the economic relations in society.


With the knowledge of the vast oil reserves of Libya, Western states competed to gain contracts to exploit this wealth. In order to be at this table of looting, the George W. Bush administration worked hard to regularise relations with Libya, using all of its diplomatic clout to take Libya off the list of countries ‘sponsoring state terrorism’. Gaddafi was a willing accomplice in this manoeuvring so that at precisely the moment when peace and justice forces were opposing the US war against the peoples of Iraq, Gaddafi welcomed Britain and then the US in the renewal of diplomatic relations. In tandem with the US rush to compete with members of the European Union who were active in Libya, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) showered praise on Gaddafi as Libya’s relationship with Western capitalist firms deepened after UN sanctions were lifted in 2003. While France toyed with the idea of a Mediterranean Union to compete with US military penetration of North Africa, Gaddafi was fast becoming a close ally of the United States as Condoleezza Rice flew into Libya to proclaim that ‘nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests’. As a representative of the Bush faction of the US rulers, this faction had their eyes on Libya’s oil reserves, which are estimated to be 41.46 billion barrels with gas reserves at 1.419 trillion cubic metres. With four rounds of exploration agreements completed since 2004, those in the energy business understood that proven reserves will double or even triple in future.

The British were supplicant and carried out the necessary political and diplomatic gymnastics so that the massive oil polluter of the Deep Horizon infamy of British oil giant BP could push on with a US$900 million exploration contract in Libya. Yet, while France, Britain and Germany, as well as all members of the EU, sought to solve their unemployment problems by taking jobs away from young Libyans, the closest relationship of Gaddafi was with the quasi-fascist government of Italy. The alliance between Italian ‘entrepreneurs’ of the Berlusconi ilk and the elite elements around Gaddafi ran deep, to the point where the wealth from Libya went to prop up Italian capitalist firms such as carmaker Fiat, banking group UniCredit and even the Juventus football team. Italian oil giant Eni has a €14 billion investment programme in the country, as well as supply contracts stretching to 2047. Overall Libyan oil accounts for around 27 per cent of Italy’s consumption. On top of this economic relationship, Gaddafi agreed to act as the police for the European Union, arresting and detaining Africans who believed that the freedom of labour should be the same as the freedom of capital. Muammar Gaddafi agreed to keep African migrants from leaving Libya’s frontiers for Italy, and to readmit to Libya, for detention and torture, those intercepted in international waters. In order to cover up this cosy relationship with Berlusconi, Libya attached this agreement to the reparations of cultural objects and signed a friendship pact with one of the most conservative governments in Western Europe. Italy and Libya pledged to increase cooperation in ‘fighting terrorism, organised crime, drug trafficking and illegal immigration’.


It must be reiterated that it was the same moment when Gaddafi was signing agreements to be the gatekeepers for the EU that this same leader was campaigning to become the kings of kings in the African Union. I want to draw attention to my submission last year when I wrote that despite the statements of Gaddafi that he supported African unity, his leadership represented an obstacle to the future unity of the peoples of Africa. I then drew attention to the fact that Gaddafi assisted Idi Amin of Uganda to divert attention from the liberation struggles in Southern Africa and that the Libyan government had been complicit in the mass killings in Uganda between 1972–79. When Idi Amin did invade Tanzania in 1978, Libya dispatched elite armed elements to support the invasion. When Tanzania pushed back the invasion and defeated the joint Libyan–Ugandan forces, Tanzania captured Libyan troops. In classic mercenary style, Libya wanted to pay for the return of the soldiers, but Tanzania returned the soldiers without asking for money.

Gaddafi continued to make mischief in all parts of Africa using the money left over from dealings with Europeans to spread insecurity and violence in all parts of Africa. Whether it was in Liberia, Sierra Leone or Chad, military entrepreneurs who worked with Western arms manufacturers to destabilise Africa worked hand-in-glove with Gaddafi. Despite this record of destruction, Gaddafi had bought some respect by giving material support to the African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa and the South-West People’s Organisation (SWAPO) of Namibia. It was this relationship that earned the ire of the West and in 1986, at the height of the Cold War, the US military under Ronald Reagan bombed Libya. This bombing increased the stature of Libya with the cooling of relationship between the West and Gaddafi. The bombing of the Pan Am plane over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 further deepened the rift between Libya and some of the states of the West. With the impending fall of the Libyan government, citizens of the world may yet find out the truth behind this sordid and deadly affair of the Lockerbie bombing.

Nelson Mandela worked assiduously to end the stand-off between Libya and the West over the Lockerbie bombings. It was after this intervention by Mandela that sanctions were gradually lifted and Western oil companies began to aggressively compete again in the Libyan oil sector. It was after this that Gaddafi called the extra-ordinary meeting of the Organisation of African Unity and set in motion the convergence of forces that resulted in the Constitutive Act of the African Union. From the moment this Constitutive Act came into force, Gaddafi worked with those elements who wanted to turn the African Union into a club of dictators. It must be clarified here that, contrary to reports from many quarters, Gaddafi is not the original champion of the vision of a United States of Africa. Neither did his brand of Pan-Africanism capture the essence of the kind of grassroots Pan-Africanism that had been envisioned for the unity of African peoples and for the uplifting of the dignity of African peoples. When visionaries like Kwame Nkrumah and Cheikh Anta Diop championed the idea of a federated African state in the 1960s and 1970s, they did not envision one which would be ruled by corrupt dictators and an arrogant king of kings.

Gaddafi himself paid the dues of dictators who kept large Swiss bank accounts while they did not pay their dues. It was because Gaddafi used some of the wealth to contribute to the running of the AU that Libya emerged as one of the top five contributors to the operational budget of the African Union. The top five were Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Nigeria and South Africa.

With the fall of two core members of this club that dominated the AU, Egypt and Libya, the door is now more open for a people-oriented African unity that starts from the interest of the people. Gaddafi himself was afraid of the cultural and political influence of the Nigerian peoples in a democratised African Union, hence his call for a breaking-up of Nigeria. This call was a desperate effort to gain leverage in a society that was not holding out the begging bowl to Libya. At the start of the uprisings, Reuters news agency exposed a list to show the countries that owed Libya more than US$3 billion dollars.

Below are details of the loans set out in the document, which was drafted by the Libyan General People’s Committee for International Cooperation, or foreign ministry:

* Amounts in millions of US dollars unless otherwise stated
** Loans not yet due for repayment

One can see from this list that a dictator such as Omar al-Bashir of Sudan was one of the principal benefactors of the loans from Gaddafi, and this was at the same time that Gaddafi was pursuing this offensive to buy support within the African Union.

Western news agencies used the antics of Gaddafi to discredit the AU. But pan-Africanists at the grassroots worked hard to give meaning to the AU by building networks among the various constituencies of Africans who wanted to build a genuine union of peoples across borders. African women who were fighting for their rights joined with workers and other activists to build a constituency within the AU for the voices of the people. One major battle was manifest in the struggles for the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa. After the Constitutive Act came into force in 2002, on 26 October 2005 there was another milestone in the AU when the protocol on the rights of women received its 15th ratification, meaning the protocol entered into force on 25 November 2005. This marked a milestone in the protection and promotion of women’s rights in Africa, creating new rights for women in terms of international standards. Solidarity for African Women’s Rights (SOAWR), a coalition of groups across Africa in which the Africa regional office of Equality Now plays a leading role, has been campaigning for the ratification, domestication and popularisation of the protocol since April 2004 after learning that the pace of ratification was very slow and concern was raised that it might take years for the protocol to come into force unless member states were held publicly and consistently accountable for their promises to ratify it. Activists such as the late Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem embraced the AU’s Economic, Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC) to facilitate the deepening and widening of civil society engagement with the AU. The ECOSOCC, which is an official civil society general assembly of the AU, was launched in September 2008, in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Its membership includes trade unions, non-governmental organisations, women’s groups, human rights campaigners and anti-poverty campaigners.

It was in the face of a robust ECOSSOC that Gaddafi declared to his friends such as Mugabe, Museveni and Meles that ‘revolutionaries should never retire’. It is with this kind of thinking that the African Union elevated Equatorial Guinea’s ‘big man’, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, to be chairperson of the African Union. Obiang Nguema is considered to be at the head of one of the most corrupt, ethnocentric, oppressive and undemocratic states in the world, and the fact that he is currently the chairperson of the AU is a clear statement on why the AU has not condemned the violence and crimes against humanity in Libya. Equatorial Guinea is like one big prison for the people, with one of the worst human rights records in the world, consistently ranking among the ‘worst of the worst’. Abuses under Obiang have included ‘unlawful killings by security forces; government-sanctioned kidnappings; systematic torture of prisoners and detainees by security forces; life-threatening conditions in prisons and detention facilities; impunity; arbitrary arrest, detention, and incommunicado detention’. There is no freedom of speech, or freedom of assembly, as Obiang recycles the oil wealth of Equatorial Guinea back to Europe and the USA.

This is the climate of dictatorship where looters and killers like Gaddafi are all over Africa, and as I write there is a major debate in Kenya as killers seek the support of the AU for the deferral of those politicians who were implicated in the 2008 post-election violence in Kenya.

Gaddafi feels that he is in good company when he unleashed mass violence against the people, but the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions had changed the political calculus in Africa. While Africa is silent, Gaddafi goes back to those elements that he supported in the past to recruit mercenaries to suppress the uprising of the Libyan people. It is in the midst of this uprising where the forms of solidarity have to be very sophisticated and clear so that the machinations of foreign incursions are not engineered in an opportunistic manner to impose a solution on post-Gaddafi Libya that could rob Africa of the kind of revolutionary breakthroughs in Tunisia and Egypt.

African civil society and workers across Africa must raise their voices against the likes of Obiang of Equatorial Guinea and Gaddafi of Libya. These forces must declare that Obiang is unfit to be the chairperson of the AU if Article 4(h) of the Constitutive Act should have meaning. This article gives the right of the AU to ‘intervene in a member state pursuant to a decision of the assembly in respect of grave circumstances, namely war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity’. Neither Obiang nor his ilk in the AU apply this article to the grave situation in Libya as long as they know that the revolutionary wave might be headed to their own domain soon.


Peace activists around the world should be ready to organise protests to expose the complicity and hypocrisy of Western powers as the Gaddafi regime attempts to use lethal force against the challenge to its rule. With the rise of popular protest against neoliberalism globally – as we are witnessing inside the United States with massive demonstrations in Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio – the US militarists and barons of Wall Street are on the defensive. Despite the isolation and repression of the people of Libya under Gaddafi, after one week of protest people have learnt enough from the Tunisian and Egyptian phases of the revolution to neutralise the armed forces of Gaddafi. This neutralisation of the armed forces means that Gaddafi and his sons are isolated. ‘The troops that remain loyal to the regime are showing no mercy in their suppression of the uprising.’ The shooting is not designed to disperse the protesters,’ one Tripoli resident told The New York Times. ‘It is meant to kill them.’

In the face of the new organisational techniques of the people in rebellion, Western Europe and North America shudder when they think of a popular and democratic government getting its hands on US$150 billion of foreign reserves. It is this reality along with the massive oil and gas reserves of Libya that has precipitated the warning of Fidel Castro that NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) was preparing to invade Libya. In the midst of a capitalist depression when workers across Europe and the United States are battling the forces of austerity and the enrichment of billionaires, such an invasion would be the perfect diversion to whip up racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia. Already the Western media are declaring that the exodus from Libya will be of biblical proportions. News reports such as this whip up hysteria in Europe.

For centuries Libya, like Egypt, stood as a bridge between peoples and civilisations. Since the 7th century, when peoples from the Arabian Peninsula invaded North Africa, there has been a strained relationship with those invaders who assumed ideas of superiority over Africans. It is the chauvinism of these forces that has led to the intense cleavages within the Pan-African movement over issues of Arab ‘imperialism’. For a short moment, Nasser linked the fortunes of independence in Egypt with the fortunes of decolonisation in Africa and in Palestine. Gaddafi sought to emulate Nasser without the kind of popular support that Nasser enjoyed. Isolated and wallowing in oil wealth, Gaddafi was open to manipulation by the West, who understood very early that his brand of ‘radicalism’ and Green Book revolution was no threat to capitalism.

Now that there is the possibility of the democratisation of Libyan society, progressive persons everywhere must stand in solidarity with the peoples of Libya against the repression of Gaddafi while opposing all forms of divisive manipulations. Progressives in Europe and North America want to take Libya, Egypt and Tunisia out of Africa and term the process an Arab awakening. There are many in North Africa who may call themselves Arab, but as Firoze Manji rightly corrected some progressives in Europe, ‘Egypt is an African country.’ These progressives must understand the geography of revolution as it unfolds because the union of the peoples of Africa is one of the goals of this phase of the revolution. After the quagmire and killings of Afghanistan and Iraq, the last thing Africa needs is another war. And yet, if war comes, the war itself will sharpen the revolutionary pace in Africa. The rebellion in Libya has been inserted into the revolutionary moment in Tunisia and Egypt. The people of Libya must work with all of the peoples of Africa so that the rebellion takes on a revolutionary character.


* Horace Campbell is a teacher and writer. Professor Campbell's website is His latest book is 'Barack Obama and 21st Century Politics: A Revolutionary Moment in the USA', published by Pluto Press.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.