King of kings’ demise: any lessons for other emerging kings on the continent?

“It’s not the strongest, neither the most intelligent species that survive the possibility of extinction over the history; but the species that is responsive to change”. (Charles Darwin, 1809 – 1882)

By: Deng Riek Khoryoam, South Sudan

October 25, 2011 (SSNA) — The wind of change that was sweeping across the Arab world, which started off in Tunisia and then to Egypt followed by the rest, was now a matter of life and death for those who were seeking for real change on one hand and those who resisted it or wanted to cling on to power they held for decades, on the other. What is now known as the ‘Arab spring’ has spread across many countries in the Arab world and has its pros and cons or strings attached to the revolution! This revolution has gotten rid of or dethroned the long serving leaders in the ilk of Ben Ali of Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Muammar Gaddafi of Libya among others, some of whom are now languishing in the cells for racking havoc to their own citizens when the later wanted change of regime for one reason or another. The revolution, as many are familiar with, has shaken kings’ palaces in many countries in African continent like a quake, which strikes with a massive and devastating force.

Abdullah Sale of Yemen is unstable now and could face or find himself in a similar circumstance because of the ongoing mass uprising against his regime. Bishar Al Assad of Syria is also soon going through the same kind of situation that befell his fellow heads of states in other parts of the Arab world, as the momentum for the popular uprising is on the rise everyday and every second. The police and security apparatus’s brutality in Syria is also aggravating the matter and thus a contributing factor but it just galvanizes mass protests against the king and his lieutenants. The bottom line is they will use the security apparatus in a desperate attempt to suppress and quell the protesters, whose slogan is change, change and again change for the better, but as far as this analogy is concerned, their ammunitions will get finished; and sooner rather than later, they will be forced to either exit the hyena’s way or be captured and killed humiliatingly as we’ve now seen with other tyrant leaders.

The self-proclaimed “king of kings”, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, who has ruled Libya for 4 good decades, has been “captured and killed” by his captors or the rebel fighters, to be very precise. In the first place, I would like to convey my sincere and heartfelt condolences to the direct family of the late King, Muammar Gaddafi, who perished on Thursday at around noon time last week. It’s a pity that he had to die in the hands of his captors when justice should have been served. It’s worth noting that the killing of Gaddafi on Thursday has been greeted with mixed reactions from across different quarters of the world. While most Libyans, who had been subjected to the whim of their own remorse came out in their large numbers to celebrate the killing of the dictatorial leader, who had unleashed and instilled fear in his own people, some other African leaders condemned the killing. US President Barrack Obama was quoted to have said “you have won your revolution” referring to the Libyan people. UN human rights body called for an open and transparent investigation into the killing of the late Libyan leader.

Well, whatever the case might be, I think the late Gaddafi had properly dug his own grave and prepared it well before time. He knew it was going to happen anyway and he was supposed to have read all the signs but he chose to ignore them all. And remember, this is a man who had ruled Libya for the last 42 years of his reign with an iron fist, and it appeared to many Libyans and other people around the world as if Libya was his own property; he run the Country like a family project or affair. When the popular uprising, also known as ‘Arab spring’ against the despotic leaders started in Tunisia and spread across Egypt and Yemen, the late Libyan leader thought it would never happen in Libya because he had taken Libyan people for granted; but also believing in the power of the barren of gun. But it happened anyway against the backdrop that he had built Libya from almost a zero level and provided people with free housings, free health care services, free education and so forth. The people wanted change, change for the better, nothing more –nothing less!

It all began in Eastern town of Bengasi and spread across major Libyan cities till it reached the capital, Tripoli. When it started, the late leader said he would crush those protesters, to an extent of even referring to them as “cockroaches and rats”, who he will finish. His son, Saif Islam, who was also the chief of staff of the Libyan forces, also echoed his father’s message as he vowed to clean and clear all the Libyan cities house by house. Little did the son and father realize or know that these people had deep seated problems and that they would continue doing all sorts of things possible and at all costs to make sure that the king was finally dethroned. The message was pretty much simple, ‘change’ – and that’s what they wanted and had longed for it. But the Gaddafis chose to turn a deaf ear and a blind eye on those people, till he was dragged out of that sewage pipe as he attempted to flee his hideouts. His son Saif Islam is no where to be seen or found; he is on the run.

I remember vividly, it was in March towards April this year when the uprising and killings of protesters intensified in Libya, and the subsequent UN Security Council’s resolution to send NATO forces to Libya, whose mandate was to protect the civilians at the hands of Gaddafi and his security forces. I remember we were discussing the pros and cons of the NATO’s intervention in the Libyan crisis, when an argument ensued between me, two of my Uncles (whose names I will not mention here) and one other friend. We were four staying in the house at the time. The senior uncle was kind of sympathizing with Gaddafi and was seriously against the NATO’s intervention on the pretext of protecting the civilians but under the disguise of regime change. He argued his case strongly well. He argued that the West just wanted to eliminate the strong African leaders, who don’t say ‘yes’ to their often biased and unfair policies towards the weak and poor, third world nations! He continued to say that whatever they are saying about protecting the civilians was untrue and was just a cover up for a hidden agenda—–he said they were pursuing regime change, and they were bent to doing just that. I think he had a base and his point of argument was worth listening to, since it made some sense.

However, on the other side, were the three of us, who had a different viewpoint. We agreed with him on some points and we differed on some, as well. I, the other junior uncle and the friend were of a different opinion about the NATO’s intervention and the overall situation or unfolding events in Libya. We had argued that whatever the case was, and regardless of the NATO’s intervention and all that happening, still, Gaddafi was not given a license to kill the innocent Libyan people, who were just demanding their rights and expressing their anger and frustration through peaceful protests, which would later turned into bloodshed and violence. He had ruled for 42 years and if people wanted him to step down, he could have honorably done so without a shrug of shoulder and without raising an eyebrow. This was as simple as that. What more didn’t he doin those four decades of his rule that he would do now other than just clinging onto power? That was where we found ourselves at odds with anyone supporting Gaddafi and other long serving leaders on the continent. Too much of anything’s not good, in other words, too much of anything is too big a problem!

We ended our somewhat hot debate there with some smiles on our faces. We handled it in a diplomatic manner and tried to reconcile our different viewpoints and harmonize them. But one thing that we can all agree on is that our African leaders area disgrace to us, the African citizens; and this is a fact, not fiction! Their quest and thirst for power is beyond any reasonable description. They don’t relinquish power when it’s time to do so; they don’t always want to accept defeat when defeated at the polls, they instead resort to using force and all constitutional parameters in order to remain in power for as long as they want or wish. Many examples could be cited here, including the Ivorian recent situation. Ex. President of Cote De Vo’re Laurence Gbabo refused to accept defeat and decided to cling to power till he was shamelessly captured or unseated by force by help of French UN peace keeping troops. Some savvy analysts said he exited the “hyena’s way” as he was captured alive in his hideout, sweating like a no man business.

Back to the killing of King Gaddafi of Libya, I have to say that although I didn’t like the way he was mercilessly killing his own people whom he was leading, I also don’t like the way he was humiliatingly killed by the Libyan rebel fighters. Upon his capture, he pleaded with the rebels and had this to say "Don’t kill me, my sons" but some minutes later, he was killed. What a pity! I don’t think any sensible human being can rejoice over the killing or death of a fellow human being whether that person did horrible things or not. However, I must also coin herein the phrase which says “those who live or rule by the sword will also die by the same sword”, but without contradicting my thesis above on Gaddafi’s death. My point of argument here is that since he was not killed in the frontline, why was he not just captured alive, as he was, and then taken him into custody and later to court for those crimes is accused to have committed? After all, he was also wanted by the toothless international criminal court in The Hague. Justice should have been served for those Libyan she allegedly killed either during the recent revolution or during the last decades of his rule, but now that he’s been killed, he won’t experience and feel the pain that he could have felt if he were alive and taken to court like Mubarak of Egypt. Was this not a big blow to justice? I would think so, unless someone else tries to justify this and then convince me as well!

Most Libyans felt extremely happy and celebrated his death for days and nights. He was killed inhumanely and without respect to international law regarding those captured at the frontline. The international law dictates that a captive shouldn’t or must not be killed since they are classified or called as “prisoners of war”; therefore each warring party is obliged under international law to protect them. But I think it was because of the bitterness and anger which made people to act that way. You cannot not capture someone at the frontline only to end up killing him or her later; it’s not good. It’s a known fact that the Libyan rebel fighters are untrained, unprofessional soldiers lacking all sorts of things needed under international law or standard operations. I shouldn’t delve so much on it now because it’s a foregone conclusion. It’s over!

Gaddafi is no more now; he is gone back to the dust where he initially came from. But the most important question is: will the death or killing of Gaddafi unite all the Libyans from across the divide or will it divide them even further? It remains to be seen if his killing will unite them and make them focus on restoring peace, social harmony and building the destroyed livelihoods and the shattered economy. We hope that they will put aside their tribal grudges brought about by the recent uprising against the late leader and focus on the way forward. The so-called ‘national transitional council’ has a lot of work to do in order to make sure the country is back to all normalities, but I must acknowledge that it’s a daunting task, which is difficult but not impossible to do. They now need to focus their attention and direct their energies to national reconciliation and healing for all the Libyans regardless of political colours or beliefs. They also need to establish or re-establish and revive true democracy and rule of law to prevail all over Libya if they are to appreciate the fruits of their liberation, as they like to call it. It would be very shameful if they replace Gaddafi’s leadership style or way of ruling people with another even more worse one!! We hope they will respect the Libyan people and do as they like it, not the opposite of it.

Another big question is yet to be answered and it’s as this: King of kings’ demise: any lessons for other emerging and self-crowned kings in African continent? Hence, the title of this article. Where is king Mugabi of Zimbabwe? Where is King Ali Abdullah Sale of Yemen? Where is king Museveni of Uganda? Where is King Bishar Al Assad of Syria? And many others, who don’t want to relinquish power and are bent to using authoritarian tactics to retain power for decades. As mentioned elsewhere in this article, they can kill people and unleash terror in them but the bottom line is; they will one day come to regret their irresponsible actions. Their days of ruling with an iron fist are numbered as they are diminishing day by day. It would be prudent for one to read early signs or warnings before falling into the same predicaments of Gaddafi, Ben Ali and Mubarak.

It’s important to note that King Gaddafi had lived a very controversial life during his days. He sponsored militias to help overthrow sitting heads ofstates; he had killed many innocent people through covert ways. His policies are highly controversial across the world and Africa in particular. At one time last year, the late king was seriously campaigning against the independence of South Sudan from the Muslim-dominance north. He was quoted as saying that the separation of the South from the North would be a “crack on the map”, referring to the African map, since he was falsely for united Africa to suit his self interest!

To sum up, it’s important to know that the extent to which people recognize and accept their leader, to the same extent the patterns and effectiveness of such leadership can be measured or determined. When a leader is secure, he becomes more stable, better understanding and can thus afford to be a good leader. An insecure leader develops fear and becomes paranoid as he/she can easily overreact in the event of any slight happening. Equally, any calls for change are translated in a bad light. But change will eventually happen anyway whether they like it or not, therefore, they have a choice of working to manage it well or try to deal with its effects. Charles Darwin said it all “It’s not the strongest, neither the most intelligent species that survive the possibility of extinction over the history; but the species that is responsive to change”.

Once more, my sincere sympathies and condolences are with the bereaved family of Gaddafi, who are groaning in pain as they try coming to terms with the death of their loved one.

The author lives in South Sudan; he could be reached for comments at [email protected]

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