Reflections: Gaddafi, Mandela and “African Mercenaries”
You can compare Libya’s Gaddafi to Tunisia’s Ben Ali and Egypt’s Mubarak but for those of you who are “anti-imperialists” there is a particularly disturbing lesson here because Gaddafi was supposed to be “one of the good guys”.
Unlike the cases of Ben Ali and Mubarak, the case of Gaddafi really bothers me because it is clear that he has been, and continues to be, protected by some sort of Anti-Imperialist Old Boys Club who talk about justice but don’t seem to actually want to hold themselves or their parties or their “brother leaders” accountable for following it.
It’s easy to point fingers as Western Imperialists but if you can’t be accountable to your own people you are just as bad, perhaps even worst, because you came to power claiming to bring justice and go around the world saying you and your governments are examples to follow!!!
Gaddafi was/is often touted by the left as the Fidel Castro of the Middle East. He saw himself as a natural successor to Nasser‘s vision of Pan-Arabism. He used Libya’s oil money to support groups fighting for self-determination (such as the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), the Irish Republican Army (IRA), and the African National Congress (ANC).
Nelson Mandela was instrumental in helping Gaddafi resolve the Lockerbie Affair and regain easy relations with countries like Britain and the United States. Mandela shrugged off criticisms within South Africa and internationally, particularly from the United States, when he reached out to Gaddafi. He had this to say to his critics: “Those who say I should not be here are without morals. This man helped us at a time when we were all alone, when those who say we should not come here were helping the enemy.” Clearly, Mandela’s support of Gaddafi is linked to Gaddafi’s support for the ANC during the Apartheid era.
Mandela was the first award winner of the Al Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights in 1989, an annual prize founded by Gaddafi himself (Other recipients include Lous Farrakhan, Cuba’s Fidel Castro, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, and Turkey’s Erdogan). Mandela returned the gesture by bestowing one of South Africa’s highest honours, the Order of Good Hope, on Gaddafi in 1997.
Gaddafi turned away from Pan-Arabism (mainly because most Arab Nations couldn’t be bothered with his nonsense nor could they be manipulated by him because they had their own oil money) to Pan-Africanism (African countries are much poorer and lacked as much oil money and therefore were ripe for manipulation) He proposed the idea of the United States of Africa. The extent to which Gaddafi has been involved in financing conflicts in Africa is truly horrifying (Chad, Niger, Uganda, Sudan, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of Congo)
David Maynier of the Democratic Alliance, the official opposition to South Africa’s ruling Part the African National Congress (ANC) has accused the South African government of having sold sniper rifles to Libya, although South Africa’s Minister of Defense and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu denies this.
Allegedly, African Mercenaries have been flown into Libya to attack protesters. Who are these African Mercenaries? The question might be asked “Aren’t Libyans Africans? That depends on who you ask. Often when the term African is used it means “Sub-Saharan” African ergo Black-Skinned. The fact that Gaddafi has many Sub-Saharan African Mercenaries at his disposal should come as no surprise. Such mercenaries have been trained in camps funded by the Libya Government across Sub-Saharan Africa. As Jose Gomez del Prado with the United Nations Human Rights Council states:
You can find, particularly in Africa, many people who’ve been in wars for many years. They don’t know anything else. They are cheap labour, ready to take the job for little money. They are trained killers.
But it’s important to not dehumanize these “mercenaries”. One of the central characters in Nigerian author Helon Habila’s novel Measuring Time is one of these mercenaries. He begins as just a young man looking to escape the dead-end poverty of life in his small village in Nigeria. He joins a Libyan-funded training camp and eventually ends up as a mercenary in Liberia. There, his conscience shaken to the core, he finds redemption. However, the poverty of these mercenaries doesn’t justify their violence against Libyans.
What really worries me is that preexisting prejudices against Blacks in Libya, given the long history of the Trans-Saharan Slave Trade, will erupt in violence against innocent Sub-Saharan African Migrant Workers in Libya who already face discrimination and harassment. In 2000, violence against Sub-Saharan African Migrant Workers by Libyan Citizens left allegedly 135 people dead. In an interview with the LA Times in 2000, one Ghanaian migrant worker had this to say about Gaddafi and the Libyan people:
“President Kadafi has a good idea, but his people don’t like blacks, and they don’t think they are Africans because of their skin color,” said Kwame Amponsah, 22. He spent three months in Libya before fleeing in October, returning to Ghana’s poor southwestern agricultural Brong-Ahafo region. As many as 80% of the nation’s returnees hail from this area, according to authorities.
Currently, the number of Sub-Saharan African Migrant Workers living in Libya is estimated at over 1 million (Libya has a population of over 6 million). They often work in sectors such as construction and agriculture.
I pray for the freedom of Libya’s people and the safety and security of the migrant workers living there.
WikiLeaks cables: A guide to Gaddafi’s ‘famously fractious’ family (2011 article in The Guardian available online)
Gaddafi Urges Pan-African State (2007 article from BBC News available online)
Al-Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights Website
Human Rights Watch: Libya: Security Forces Kill 84 Over Three Days
Gaddafi and Mandela: Brother Leaders
Mandela Welcomes Brother Leader Gaddafi (article from BBC News available online)
Strategic Moral diplomacy: Mandela, Qaddafi and the Lockerbie Negotiations by Lyn Boyd Judson (2005 essay University of South California)
A Medal of Good Hope: Mandela, Gaddafi and the Lockerbie Negotiations by Lyn Boyd Judson (2004 essay from the University of Southern California)
Sub-Saharan African Migrant Workers in Libya
Migrant Workers from Ghana Flee Libya, Cite Racism (LA Times article 2000 available online)
Libya`s post-sanctions boom makes it African El Dorado (2009 article available online)
Has Gaddafi unleashed a mercenary force on Libya? by David Smith (2011 article from The Guardian available online)
Trans-Saharan Migration to North Africa and the EU: Historical Roots and Current Trends by Hein de Haas (2006 article available online)