The true face of Libyan “humanitarianism” reared its ugly head again this week at the unlikely venue of the African Heads of State Summit in Uganda. Only two weeks after sending a ship of supplies to Gaza, ostensibly out of “humanitarian” concern for the curious Palestinian suffering under Israel’s alleged tyranny, Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi showed his personal understanding of compassion at the international conference, attended by about 30 African leaders, when he slapped an aide in public.
Gaddafi engaged in this act, which appeared to be completely normal behaviour on his part, when his protocol people brought him to the wrong conference building at a luxury resort outside of Kampala, Uganda’s capital, where the summit was held from July 25 to July 27. According to the Kenyan newspaper The Nation, Gaddafi had climbed halfway up the incorrect venue’s staircase before being informed of his error by a Ugandan presidential guard. This caused a discussion in Arabic between Gaddafi and one of his aides which ended with the Libyan dictator slapping the aide on both cheeks. Journalists who hurried to take a picture were blocked from doing so by his bodyguards.
An hour later, Gaddafi arrived at the correct venue but, according to The Nation, left the meeting after 30 minutes, ordering his aides to make him tea on a charcoal stove outside in the garden. Attracted by the unusual activity, it was reported other delegates and journalists started to crowd around and take his picture. But this only caused another temper tantrum by Gaddafi who “angrily lifted his chair and hid amongst the flowers.” His bodyguards proceeded to set up a security perimeter around the garden.
This was not the end, however, of the Libyan delegation’s egregious behaviour. Twice during the conference Gaddafi’s gaggle of bodyguards got into pushing and shoving matches with Ugandan security personnel responsible for the summit’s security. At the entrance to one of the venues, the scuffles, witnessed by other delegates, only ceased when the Libyan ambassador to Uganda yelled: “Don’t fight! Don’t fight!”
This week’s stopover was actually an improvement over Gaddafi’s visit to Uganda in 2008 to open the Gaddafi Mosque in Kampala that Libyan funds had built. Prior to the opening ceremony, Gaddafi’s bodyguards tried to disarm the security detachments of the other invited heads of state, including that of the host Ugandan president, who was thrown against a wall during the resulting melee that, according to one report, nearly saw guns pulled. Like at this week’s conference, Gaddafi was reported to have been oblivious to the chaos around him.
A similar “mighty scuffle” also ensued in South Africa in 2002 at the inauguration for the new African Union after 200 fully-armed Libyan bodyguards, looking like “a small army of invasion,” alighted from their Boeing 737. Only after the Libyan guards had left most of their weapons behind were they allowed into the country. A normal security contingent for a head of state, according to one report, usually numbers about ten.
Gaddafi is best known in the West as a main sponsor of state terrorism in the 1980s. He sent his assassins to Europe to kill Libyan dissidents and was responsible in 1984 for the death of British police constable, Yvonne Fletcher, who was killed by gunfire from inside the Libyan embassy in London. The Lockerbie Bombing of December 21, 1988 was also Gaddafi’s handiwork and is still making headlines as more details are revealed surrounding the controversial release of Abdel Baset al-Megrahi from a Scottish prison. Al-Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence agent, was found guilty in the deaths of 270 people when a bomb destroyed Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie Scotland.
However, the “Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution,” as Gaddafi is called in Libyan publications, overreached himself when he had a discotheque bombed in Berlin in 1986, killing two US servicemen. President Ronald Reagan wasted little time in hitting Libya with a retaliatory air strike, from which Gaddafi himself barely escaped alive.
But less well known is Gaddafi’s insulting treatment of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. When Gaddafi’s efforts to lead the Arab world were frustrated, he turned to the continent’s poorer areas where his oil wealth gives him influence and leverage over other African leaders. His greatest dream in this area is to create a United States of Africa with himself, of course, as its leader. When speaking to the UN General Assembly last year, for example, he offered greetings on behalf of all of Africa, although he is only Libya’s president.
Unfortunately for Gaddafi, his dream of self-aggrandizement has been blocked by African countries like Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Kenya. Rather than a dream, these states see nothing but a nightmare for Africa in a quick transformation to a single government, Gaddafi’s stated goal. Besides, the corrupt oligarchies ruling some African states would never give up the power that creates the opportunities for their personal enrichment.
Gaddafi has circumvented this opposition by currying favour with tribal and cultural rulers in different African countries. Last September, for example, Gaddafi paid for 22 Kenyan tribal elders to fly to Libya. In his quest for “a throne of his own”, in 2008 in Libya, he even had an assembly of such native leaders, “sultans, chiefs, kings and princes”, bestow on him the title of “King of Kings.”
While such antics appear laughable, observers note some African leaders are uneasy that elements in their society, some of which are unfriendly towards their national governments, have access to Libya’s huge financial resources. They well remember Gaddafi’s interference in African civil wars of the past, including his strong support for Ugandan dictator and mass murderer Idi Amin, whom Libyan troops defended during the Tanzanian invasion that toppled him.
Already, Gaddafi is suspected of having a hand in the Uganda’s Buganda riots of last September in order to undermine President Museveni, one of his African unity project’s staunchest opponents. Gaddafi also insulted Museveni and Ugandan Christians on his 2008 visit when he called the Christian Bible and the Jewish Torah fakes. Besides attempting to promote division between Uganda’s majority Christian community and minority Muslim community, it was pointed out Gaddafi knew Museveni and other sub-Saharan African leaders were sworn into the office on the Bible.
Such brutal and offensive behaviour contains the real danger when the wealthy Gaddafi comes to poor African countries, flexing his muscles. The Libyan leader’s inflammatory and dangerous remarks could well spark the next devastating African conflict of tomorrow. And for that, he deserves more than a slap.