Muammar Gaddafi’s historic speech delivered in 2009 at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly is etched in the discourse of global politics with a haunting, ambivalent permanence. His impassioned and unscripted tirade against the brazen hypocrisy and double standards of the West, Russia, and China visibly unsettled several UN delegates.
This was the first time that Gaddafi stepped into the United States to make a keynote UN address. At the same time, Barack Obama was also making his debut address to the UN. It was expected Gaddafi would follow the insidiously modest diplomatic style of American leaders. What came forth was the unexpected. But it was very much needed.
He was scheduled to deliver a 15-minute speech but continued for a total of an hour and a half. His discursive verbal offensive addressed the ‘autocratic’ UN Security Council, colonial reparations, the assassination of John. F. Kennedy, and a theoretical belief that swine flu was created by man (via the military) as a biological weapon.
Gaddafi’s lengthy speech did not however smash the record set by Cuban iconoclast Fidel Castro who spoke for four and a half hours in 1960. But it is similar to Robert Mugabe’s 2017 UN speech where he denounced Trump as the “giant gold Goliath” because of his aggression, urging him to “blow [his] trumpet”.
Although emphasis was thrust on Gaddafi’s eccentricity and spontaneity – a renunciation of Western mannerisms – what he said largely reflected the sentiments held by the vast majority of oppressed peoples in the world. Some of it may have lacked empirical credibility but nonetheless conveyed serious counter-hegemonies asserting that Western-style democracy is incompatible with the relevant material needs and developmental concerns of Africans in their daily lived realities.
For the most part, one gets a sense that the West felt the rather venomous verbal attack where it hurts the most. And that is why the propaganda machines were hurriedly dispatched (the English transcript of Gaddafi’s 2009 UN speech was removed from the UN website, and all Western media outlets “removed the transcript from all types of media resources”). This was done to reduce Gaddafi to an erratic, senseless dictator who was using the podium in the United States to feed his egotistic and megalomaniac appetite for attention.
It is understandable that Gaddafi may have failed to smooth out his contradictions as Libya’s leader in the most desirable manner. However, no leader is perfect. And certainly, it was not Gaddafi who was the ‘devil’ as the West portrayed him. Western leaders have committed unspeakable atrocities in the colonial and post-colonial eras.
The examples of such atrocities are infinite for the purposes of this article – but some key ones stand out as per Gaddafi’s context, these being colonialism, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, sanctions against the likes of Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, and Zimbabwe, sponsoring military coups in Latin America, information wars, among others.
Gaddafi had no kind words for the UN Security Council, the supreme organ responsible for global peace. He showed how the Security Council and its permanent members (the United States, France, China, Russia, and the United Kingdom) embody the antithesis of peace. His argument was that the Security Council deviated from the purposes envisaged by the UN Charter for selfish gains.
“How can we be happy about the world security if the world is controlled by four or five powers?” he poignantly inquired. His derision of the Security Council – the “terror council” that despises smaller nations – was raw and uncut.
“We cannot have the security council under countries which have nuclear powers. This is terrorism itself.” He alluded to how the body has failed to stop or positively intervene in 65 wars since the UN was birthed in 1945.
He lambasted the veto power enjoyed by the Security Council’s permanent members. He demanded that permanent seats should be given to regional organisations such as “the Arab League, Organisation of American States, the African Union, and the Non-Aligned Movement”.
Perhaps the melodramatic moment typifying dictators as perceived by Western lens was when Gaddafi tore up a copy of the UN Charter, much to the bewilderment of delegates – “Are we equals?”
The same council members were the same orchestrators of conflict in the world. To Gaddafi, the Security Council bore no differences with the al-Qaida – both were terroristic bodies. He called for Britain’s Tony Blair and America’s George Bush to be put on trial for causing untold human death and suffering because of the Iraqi war. Gaddafi’s insistence on exposing the decadence that characterized the UN was meant to show that equality is the basis of humanity; everyone, whether small or big, is equal.
He illustrated that Africa was colonized and “isolated,” being treated like slaves and animals and that the colonizers had an “outstanding bill to pay”. Gaddafi proclaimed that compensation of around $7.7 trillion for the ills of colonialism must be paid to colonized countries so that there is “no more repetition of colonizations and no more usurpation and stealing of the wealth of the people.”
And that is a fair point as conversations around decolonization processes have gained traction. His rationale further asserted that if compensation is paid, then illegal immigration would drop – giving the example of illegal and dangerous crossings from Libya to Italy. Gaddafi went on to thank Barack Obama on starting his tenure as America’s first black president. With the twisted nature of global politics, it was ultimately Obama who led the unlawful offensive to permanently eliminate Gaddafi.
The key takeaway from Gaddafi’s historic United Nations speech in 2009 is that he offered counter-hegemonic narratives that other African leaders are timid to air out on international forums. This anti-imperial audacity is what led a relentless propagandistic campaign railed against him – ultimately leading to his assassinations.
Whatever view one may hold about Gaddafi, what he said in 2009 matters for eternity and Africans should view him as a leader who spiritedly advanced African independence; a desire to free the continent from the tentacles of imperial capitalist domination.