The Erratic Mr. Qaddafy

As I vividly recall, he started life on the African political landscape as a 27-year-old anti-monarchist army captain and ended up a faux-monarch himself with a close-knit dynasty run by a network of his own children, relatives and trusted lieutenants and cronies. He was also first a firebrand Arab nationalist; and then when his largely exuberant ideas for the establishment of an exclusive Arab empire spanning most of North Africa and the so-called Middle-East did not seem to bear any appreciable fruits, at least not as well and fast as he desired, he bitterly abandoned this project in favour of Islamism, during which phase of his life he staunchly backed the cause of his faith in countries like Chad and the Sudan. And just a couple of years ago, following an African Union (AU) talk-shop in the Ghanaian capital of Accra, he attempted to extend his Arabic cultural and imperialist ambitions by promising to fund the establishment of an Arabic language studies department at Ghana’s University of Education at Winneba to the tune of $ 2million (American Dollars), without requesting the reciprocal gesture of having the Ghanaian government establish an indigenous African language and cultural studies department at the University of Tripoli or any of Libya’s major academies.

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Of course, having gained and sustained power since 1969 is quite a long time in the life of any nation and people around the globe, particularly in these times of democratic revolution when most governments generally last about four years and at most a decade. Still, when it comes to appreciating the intricate dynamics of the continental African political landscape, the Bedouin man from Sirte does not seem to have learned much that is either edifying or constructive. And so in the wake of violent clashes between Nigerian Muslims and their Christian compatriots in March this year, the Libyan chieftain was reported to have counseled the divvying up of Africa’s most populous country into two, and along Islamic and Christian lines, in a bid to forestalling further clashes and bloodshed (See “Divide Nigeria in Two, Says Muammar Qaddafy” BBC News 3/17/10).

Needless to say, such suggestion would be deemed laudable and even hailed as a mark of genius leadership, if only it could be shown to have effectively worked in places where the same sociopolitical dynamics were in play. Intriguingly, for a constructive example, the Libyan dictator offered the 1947 partitioning of India into the latter and Pakistan, a predominantly Muslim enclave. But on the latter score, it goes without saying that had he been studiously following recent events in that part of the southwest-Asian sub-continent, Mr. Qaddafy would have heard many an Indian or Pakistani scholar bitterly lament the tragic fact of the split, particularly the fact that, according to one major narrative account regarding the era, Muhammad Ali Jinnah (1876-1948), the leader of the Pakistani faction, had actually craved something more akin to the granting of administrative autonomy to Pakistan as a state within the Mega-Republic of India. The Sirte native would also have learned that shortly after Pakistan’s parting of the proverbial ways with Hindu-dominated India, East Pakistan, a hitherto equally Muslim and integral enclave within the newly-independent nation of Pakistan, also began its vehement agitation for a separate republic. Having a shared faith with Pakistan proper, thus, does not seem to have provided adequate mortar for guaranteeing organic cohesion. By the early 1970s, East Pakistan province would succeed in its secessionist bid and be promptly renamed the Republic of Bangladesh.

In sum, as one Nigerian diplomat, who declined to be identified in the BBC story, perspicuously observed: While violence in Nigeria often takes the form of communal conflicts between Muslims and Christians, in reality, the underlying causes cut across a complex concatenation of political, social and economic grievances. In any case, Mr. Qaddafy needed not to have been pointed to such a cognitively complex direction. Not only did such a cerebral explication likely threatened the Libyan chieftain with cranial hemorrhage, or contusion, but a far better example lay right in front of his nostrils in a predominantly Muslim Darfur where ethnic orientation and outright racism appear to rule the roost, as it were.

What was quite fascinating about the Qaddafy call, of course, inhered in the fact that not very long ago, as chairman of the rejuvenated Organization of African Unity (OAU), now theatrically called the African Union (AU), the Libyan leader was almost on all fours pleading with fellow African leaders to join with him to immediately incorporate something called “The United States of Africa.” That was shortly before he put a desperate phone call through to Uncle Sam in Washington, DC., waxing romantically about how a recent dream he had had, in which he hosted the Most Blessed Prophet in his palatial mansion in Tripoli, had prompted Mr. Qaddafy to suddenly have a change of heart by unilaterally abandoning his protracted flirtation with nuclear weapons.

“Trust me, Baby La Boos, when I say that I have seen the light,” Mr. Qaddafy had almost ruefully cried. “No more nukes, Baby La Boos, ok? As long as you promise to buy more Libyan oil, ok? F…k Sarkozy, Brown and Angela Marcus and all those other European bumpkins. Amiriki is the deal, ok? Insha’Allah!”

Anyway, ever since he entered his apparently most pragmatic and mature phase clinically called “Divvy It Up!” the Jamahiriyah Pontiff has been slashing our globe left and right, without let or hindrance. Last year, for example, the BBC quoted the aging Colonel as urgently calling for Switzerland to be divided up among Italy, France and Germany. One thing, though, is almost certain: underneath his seemingly innocent and knee-jerk call for the division of Nigeria into Christian and Muslim components may eerily and fiercely lurk Mr. Qaddafy’s lingering ambition for a thoroughly Islamized United States of Africa – Jamahiriyah! And under whose supervision and/or watch? I bet your guess is as good as mine!

Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., is Associate Professor of English, Journalism and Creative Writing at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is a Governing Board Member of the Accra-based Danquah Institute (DI), the pro-democracy policy think tank, and the author of 21 books, including “Dr. J. B. Danquah: Architect of Modern Ghana” (, 2005).