Monday, August 15, 2022

Gaddafi ÔÇô Caught in the game of musical chairs

‘Uneasy lies the head of the dictator.’ The graffiti scrawled on a street wall sums up the violent mood as protests roll across North Africa. Two presidential victims of the anger sweeping across the upper stretch of the continent have already suffered post-traumatic stress. There are those who snidely call it ‘post-presidential depression’.

Deposed Tunisian President, 74-year-old Zine al Abidine Ben Ali slipped into a stroke-induced coma after a popular uprising ended his 23-year hold on power. Egypt’s 83-year-old Hosni Mubarak, fainted at least once at the Red Sea holiday villa where he was sent into internal exile.

As change rumbles across North Africa, 68-year-old Muammar Gaddafi who has ruled Libya with an iron grip since a coup in 1969, is clearly the next among Africa’s cabal of despots to go. But by the time he gives way, dead or alive, there will be thousands of body bags in a country under siege.

With condemnation raining down on Gaddafi’s wobbling regime from across the globe, calls rose for the International Criminal Court to probe crimes against humanity in what has become a humanitarian crisis.

In Libya’s swirling streets, thousands of screaming protesters sounded the death knell for Gaddafi, the man who funded Palestinian and other terrorist groups, infamously bombed a Pan Am passenger jet and a French UTA jet. Now a despot who fancied himself as the future president of a united Africa, while looking more like an aging rock star than statesman, appears keen to add the label ‘war criminal’ to a blood-tainted legacy. Vowing he would fight to the “last drop” of blood, Gaddafi ordered troops, police and mercenaries to kill what he called “the rats” who had defied his regime.

As reports filtered through that Gaddafi had ordered fighter jets to attack parts of Tripoli and that the Navy had opened fire on parts of the capital, Libyan diplomats voted with their feet. Several resigned in protest, as Gaddafi became increasingly isolated.

“If Gaddafi refuses to give up power, Libyan people will get rid of him,” declared Libya’s deputy Ambassador to the United Nations, Ibrahim Dabbashi.

In Gaborone, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Phandu Skelemani, first protested to the Libyan envoy to Botswana “in the strongest possible terms” the use of strong-arm tactics by Gadaffi’s regime to quell the uprising. This was followed by a curt announcement that Gaborone had cut diplomatic ties with Tripoli.

As though with North Africa in mind, Botswana’s former President, Festus Mogae, remarked at a guest-lecture in Port Harcourt, that Africa can only make progress if its people and leaders get their politics right. “We need strong democratic institutions, which cannot be violated by rulers; strong and legitimate constitutions with entrenched provisions that can only be amended with the participation of people through referenda,” Mogae said. “People want rulers who uphold the rule of law; who adhere to legitimate constitutions; who respect and promote broad based participation of the people in the way they are governed.”

Botswana’s former president was speaking generically. Nevertheless, the events in North Africa, fanning out to the Middle East, with the potential to spill over south of the equator, show that Africa is not heading in the direction he wants it to.

On a humid evening in Tlokweng, a group of piece-job seekers huddle under a star lit sky, and chat animatedly and hopefully about how the events in North Africa could potentially affect their own Zimbabwe and see the ejection of Robert Mugabe. Meanwhile, 100 people in Zimbabwe are arrested as they plan anti-Mugabe protests, spurred by the heady chaos in North Africa.

But it is not only immigrants from Zimbabwe, or indeed elsewhere for that matter, who are watching raptly as Africa’s strong men fall out in the intriguing game of musical chairs. The streets of Gaborone are teeming with speculation as people try to second-guess the shifting political realities.

“African leaders don’t seem to get it,” says Bagaetsho Solomon, who calls himself a keen follower of history and African affairs. “People are expecting more accountability from them. The era of the dictator is over”.

Earlier on in the seething streets of Benghazi and Tripoli, protests had gathered momentum, and worsened swiftly, as his Gaddafi’s son, Seif Al-Islam, declared that troops loyal to the leader would fight “until the last man standing” and that there would be “rivers of blood”. In Benghazi, the epicentre of the uprising, civilians were reportedly driving military tanks.

A protester, named Moftah, told of how soldiers opened fire on thousands of demonstrators in Benghazi. “I don’t know the numbers [of protesters] but we had [a demonstration] in the streets about 3km long and 30m wide,” he told CNN. “[The streets] were fully packed by demonstrators carrying the coffins of people who are dead and then we reach a place where the Revolutionary Guard and that’s when they start shooting heavily at us with live ammunition. Later on I found out that four people died and that many other people were wounded, critically wounded.”

Elsewhere social unrest fanned out as thousands of protesters gathered in Rabat, Morocco’s capital, to demand that King Mohammed give up some of his powers. “The people reject a constitution made for slaves,” chanted angry protesters in front of the parliament building, with uniformed police keeping their distance from the mob. A similar protest started in Casablanca, the country’s largest city, with a third swelling up in Marrakesh.

The Middle East had caught the protest bug. In Yemen, thousands of people staged sit-ins in a number of cities, demanding that President Ali Abdullah Saleh leaves. Like the demonstrations in Egypt, the aim is the ouster of Saleh, who has been in power since 1978, longer than Egypt’s now-ousted Hosni Mubarak. In Iran, anti-government demonstrations were underway in several cities, including the capital, Tehran.

Meanwhile, the Sunni Muslim ruling family in Bahrain was also under increased pressure to negotiate with the Shiite-led opposition as protesters continue their occupation of Pearl Square in the capital Manama.

“The events in the North are frightening,” says Wame Seadimo, a Gaborone single mother. “Just think what would happen if the rest of Africa copied those demonstrations. Things would get of control.”
And out of control is what the bedlam in Libya has become. It was clearly early days yet when Benghazi started out as a scene of massacres of civilians. After just six days of relentless unrest, the International Federation of Human rights recounted that the death toll had had hit 400, and was rising.

Laone Motlhabane, a Gaborone professional, says Africa will continue apace with revolution. “What is happening to Libya is a warning to the rest of Africa,” he says. “Gaddafi’s is a one-man government and that just won’t work today.”

As Libya implodes, in tune with Tunisia and Egypt, and seismic political changes take place in North Africa, the Middle East and who knows where next, errant leaders are becoming uneasy. If these are the headlines of the news now, what will the news media be reporting on when 2015 rolls round?

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