I was discussing Gaddafi’s hyper-ego 40 year celebrations with a colleague, and I asked him how he felt about the President representing Africa internationally.
“Gaddafi is Gaddafi” he said, referring to a 40 year infamy which has seen move a ‘terrorist’, towards an increasingly popular figure in Western diplomatic circles, “everybody knows he is a loose cannon”.
Gaddafi is notorious and few would dare argue that his own eccentricities should be taken to represent Africa as a whole - Did any other African leader erect a tent in New York?
However it was Gaddafi who stood-up in front of the UN Security Council as the sole spokesman for the AU, the only pan-African institution on the continent.
It would have been easy to denounce Gaddafi’s New York ramblings as just another episode in the saga of the oil-strapped incumbent, but for those who sat through the speech and – worse still – listened, Gaddafi made important and aggressive accusations that can be heard nationally throughout Africa.
Gaddafi gave support to the movement towards a nuclear-free world and rightly spoke for Africa in his affectionate reference to Obama as “a son of Africa”.
He criticised the power structure of the institution, with an outmoded post World War Two context deciding the veto-wielding states and the failures of the UN to prevent the outbreak of more than 65 conflicts in its history.
Rwanda knows better than most the failure of UN peace keeping.
Gaddafi also referenced a tragedy for developing states in Africa, which has been covered by this author in The New Times – the issue of drug patents.
However, Gaddafi preferred to use offensive, unfounded conspiracy theories rather than saying how things really are. He implied that Swine Flu, which raged through populations in South America and beyond, was designed for “corporate capital gain”.
The issue of extortionate drug patenting laws are widely criticised and pressure from developing states is crucial, however this issue was lost in these bizarre claims.
This lack of diplomatic pandering is respected by some, whilst an embarrassment for others – indeed this is the case for Gaddafi across Africa.
40 years after the removal of Nkrumah from power as the first major proponent of a United States of Africa, his pet project was given a boost from Gaddafi. However whilst the Libyan leader’s proposals for an African passport, currency and military force are popular amongst some, others are threatened by the dominance of Gaddafi, the self-professed ‘King of African Kings’.
There are also large doubts over the extent to which Gaddafi represents progression in the African Union.
Advocates across Africa are battling for democratic representation in their states, from Nigeria to Zimbabwe and the end of the plague of ‘the big men’ as well as a respect for human rights.
Gaddafi is one of the ‘big men’, albeit he has helped to bring some economic success to Libya’s population, nonetheless his arrogant dismissal of democratic rights with 40 years in power and abuses of political prisoners are not progressive.
There is also a gulf between AU ideals and Gaddafi; he has disregarded the army’s role for intervention in national crises by maintaining a crony friendship with the Sudanese leadership, despite evidence of Darfur atrocities.
It seems that there are plausible claims that Gaddafi represents Africa, whilst many reject him. Gaddafi has the title and the stage but his own careless eccentricities and the stagnant political environment in Libya compared to progression across the continent, mean that for many Africans he will never be their King.
The author is currently living in the United Kingdom and is a friend of Rwanda.