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Published: February 9th 2009
I'm guessing this isn't getting a lot of press in the U.S., but I think it is actually pretty significant. Do you remember Colonel Gaddafi of Libya? Yep, the one we used to hear so much about a few decades ago? Well, he's still in power after 40 years. Even though he's dropped off the radar of most American media, he continues to play a strong role in Africa. Here in Uganda a few years ago, he financed the construction of a new National Mosque. According to Austin Ejiet, a writer for The Monitor, he has also “had a hand in just about every military coup or other unconstitutional regime change in sub-Saharan Africa and some islands in the Indian Ocean.”
He has stayed in power for 40 years by sharing the incredible oil wealth of his country with his citizens, who are guaranteed good housing and other services. There has also apparently been a proposal within the Libyan government to give $4,000/month to every family.
Why am I writing about this now you might ask? Because the “King of Kings,” as he calls himself, was just elected chairman of the African Union. Even though he has been written off as a madman by many countries in the West, he actually garners quite a bit of respect throughout Africa and is far from irrelevant.
One of his main goals as Chairman is to push his agenda for a single government that will represent all of Africa, possibly superceding the current governments. Obviously the current leaders of these other countries will be reluctant to hand over any of their power. However, Gaddafi is taking an interesting approach by seeking the support of traditional leaders. He not only has the money to buy the favor of his own citizens, but those of many other countries, as well. When he was inaugurated at the beginning of this month in Addis Ababa, he flew many traditional chiefs, kings and queens to the meeting in private jets.
While most of these traditional leaders have no official political power, their influence over their subjects is immense. Gaddafi actually tried to convene a meeting of African traditional leaders here in Kampala recently but Museveni, the Ugandan president, wouldn't let it happen. This shows you how threatened at least one African leader feels by this. Political leaders here generally hold onto power through the force of their militaries. When ones military has torn loyalties, however, that power is weakened. And remember - every member of the army is, first and foremost, a member of their tribe.
This will be an interesting thing to watch over the next few years, with potentially far-reaching consequences. Gadaffi is probably not be the person the world at large wants to have in charge of this whole continent. Combine this with the fact that China is investing billions of dollars here and is gaining more and more influence. Is the West going to wake up one morning and say, “Whoa - how did all this happen while we weren't looking?!?”
The development approach the U.S. and Europe are taking in Africa is just one approach. It is easy to think that “aid” is the only way to get involved in Africa. However, China is coming in and building infrastructure, investing in business, and giving governments here a lot of what they want without any human rights or environmental requirements. Libya is spreading wealth around in its own way.
So what happens if Western countries continue to do it “our way” and try to maintain the (questionable) “moral high ground,” but meanwhile the hearts and minds of Africans are won over by countries that are happy to turn a blind eye to atrocities but create jobs, wealth and infrastructure here?
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