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It's nonsensical for Gaddafi to be preaching the theory of establishing a 'United States of Africa' to people, when Libya makes it impossible or difficult for them to interact with one another in the flesh, writes Cameron Duodu.

On 24 March 2010, I published an article on the website of UK newspaper The Guardian in which I reported that Colonel Muammar Gaddafi had caused immense anger in Nigeria by suggesting that the country should be divided into two – a Christian south and a Muslim north – to save it from religious strife.

Among Nigerian politicians who took umbrage with Gaddafi for his statement was the president of the senate, David Mark. He described Gaddafi in just one word: ‘Mad’. A statement released by the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs then said that the country’s ambassador to Tripoli had been recalled for ‘urgent consultations’ because of the ‘irresponsible utterances of Colonel Gaddafi’.

The statement added – undiplomatically – ‘Gaddafi’s theatrics and grandstanding at every auspicious occasion have become too numerous to recount.’

It says much for the sense of reality exhibited by African leaders that at the time Gaddafi made his totally insensitive remark about a member state of the African Union (AU), he had been basking in the glory, such as it is – of being the chair of the African continental organisation, the AU. Its chair is supposed to be the public face of the organisation. Was a man who raised such hackles about other member states the best possible choice for election as leader?

The AU has shown the same lack of concern for world opinion by electing another unsavoury character as its chair for the coming year: President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea. The AU convention is that each member state gets a shot at the chairmanship. But should convention be allowed to obscure the fact that if – say – the AU were to be officially represented at an international function of great importance (such as the funeral of a world leader), the world’s television sets would display the features of a man alleged to have a great deal of innocent blood on his hands, as the official ‘Face of Africa’?

On his election as AU chair, I allowed my imagination to play with satire: The result is presented for – hopefully – your enjoyment.

For argument’s sake (I wrote), let us assume that in the 12 months that he will be chair of the African Union, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi of Libya will actually bring off the project that appears dearest to his heart — the creation of a ‘United States of Africa.’

And let us imagine also that to celebrate the Brother Leader’s coronation as King of Africa – or ‘King of Kings’ – the African Union Authority decides to organise a series of durbars in African capitals at which the King will deliver speeches exhorting his subjects to practise the precepts of African unity.

Everything goes swimmingly for the Brother Colonel and he is received with wild cheers everywhere. Until he reaches Nigeria. There, a pressure group originally formed as the ‘Deportees From Libya Union’ but quietly camouflaged as the ‘Support The Brother Leader Brigade’, has placed a series of advertisements in local newspapers, urging the durbar to be transferred from Abuja to Lagos to enable more people to be enabled to offer their ‘adoration’ to the Brother Leader.

‘Why Lagos?’ the advertisement asks. Then it answers its own question: ‘The people of Lagos are known to be more ”expressive” and “demonstrative” than those of Abuja, who are relatively new to political activism. Lagos is the city of Zik of Africa (Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, first President of Nigeria). Lagos is also the city of Chief Obafemi Awolowo (first Premier of the Western Region of Nigeria). And Lagos is also the city of Herbert Macauley (Nigeria’s uncrowned man of ‘timber and calibre.’

The advert drives the point home by adding: ‘The King of Kings of Africa deserves nothing but the uttermost best that Nigeria has to offer’! And Lagos is where it is at!’

On reading the advert, the Nigerian national security organisation, the SSS, is horrified. It is terrified at the idea of shifting the venue, at very short notice, from Abuja to Lagos. It makes its views firmly known to the Federal Government of Nigeria. But in the meantime, Libyan secret agents in Nigeria have transmitted the adverts advocating a change of venue to the office of the Brother Leader, with not so subtle hints that the adverts are the work of sub-agents of the agents, who have been putting the huge budget appropriation at their disposal to very good use. The tireless work of ‘conscientising’ the Nigerian public to the canon of the ‘Green Book’ has been progressing really well. In fact (the agents add snidely) it was after a simultaneous republication of the Green Book in Kaduna, Kano and Zaria –with an initial print run of 5 million (to be reprinted to 20 million copies, as soon as the supplementary estimates submitted to the Brother Leader’s office have been approved and urgently transmitted) that the ‘tremendous enthusiasm generated by the advertisements began to make itself felt throughout Nigeria for the Leader’s visit.

The Libyan secret agents’ dispatch went on to say that the host country’s authorities, aware of their own unpopularity with the populace, fear that the visit will undermine their own standing. Indeed, there have been suggestions that the ‘Brother Leader’ should be crowned King of Africa’s Most Populous Nation, before proceeding to place the continental crown on his own head. (For who was worth that honour in Africa, now that Nelson Mandela is so frail he has withdrawn from public life?)
The Libyan dispatch added: ‘It can be forecast with authority that the Federal Government of Nigeria will resist, or even veto, the move of the venue to Lagos. They will, of course, cite “security reason” as the reason for the veto, but that can be ignored. The Brother Leader is loved in Lagos (we repeat) as nowhere else, Lagos being a city half of whose inhabitants are fervent Muslims. As pointed out by the adverts quoted earlier, Lagos has the best traditions of literacy – and political awareness – in the whole country, to bow to pressure and neglect an opportunity to address its inhabitants directly, would be remiss of the Brother Leader in his programme to actualise the Glorious United States of Africa.

‘We therefore humbly entreat The Brother Leader to hold his ground in backing the transfer of the durbar from Abuja to Lagos’, the secret missive to the Brother leader’s office concluded.

As soon as it arrived by diplomatic bag, it was minuted to the Leader ‘FOR URGENT ACTION!‘ and within 20 minutes dead, 40 large suitcases, full of crisp, new $1,000 bills (to the tune of $200 million) were their way by diplomatic containers flown by air, to the Libyan agents in Abuja.

Acting further on the coded message, the Libyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs next sends a ‘strong protest’ to the Nigerian foreign ministry, which makes it clear that if the ‘popular clamour’ in Nigeria for a change of venue to Lagos is not ‘acceded to’, the Libyan Government would be forced to conclude that the position of the Nigerian authorities is covertly ‘unfriendly’ towards the sisterly Republic of Libya – despite the overt co-operation that exists between the two states in practice, both at the UN, and the AU.

The polite protest note concludes that in the event of ‘these ‘strong representations’ being ignored, the Libyan Government ‘would have no option‘ but to advise itself to ‘reconsider, urgently, as a first step, its level of diplomatic representation in the Federal Republic of Nigeria’.

Mercy! The Libyan note throws Aso Rock, Abuja, into panic. Nigeria cannot be seen to be engaging in a public diplomatic row with the newly-elected chair of the AU – the enthroned King of Kings of Africa. Everybody would conclude that the Nigerian action stems from jealousy, for Nigerians have not been unknown to canvass the view that their country is ’the most important nation in Africa’, and that ‘one of every two black persons on the planet is a Nigerian.’

So, against the warnings of the SSS – presented and resubmitted in separate warnings, each tagged ‘MOST URGENT’, the last of which even bore the highest classification: ‘EYES ONLY’ (but of course to be passed to the Head of State after it had been read by those closest to him) the Federal Government concluded unwillingly that the venue of the venue should be shifted to Lagos. After all, whether in Lagos or Abuja, Gaddafi would insist on organising his own security, and unless one wanted to engage in an embarrassing public confrontation, he would have to have his own way.

The day finally dawns. Everybody in Lagos, it appears, has come to the new Teslim Balogun Sports Stadium, Surulere, which, although built to accommodate only 60,000 people, is on this day, filled with about ten times that number – by virtue of the fact that the playing area has also become one huge public stand. Word has spread through Lagos and its environs that everyone who passes through the turnstiles is followed and quietly handed a pack of 500 Naira notes. Ajekunle, Festac Village as well as Ekpe and its environs, empty of people like ghettoes stricken with the plague.

Drums rent the air with their fabulous rhythms. (‘Orchestras’ had been pre-paid 75,000 Naira each). Representatives of the various Nigerian ethnic groups dance and engage in mock battles and the hunting rituals of ancient times (‘Cultural Displays’ brought their organisers 125,000 Naira each; ‘transport extra’).

The Brother Colonel beams at the people, and back to the Nigerian dignitaries on the podium with him, as if to say, ‘Didn’t I tell you they love me?’ But when he makes eye contact with President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, the latter continues to present his usual inscrutable face. If anything, he looks more detached than usual, for that very morning, he had been told by his doctors that he needed another kidney transplant).

Finally, the Brother Leader is called upon to speak: ‘I bring you greetings from your brothers and sisters in Libya, in the name of Allah The Merciful!’ he begins.
But instead of the wild applause he expects, a lone shrill voice, that of a woman, is heard from one corner of the stadium. She yells into a battery-powered megaphone smuggled into the stadium, in the way only a Lagos woman can, who, as a child, used to carry wares on her head and yell such names as ‘goorooooo!’ or ‘pepehmenteeee’ so loudly they could penetrate into houses hundreds of yards away:

‘Gaddafi oooh! Gaddafi! So where is the high definishon TV my husband was bringing me from Tripoli, nko?’

As the Brother Colonel looks bewildered around the stadium, an enormous outburst of boos breaks out from all four corners of the stadium:

And then, as if they had rehearsed their moves, people carrying hidden placards take them out of their agbadas and babaringas, lift them aloft, and rush uncontrollably like one man towards the podium.

One of the placards reads:

Another reads:

A third states starkly:

And, a fourth proclaims: ‘GADDAFI-TYPE AFRICAN UNITY KO! AFRICAN UNITY NI!’ (‘Gaddafi-type African unity is a load of….’)

As the placard-carriers charge menacingly towards the podium, the cries of ‘HOOOOOOOOOOOOH!’ emanating from all sides of the stadium, get louder and louder. It is as if a referee has allowed a goal against the Green Eagles that was scored from a position ten clear yards offside.

The Nigerian police on duty at the stadium react as usual: They panic. They automatically fire tear gas into the crowd.

Pandemonium breaks out. President Yar’Adua instinctively covers his nose and mouth with his babaringa and is immediately hustled from the stadium towards his car, which has driven on to the field at a signal from his handlers. Tear gas is not what Yar’Adua needs, what with his delicate health. Didn’t even the relatively more robust Dr Chuba Okadigbo, former president of the Nigerian Senate, die in September 2003 as a result of inhaling fumes from tear gas at a public rally?

Covering their eyes, and ululating battle-cries, the Colonel’s Amazonia guard, Uzi sub-machine guns at the ready, surround him. They fire warning shots from their guns, preventing the Nigerian security personnel from approaching the Brother Leader. The Nigerians are stupefied: How can a visitor’s security detail operate independently, and in isolation from the host country’s own security detail, in disregard of all the preliminary drills they have jointly undertaken together?

And all this is watched the world over, on live television, by Al Jazeera…

The Brother Leader is pushed by his guards into his armoured-plated car and is driven at high speed towards Seme on the Nigerian- Benin border, on his way to Accra, Ghana, where the next durbar is scheduled to take place. His convoy is two hundred and seventy-five cars long, but is able to penetrate Lagos like a single lengthy serpent, thanks to Uzis being fired into the air all along the pre-determined escape route. But each and every car receives some rotten tomatoes or eggs from the crowds that line the streets.

People shout ‘OLE OHHHHH…! OLE OHHHHHH!’ in time-honoured fashion. (In Lagos, when someone shouts ‘Ole ohhhh!’ (thief! thief!) everyone else assumes there is a thief really about and repeats the refrain instinctively. The alleged thief invariably does the wrong thing: Run. Yet the moment he runs, he signs his or her own death warrant: If he or she was not a thief, why would he or she run? This conundrum leads to the deaths of many innocent people in crowded areas, particularly markets, in Lagos every year. People just have to learn not to annoy others when walking in crowded areas, for one shout of ‘Ole!’ and that may be the last word one ever hears!)

But no sooner has the Leader crossed the Nigerian border than word reaches him that all the way from Aflao to Accra, people carrying coffins, Fela Anikulakpo-Kuti style, are lining his route. They claim some Ghanaians had been returned from Libya in coffins and their relatives want to out Gaddafi in one, too!

In exasperation, the Brother Leader’s convoy makes a serpentine U-turn and drives straight to Cotonou airport, where he awaits his personal aircraft. He refuses all hospitality offered by the Benin government, afraid as he is that all West Africa is united in a gargantuan conspiracy against him. Anyway, how could his diplomats get their intelligence so wrong? They’d been given nearly $500 million altogether to organise this fiasco?

Soon, the Brother Colonel is on his way to Sirte, where he goes into a depressed slump. He stays there for two hundred and eleven days, during which he only partakes of camel milk and dates…

Pan-Africanists would hope that Colonel Gaddafi, during his retreat, would understand that you cannot create a ‘United State Of Africa’ without Africans. The Accra summit of 2007, devoted to this theme, was unsuccessful precisely because exactly 42 years before the meeting, a similar attempt had been made, in the very same city, to institutionalise a ‘United States of Africa’. Without success.

Ghana’s first president, Dr Kwame Nkrumah had first tabled the idea at the very first African summit at which the AU’s predecessor Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was formed – in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 1963. If Gaddafi had done his homework, he would have recognised that subjective factors play a part in how such grandiose ideas are perceived by others, and he would have gone about healing the wounds that his fellow-countrymen had inflicted on Africans who had attempted to live and work in Libya, before uttering the words, ‘African unity’, let alone attempt to implement the thought into an organic body of nation states.

Because of Libya’s past contemptuous treatment of Africans of the sort that the Kenyans and Tanzanians call ‘wananchi’ and the Nigerians call ‘talakawa’, (street people who take enormous and sometimes unbelievably dangerous risks in trekking to different places, often on foot, to seek their fortune) what African leaders thought would be a kind gesture to Gaddafi – the chairmanship of the AU – had brought nothing but wrath on the head of the Colonel. African bloggers were deriding him as a man with an overweening ambition to become ‘King of Kings’ in Africa.

So, just as President Nkrumah’s ideas were derided in 1963 and 1965 because he was being ‘bad-mouthed’ both at home and in many parts of Africa, Gaddafi too has few admirers outside a magic circle that is mesmerised by his personality – and largesse – and doesn’t take any interest in his actual deeds.

In Nkrumah’s case, the overthrow and brutal murder, by the Togolese army, of President Sylvanus Olympio of Togo – with whom Nkrumah was barely on speaking terms– in January 1963, had given rise to widespread speculation, false though it turned out to be, that Nkrumah had had a hand in the Togo coup.

Indirect evidence had given rise to these speculations, for indeed, at the very time he was passionately urging other African leaders to join him in forming a United States of Africa, the implacable enemies of some African heads of state – such as Djibo Bakary, a bete noire of the Niger government – were welcome guests in Accra; Sam Ikoku, whom the Nigerian government had declared ‘wanted’ as an alleged collaborator of Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s in the ‘treasonable felony’ that had sent Awolowo to jail, was also a favoured resident in Accra. Other people whose governments viewed them as ‘undesirable’ but were often found in Accra were Habib Niang (Senegal), Germain Mba (Gabon) and J M Tchaptchet (Cameroon).

Thus, Nkrumah’s efforts at achieving a United States of Africa were somewhat vitiated by a contradiction created by what his would-be co-confederationists regarded as his insensitivity towards their political predilections. Belatedly, he was forced to expel some of the alleged ‘subversives’ from Ghana before the Accra Summit of 1965. But 1963 was a disaster for him – there were wry smiles on the faces of many of his peers, as he delivered himself of eloquent speeches in Addis Ababa pleading with his fellow heads of state to form a United States of Africa. President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania gave vent to some of the views held in other African countries at the time about Nkrumah’s stance, when he took the unusual step of launching a hardly-veiled personal from the podium of the OAU summit in Cairo in 1964. He later admitted that this was a mistake.

All this has been documented, but almost as if he is not interested in the antecedents of the grand idea he is trying to push, Gaddafi goes on without adequately appraising the contradictions that confront him, too, vis-à-vis his effort to achieve a United States of Africa. His situation is probably worse than that of Nkrumah, because whereas Nkrumah was popular with the African masses, but not necessarily with African heads of state, in Gaddafi‘s case, it is the masses who are, in many cases, baying for his blood.

Their main concern is the rough treatment – often amounting to brutality – meted to Africans who have tried to live and work in Libya. No-one denies the fact that Libya has the right to expect Africans to obtain visas before travelling to Libya, or that they should obtain work permits before working in Libya, and that once there, they should act lawfully.

But as this report in the Ghana Daily Graphic of 17 December 2004, shows, the methods adopted by the Libyan authorities in dealing with the citizens of other African states who fall short of the behaviour expected of them while they are on Libyan territory, is often deplorable:

‘The Libyan Government has deported another batch of 132 Ghanaians living in that country.

‘This brings to 6,027, the total number of such deportees since the Libyan Government began the exercise… The deportees had been coming in on regular intervals of between two weeks and one month. They were brought in “aboard a cargo flight”.

‘Airport sources said that “apart from the first batch, which was brought in aboard a passenger plane, the rest had always been on cargo planes which had no seats… In an interview, some of the deportees alleged that the conditions at the camp had been dehumanising, since there were no sleeping places. ‘’There were only canopies stretched across a vast area of land and we were not fed regularly. We had to stay without water for over a day or two,” the deportees said, adding that there was overcrowding at the camp… “The source said that a particular batch had been kept at the camp for 17 days and so they were very exhausted.”’

Now, which Ghanaian patriot does Gaddafi think can condone such ‘dehumanising treatment” by a country that purports to have the interests of other African states so much at heart that it wants to unite with them? Only those who benefit from Libyan petrodollars can close their eyes to such inhumanity.

Over in Nigeria, too, people have a bone to pick with Gaddafi. An article in the influential Lagos Guardian, as recently on 13 February 2009, said:

‘One wonders about this sudden enthusiasm [for a United States of Africa"> which has overtaken Gaddafi, given the fact that his government has been involved in brutality against Africans from other countries who found themselves legally or illegally in Libya.

‘A lot of Nigerians and other Africans in search of greener pastures have been brutalised, dehumanised and tortured; some killed while the lucky ones got deported. If Gaddafi had shown some iota of mercy to these Africans who sneaked into Libya, maybe we would not have read [too"> much h [hidden"> meaning into this idea being touted by him.’

Has Libya made any serious attempts to heal wounds of the sort it has inflicted on the psyche of Africans who have had it rough in Libya? I doubt it: Gaddafi is so protected from public opinion in his own country – such as it is – that he probably thinks he is viewed elsewhere with the same enforced adulation as exists in Libya.

Yet if the African people as a whole do not give their blessing to any agreement unifying their countries, their blessing, the agreement will be a mere scrap of paper. For it is not presidents who implement agreements between nations, but the people of a country. Take, for instance, the most fundamental provision that an agreement between countries that want to unite should make: Free movement of peoples and goods between the contracting states.

Apart from regional arrangements, such as that entered into by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), no African can get up just like that and go to visit another African country. He or she will need a visa. Yet not every African country has an embassy in all other African countries.

I was myself once caught in this dilemma when I was assigned to do a story in Cameroon about the Cameroon football club that was going to the World Cup in 1982. Cameroon is a country that had conned the rest of Africa into voting for two of its citizens to head the OAU – Nzo Ekangaki (1972-74) and William Eteki Mboumoua 1974-78). Yet this country that in spirit, should have been the leader of the OAU, did not allow me entry to report on its World Cup football team in 1982, but detained me at Douala airport for forty-eight hours, while its immigration officers toyed with me, claiming to be trying to contact Yaounde for authority to let me in!

As I waited, feeling sorry for myself, I saw Europeans being waved in without visas. On the third day, my exasperation boiled to an intolerable level and I caught a plane back home. Roger Milla or no Roger Milla, I now have no enthusiasm for the exploits of the Cameroon football team. Even the great skill of Samuel Eto’o hasn’t been able to eradicate the bitterness from my mind.

I have since also experienced unfriendly behaviour from customs, immigration or health authorities at airports in Cairo, Lusaka, and – even Johannesburg, my spiritual home! It is so sad, if you’re an ardent Pan-Africanist, to be subjected to these indignities by people you consider your brothers. Once I was almost reduced to tears to find that immigration officers at Accra airport had denied entry to Miriam Makeba, ‘Mama Afrika’. She had been banned in 1966 after the coup against Dr Kwame Nkrumah, who was her friend. But years after Nkrumah had died, the ban was still in place.

Yet you cannot blame the officials. It is the responsibility of their political masters to accept their failure to make African unity a meaningful concept to their citizens. These leaders take taxpayers’ money with them to go on the African jamboree; summits each year, just to slap each other on the back. But they forget to educate their officials back home that Africans are brothers and should be treated humanely by all their brothers and sisters.

As the very minimum step to be taken to develop African unity, it is imperative that visa requirements should be abolished between all African states, for visits that last not more than six months. Extensions for a longer stay should not be made difficult, nor should applications for work permits.

African countries should also get their academics and foreign service officials, who are knowledgeable about the full benefits that African unity can bring to each African state, to undertake seminars for their countries’ immigration and customs officials, so that their attitudes will become less hostile to visitors from other African states.

Television and radio stations should be encouraged to carry programmes emphasising how goods from African countries can be cheaper and perhaps better than those produced in Europe, America or Asia. We should also encourage exchanges of visits between African educational institutions. You only relate to people positively when you get a chance to meet them physically.

Certainly, it is nonsensical to be preaching the theory of establishing a ‘United States of Africa’ to people, when you make it impossible or difficult for them to interact with one another in the flesh.

I am sure governments will say they have no money for this, but I can retort by saying that if they cut down on the size of the delegations they take to AU conferences to read speeches about African unity, they could save enough money to send a few students each year on exchange programmes with other African educational institutions. The same thing applies to the employees of banks, factories, shops and market women.

Sure, the 21st century should be seized upon to make Africa great. But we cannot achieve greatness with mere words. It must be done with positive, practical deeds.

The latest news from Tripoli – that Gaddafi is using African mercenaries recruited from Chad, Darfur, Niger, Burkina Faso and other black African countries – to kill Gaddafi’s Libyan opponents in Tripoli and other cities – will, of course, constitute the death-knell of any pretence he ever had of leading Africa into unity. Indeed, he is contributing enormously towards the entrenchment of racial hatred between Africans ands Arabs.


* Cameron Duodu is a journalist, writer and commentator.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.