Friday, August 26, 2011



By Jerry Okungu

Nairobi, Kenya

Finally, the forces bent on toppling the strongman of Libya have entered Tripoli. With two of his sons reportedly captured by rebels, it is only a matter of time before the rebels lay their hands on the strongman himself. Of all the regimes that have been toppled in Africa in the last three decades, perhaps Gaddafi’s was the most entrenched and most difficult to dislodge. Having ruled with an iron fist for 42 years that he deftly laced with charisma, arrogance and showmanship, Gaddafi became an unshakable institution unto himself. Gaddafi was Libya and Libya was Gaddafi. Libyan oil money was his personal wealth.

With oil dollars in his pockets, he dazzled and mesmerized fellow heads of state in Africa making many of them literally eat from his palms. Time and time again, he bankrolled almost every AU summit in various capitals when the host country was cash strapped and could not bear the shame of hosting his peers.

When Gaddafi landed in any African country be it South Africa, Ghana, the Gambia, Uganda or Sudan, the colonel was the man of the hour. His entry was always delayed for maximum effect. He would come in dressed in flowing robes befitting his pet dream of becoming the King of Kings. His entourage, consisting of well trained and armed female body guards was equally ruthless; no one dared stand in the King’s way.

In a way King Gaddafi tried his best to imitate they way American presidents behave when they visit Third World countries. For the American presidential security detail, there is hardly any distinction between an African president and an ordinary public spectator. I saw it in Abuja when Clinton arrived there in 2000 on his first state visit soon after Obasanjo was elected the first civilian president in decades. The American Marines were so arrogant and intimidating such that the equally arrogant Nigerian security drew their guns warning that unless they backed down and played second fiddle in security arrangements then they were ready to call off the visit. The Americans backed down.

While on the same trip; Clinton visited Tanzania and specifically Arusha. Why he did so I cannot remember but it must have been some peace memorandum between either warring Sudanese or belligerent Somalis. When he landed, a number of IGAD presidents had gathered to meet him. Some of them were not even allowed to get closer to him, let alone greet him. It was America’s arrogance or was it their insecurity at its best?

A few years ago, I had the privilege to attend a number of AU meetings in Addis Ababa, Accra and Banjul. While in Banjul in 2006, Gaddafi arrived in a plane load full of white stretch limousines manufactured in America. These Limos were all offloaded in Senegal so that the King of Kings would snake his way in to the Gambian capital in style. As the convoy moved a long, he stopped at every village market and dished out petro dollars to poor Africans along the way. Meanwhile his team of bodyguards and publicity handlers had combed the city for security detail as they splashed the entire city with Gaddafi’s life-size portraits. Any tourist visiting Banjul at the time could be forgiven for thinking that Gaddafi was the Gambian head of state or better still, he was running for election in that country.

I remember him making a grand entrance later in the day having missed the opening ceremony during the APRM forum when Rwanda and Kenya were being peer-reviewed. Instead of coming to sit in the hall, his aim was to attract media attention and disrupt the proceedings. No head of state raised a finger as far as I can remember.

During the same summit, he refused occupy one of the villas he had built for visiting heads of state on behalf of the Gambian president. Instead, he chose open ground and pitched tent like the Bedouin that he was. The following year, he threw tantrums at the AU Accra Summit over the seating arrangement. He insisted that he must sit alone in an enclosed area, far away from any other head of state. When John Kufuor of Ghana declined to grant him his request, Gaddafi stormed out and went to address university students at one of Accra’s campuses.

Gaddafi’s arrogance knew no limits. When his dream of forming the United States of Africa with him as the first Head of State failed, he hit the roof. This was despite having bribed many heads of state to vote in his favour. When he realized that fellow heads of state were not with him, he gathered traditional leaders across the continent, made them kings and forced them to declare him King of Kings!

Of all fallen despots of the continent, Gaddafi’s fall must have been the most painful of them all for Gaddafi. His pomp and glory could not be matched by Emperor Bokassa, Ben Ali, Hosni Mubarak, Idi Amin, Joseph Mobutu and Sani Abacha before him. He was the mightiest of them all and when his time came, he surely fell from grace to grass. The question to ask is this: Will the King of kings allow his enemies to capture him and try him publicly like his comrade Hosni Mubarak of Egypt or Ben Ali of Tunisia? Or, will he commit suicide like Adolf Hitler? Only time will tell.

The writer is a media consultant.