The Qaddafi I Know

Copyright Foreign Policy

By the time Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi came to power in 1969, I was a third-year university student at Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania. We welcomed his rise because he was a leader in the tradition of Col. Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt who had a nationalist and pan-Arabist position.

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Soon, however, problems cropped up with Qaddafi as far as Uganda and black Africa were concerned:

Backing Idi Amin: Idi Amin came to power in 1971 with the support of Britain and Israel because they thought he was uneducated enough to be used by them. Amin, however, turned against his sponsors when they refused to sell him guns to fight Tanzania. Unfortunately, Qaddafi, without first getting enough information about Uganda, jumped in to support Idi Amin. He did this because Amin was a “Moslem” and Uganda was a “Moslem country,” where Moslems were being “oppressed” by Christians. Amin killed a lot of people extra-judicially, and Qaddafi was identified with these mistakes.

In 1972 and 1979, Qaddafi sent Libyan troops to defend Amin when we [the Uganda National Liberation Front] attacked him. I remember a Libyan Tupolev Tu-22 bomber trying to bomb us in Mbarara in 1979. The bomb ended up in Nyarubanga, Burundi, because the pilots were scared. They could not come close to bombing their intended target properly. We had already shot-down many of Amin’s MIGs using surface-to-air missiles. Our Tanzanian brothers and sisters were doing much of this fighting. Many Libyan militias were captured and repatriated to Libya by Tanzania. This was a big mistake by Qaddafi and a direct aggression against the people of Uganda and East Africa.

Pushing for a United States of Africa: The second big mistake by Qaddafi was his position vis-à-vis the African Union (AU), where he called for a continental government “now.” Since 1999, he has been pushing this position. Black people are always polite. They, normally, do not want to offend other people. This is called obufura in the Runyankore language, or mwolo in Luo — handling, especially strangers, with care and respect. It seems some of the non-African cultures do not have obufura. You can witness a person talking to a mature person as if he or she is talking to a kindergarten child. “You should do this; you should do that; etc.” We tried to politely point out to Qaddafi that continental governance was difficult in the short and medium term. We should, instead, aim at the Economic Community of Africa and, where possible, also aim at Regional Federations.

But Qaddafi would not relent. He would not respect the rules of the AU. Topics or discussions that had been covered by previous meetings would be resurrected by Qaddafi. He would “overrule” a decision taken by all other African heads of state. Some of us were forced to come out and oppose his wrong position and, working with others, we repeatedly defeated his illogical position.

Proclaiming himself king of kings: The third mistake has been the tendency by Qaddafi to interfere in the internal affairs of many African countries, using the little money Libya has compared to those countries. One blatant example was his involvement with cultural leaders of black Africa — kings, chiefs, etc. Since the political leaders of Africa had refused to back his project of an African government, Qaddafi, incredibly, thought that he could bypass them and work with these kings to implement his wishes. I warned Qaddafi in Addis Ababa that action would be taken against any Ugandan king who involved himself in politics, because it was against our Constitution. I moved a motion in Addis Ababa to expunge from the records of the AU all references to kings (cultural leaders) who had made speeches in our forum, because they had been invited there illegally by Col. Qaddafi.
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