When rebels become rulers…

The International Coalition is determined to help the Libyan rebels attain political power. Through its persistent bombardment of Gaddafi’s bastions, the Coalition has virtually become the prime mover for the rebels in their dogged determination to replace Gaddafi with themselves. But will these rebels be the answer to Libya’s problems? I don’t think so.

It is interesting to observe that some of the leaders of these rebels have been with Gaddafi all these years until mid-February when they decamped to join the rebels. These are people reading deeper meanings into the Libyan situation and playing their political cards to save their own skins. If they knew Gaddafi wasn’t what the Libyan people wanted, why did they work with him all along, carrying out his orders, until now?

We need to know who are in the camp of the rebels so as to condition ourselves for future developments in that country. After all, it is only when we know them that we can assess the post-Gaddafi Libyan political situation from an informed perspective.

The Wall Street Journal has revealed the identities of some of these Libyan rebels. At least, we know that the rebel force is a motley of ordinary disgruntled civilians and military renegades. For now, the Libyan Islamists work shoulder to shoulder with defectors from the regime, secular intellectuals, tribal chiefs and youth campaigners, all of them united by their hatred of Gaddafi.

This rebel force is made up of volunteers, which makes their coordination difficult. They are more or less ragtag revolutionary fighters whose modus operandus is spontaneous activism, fuelled by their hatred for Gaddafi. A handful of them had fought American troops in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

The ranks of the rebel are also bloated by Islamic fundamentals (such as followers of the fundamentalist Salafi brand of Islam). It is not clear what role the country’s deep-rooted Islamist militant networks will end up playing should Gaddafi be ousted. But they will not evaporate from the scene.

There is also the secular aspect. Bound together by their common hatred for Gaddafi, these Libyan rebels may not mix properly after achieving their objective through this rebellion.

Prominent elements at the rebel headquarters in the Benghazi courthouse include a veteran of the Afghan jihad against the Soviet Union, “an unveiled female professor who sports black leather jackets, and a Libyan-American who likes to discuss French wines,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

The rebel government’s head is Gaddafi’s former Justice Minister, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, who is rarely seen in public, in part because the regime has placed a bounty on him. The rebels’ military chief of staff is Gen. Abdel Fattah Younis, until recently Gaddafi’s Minister of Interior.

The slogan of the rebels is “freedom” (not for the creation of an Islamic state); and for their banner, they adopted the red, black and green flag of the pro-American Libyan kingdom of King Idriss that Gaddafi overthrew in 1969. The bearded face of Omar Mukhtar, the hero of Libya’s 1930s struggle against Italian colonialism, and his slogan, “We shall win or we shall die” are imprinted on this banner.

The roots of the current uprising lie in the 1996 massacre of some 1,200 mostly Islamist prisoners by Gaddafi’s regime in Benghazi. The rebellion began with the brief February 15 detention of Fathi Terbil, a young human-rights lawyer who represented the killed prisoners’ relatives. Mr. Terbil, is now a member of the rebels’ new provisional government, based in Benghazi.

Minus the brazen actions of the International Coalition, the events unfolding in Libya are not new to Africa. Even though the African Union has lamented over being sidelined, there is nothing from the individual African countries to suggest that they are interested in the resolution of the Libyan crisis through means other than what is happening now. Is it because Gaddafi has angered them with his push for a United States of Africa with himself as the prime mover? Why the disturbing silence as if they care less?

In their individual capacities as Presidents of sovereign states, these African leaders haven’t been bold enough to criticize or condemn the excesses of the International Coalition. Why? Because some of them are either guilty of the very offences for which Gaddafi is being punished or are simply afraid of their own shadows, having sold their countries and their own conscience to the very countries banded together in this International Coalition. Can they bite the finger that feeds them? I dare them.

So far, though, two voices have been heard: Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe has openly condemned the action against Libya and disparaged the West for its colonialist agenda in that bid. But how much credibility does Mugabe himself have as a leader? He is no better than a dying donkey, kicking the hardest. His words mean nothing to anybody and will end up as a waste of his frail breath.

Having graduated from a rebel to a ruler, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni is shifty in his stance on the Libyan crisis. He was the first to write a lengthy opinion piece to analyze the problem. While blaming Gaddafi for the cause of his own doom, Museveni somehow seemed to support him in the same breath, indicating that Gaddafi’s immense contributions to Africa’s search for self-determinism should have been appreciated instead of what is being done to him.

Then, surprisingly, Museveni’s Uganda went ahead to freeze the Libyan government’s assets in that country, claiming that it was in fulfillment of the UN sanctions. You see, Museveni seems to be playing a smart game here, which only reveals his true nature. Just as the mouse does, he knows how to inflict harm without being caught—biting the flesh and blowing cold air over it simultaneously.

We recall his stern warning to opponents in Uganda who might want to go the “Tunisian Way” that they would be severely dealt with. Then, he got himself installed in office again as Uganda’s President. Since 1986, Museveni has been ruling Uganda. Gradually, his long stay on the throne has its abrasive edges, which irks most Ugandans. Thus, by playing his cards in this hodge-podge manner, he seems to be attempting to project himself in one light as opposed to Gaddafi (just to satisfy curious minds) while in another light, he appears to be close to the very problems that motivated the Libyan rebels to work for Gaddafi’s removal from office.

Such is the nature of the African leader. He knows that just like his bearded counterpart elsewhere whose beard is on fire, the best safety measure for him to take is to make a bowl of water handy. Then, when his own beard catches fire too, he can easily extinguish it and escape unscathed.

We shouldn’t be surprised at all. Most of the current African leaders themselves began their political careers as rebels. Let’s survey the terrain to know some of them: Zimbabwe’s Mugabe; Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni; the ANC’s Jacob Zumah in South Africa; Rwanda’s Paul Kagame; Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo; and others.

Others shot their way to power as renegades and have since then not ceased to live in fear of being deposed; hence, their determination to hold on to power by clamping down heavily on opponents through draconian measures. Here are some: Burkina Faso’s Blaise Compaore; Chad’s Idriss Derby; Sudan’s Al-Bashir; the Central African Republic’s Francois Bozize; and others.

Still, some metamorphosed from military status to civilian politicians although it is difficult to remove the military persona from their being. Examples abound: Denis Sassou Ngueso of the Republic of Congo; Equatorial Guinea’s Mbasogo Nguema; Togo’s Faure (Gnassingbe) Eyadema; The Gambia’s Yahaya Jammeh; and others.

These are the leaders of Africa in our time. What is unfolding in Libya seems to be following the pattern except that in this case, we have an International Coalition that is shamelessly leading the way to put in power people whose own records don’t recommend them as Libya’s saviours. Wherever rebels operate, there is tension and destruction. Unfortunately, there seems to be no end to this problem in African politics.

If the International Coalition succeeds in propelling the rebels to install themselves in office, it will be adding a different complexion to the matter. Then, Libya will set a bad precedent for the rest of the world.

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
E-mail: mjbokor@yahoo.com

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