With the death of Muammar Gaddafi, in Sirte and the declaration of liberation by his adversaries, a new era has begun in Africa.
Of course his passing has greater significance in the Arab world, but I wish to dwell on the African continent, where he exerted a lot of influence and seemed to have his way most times.
Gaddafi ended like most of his contemporary African rulers of the post colonial era. These are not the rulers that ushered in independence from colonial rule, but junior military and in some cases senior officers who deposed the immediate post colonial leaders who had struggled for independence.
Upon assuming power in bloodless coup d’états, in a matter of hours, when that was still possible in most of Africa, they would set up the so called revolutionary command councils, or national salvation committees that would hold executive powers and simultaneously exercise legislative powers.
The judiciary in most cases would be rendered irrelevant, and extra judicial killings would in little time after takeover, become the known means of exercising what they imagined to be justice.
Mobutu, Amin, Bokkassa, Siad Barre, Habyarimana are some of the names in the league of Muammar Gaddafi. They shared a common background as career military men and before that, a deprived background.
Their cruelty against society, some argue was derived from their early days of deprivation. Whether this holds water or not, is immaterial. Besides, not all rulers that have struggled against odds in life have turned into deluded tyrants!
Most of these rulers, who sustained their power by playing the global cold war politics of their days, were deposed by popular liberation struggles.
Their successors, several dashing young former leftist guerillas, quickly transformed into civilian elected leaders, embraced market economics and turned to the west to remain relevant in a unipolar world that had emerged as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Some of these leaders have turned out not any different from those they deposed. However in some countries, they have distinguished themselves as reformers, ready to break with convention and institute institutional reforms that can stand the test of time.
For leaders of the Gaddafi generation, dismantling of state institutions was a means of consolidating and entrenching themselves in power. As a result, many of the reform and liberal minded intelligentsia fled into exile creating a mass of educated African intellectuals living and working in Europe and North America, to the detriment of their home countries.
There has been a wave of change and democratization in Africa. It first begun in the early 1990s but seemed to run out of steam later on! Young Africans who know that they can no longer accept a limitation on their opportunities are pushing for greater democratic reform.
They are also opening up new frontiers for doing business and achieving what no other post independence generation was able to achieve.
Moribund rulers, trapped in the old ways of doing things, like Gaddafi will be swept away by currents they are unable to comprehend. The young generation of our time has different expectations and ambitions.
These are people, equipped with new tools of communication that can not allow any place to remain backwater while the rest move on.
These tech-savvy young people connect best with reform oriented leaders, who have adopted to modern communication technologies and can explain their policies in a language they understand.
The public nature of events as they unfolded in Libya was enabled by young revolutionaries who were equipped with modern tools of communication and could relay everything on the internet without being censored.
It had been noted that Saif Al Islam, Gaddafi’s western educated son, would lead Libya into a new era, as a public face of modern and liberal Libya. Indeed he easily connected with the youths of Libya. But that was before he had to make a decision between staying loyal to family and choosing to be part of a new Libya, which would exclude his father.
Like it always happens in such cases, Saif chose family and the rest is history. This again offers a lesson to those who bank their hopes for reform in the children of rulers, who are groomed to take over power as their fathers become irrelevant.
For change to be meaningful, a break with the past has to be complete, regardless of the outlook of the so-called heir apparent.