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Correcting Western misunderstandings of Africa
BRQ Network

The West sees the Libyan uprising from a neocolonial and Eurocentric point of view, argues Jenn Jagire, and that is why it underestimates how much support Gaddafi still has.

Although the Western media has sustained negative and biased reports about the Libyan uprising, they are doing it from a neocolonial and Eurocentric view. Literally, they think as Europeans and the style of their thoughts is not very different from that of the 1884-1885 Berlin Conference, where European powers and their populations plotted to venture into Africa, to colonise, gain raw material, rule over Africans and plunder most of their resources to be taken to Europe for its development at the expense of African countries.

Basically, no country in Africa escaped colonialism. Even in Ethiopia – which the Eurocentric writers have written about as having not been colonised – there was some tacit colonisation in that the Europeans powers gave support to the Amharic Emperor to rule over other nationalities, for example, the Oromo, Anywak, or the Lou Nuer, among others, against their will. Africa as a whole, then, was colonised because of the greed of Europe. As Europeans ventured into Africa, they claimed that they were civilising ‘savage Africans’ even though earlier than that, from 1500, they had been trading with Africans until they decided to capture and deport millions of them across the Atlantic to go and work as slaves on plantations owned by European entrepreneurs and aristocrats. Some of the slaves were actually owned by the Anglican and Catholic churches in the New World. (The White House, for example, is said to have been built by Black African slave labour).

Moreover, the country we know today as Libya, did not escape colonisation because Italy moved in to colonise it. Before Gaddafi ever was, there was King Idriss, who was serving European interests as long as they left him on the throne. The coming of Gaddafi changed all that. Gaddafi plotted the downfall of Idriss for some time. For example, Gaddafi strategically joined the army and went for training at the elite Sandhurst Military Academy in England. Secondly, Gaddafi entered Benghazi University and read law. Gaddafi also meditated on and studied Machiavelli in preparation for the overthrow of King Idriss. It so happened that the intelligence of King Idriss was quite weak and he had not expected his imminent downfall. When King Idriss was holidaying in Italy, Gaddafi moved swiftly, together with the army officers that he had mobilised, to take power in a bloodless coup. Gaddafi also moved swiftly after the discovery of oil in the country to nationalise the oil wells, effectively putting it in the hands of the Libyans, which without doubt, was welcomed by the citizens. Before that it is said, Libya was as poor as any African country, with only desert dates for export. However, later under Gaddafi, Libya became an oil exporter. The organisation of leadership under people’s committees was also Gaddafi’s idea. It worked and dissent proved unpopular initially. The dissenters were propagating for Western style democracy, which was largely ignored by the majority of Libyans who were rather content with Gaddafi’s leadership for some time.

Today the Western countries are calling the anti-Gaddafi rebels ‘revolutionaries’. It is rather hypocritical to see Ronald Reagan’s slogan of yesteryears once more brought to the more to depict Gaddafi as ‘The mad dog of the Middle East’. Moreover, the flag that the rebels are hoisting is that of King Idriss who was overthrown more than 40 years earlier. How exactly revolutionary are the rebels at this juncture? The rebels are also said to hunt for people with darker skins, or Africans, accusing them of being ‘mercenaries’ for Gaddafi in a racist agenda previously mainly common in the West. In their fight for Western-style democracy in Libya, it is glaring that the Western countries also underestimated the influence Gaddafi’s anti-Westernism on sections of Libyans. Western countries, particularly the UK and USA, erroneously thought that Gaddafi, as a tyrant without any support, would fall within three to four days of the rebellion. The Western propaganda about ‘peaceful protestors’ standing up against Gaddafi was equally delusional. The protestors are not peaceful civilians but an armed insurrection that has sought to move and conquer or dislodge Gaddafi from Tripoli. USA, already overstretched to the limit with its army in Iraq and Afghanistan, would make another serious blunder in invading Libya in Africa.

Moreover, concerning the African Union (AU), Bill Richardson, now portrayed as former US ambassador to UN, has made another delusional statement on CNN that because African countries have well-trained air forces and armies, they would take action against Gaddafi. Looking at Bill Richardson’s face, it is to be remembered that he has been the immediate former governor of New Mexico who attempted to run as president. He was investigated for tax evasion. Therefore, Richardson’s statement depicts him as a neocolonialist who thinks that African countries are there at the disposal of the powerful, to be used to serve the interests of USA, when the US army is stretched thin and too busy in other countries, other than at home.

It is also amazingly hypocritical for the Western friends to start calling Gaddafi a dictator while they have been doing business with him until a few weeks ago. If Gaddafi is a dictator for staying long in power, in a position that Gaddafi himself describes as ‘honorary’ then he, Gaddafi, has the legitimate right to question how long the Queen of England has been on the throne. Moreover, the Libyan type of democracy of ‘rulership’ through the ‘people’s committees’ should not categorically be dismissed in favour of Western democracy or Greek democracy. Why should we always follow Western democracy to the letter when it is prescribed by the West and imposed on us all the time? The people who revolted in Benghazi are also using the ‘people’s committee’ style of leadership.

The other day, the British foreign minister, proverbially named Hague, admitted that he had covertly sent some SAS officers to escort a junior British diplomat to make contact with the rebels in Benghazi. Unfortunately, they were arrested and exposed, thereby bringing much embarrassment to the British Conservative government. This gesture has something to tell if the council in Benghazi is actually revolutionary or not.

On the other hand, Libya is an oil-rich country with per capita wealth higher than or rivalling that of USA. The uprising in Libya has forced oil prices higher in the West. The West has thought of dealing swiftly with Libya on behalf of the rebels to stop Gaddafi forces from ‘killing civilians’. This kind of swift action was not carried out when the Interahamwe were committing genocide in Rwanda or eastern Congo. This kind of swift military action has not taken place in Somalia, a country that everybody has shunned except for the AU countries of Uganda and Burundi. Both Rwanda and Somalia have no operational oil wells where oil companies from the West could invest in by sending expatriates to work there.

Again, viewing the exodus from Libya, it is quite proper to say that Libya has been offering employment to hundreds of thousands of foreign workers under Gaddafi. These people’s employment has been brought to an abrupt end as they go back to their countries having lost lucrative jobs. Libya employed hundreds of thousands of Egyptian workers, Bangladeshis, Americans, Britons etc. No wonder the West wanted a quick solution, either the quick overthrow of Gaddafi and his immediate replacement by the ‘Libyan National Council’ or a democratically elected government modeled on Western principles. Such a quick solution will be hard to come by immediately. In the meantime, more blood is being spilled and all the Western countries can do immediately is to pull their nationals out of Libya.

Meanwhile, Africans must say something about the butchering of Black or dark skinned people christened ‘mercenaries’ by the Libyan rebels. We know that Libya has a distinct population of Libyan Tuaregs who are Black and are citizens of Libya. The Tuaregs can be found as well in Algeria, Morocco, Mali and other countries in north-west Africa. Similarly, there are Black Libyans whose mother tongue is Arabic, just like the Nubians of Egypt who now mainly speak Arabic. Should the Libyan rebels continue executing Black people because of the colour of their skin? Should Africans get butchered in Libya because Gaddafi ditched pan-Arabism for Pan-Africanism?

Gaddafi, it is said, has apologised for Arab slave trade over Africans, whereas no European power has apologised for their slave trade in Africans. For us, who are of African descent, whom would we rather forgive? The one who apologises or the one who refuses responsibility for the enslavement of Africans whose legacy has evolved into entrenched racism? ‘Kiri Mutu’ is a Ugandan African proverb that says that it is the wearer of the shoe that knows where it pinches most. Tuaregs and other Africans in Libya today are targeted as ‘mercenaries’ fighting for Gaddafi. Africans guest workers should not be butchered by Libyan rebels.


* Jenn Jagire is a doctoral student, from an anticolonial and antiracist standpoint.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.