In 2008, a meeting of more than 200 traditional African rulers anointed then Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi the “king of kings”. They converged in Benghazi to bestow the title on the late leader hoping he would see his vision of a united Africa through. Unfortunately, this was not to be so. The West had a say in the matter and Gaddafi was killed before anything he hoped for could come true. The dream was a new world order with a united Africa. Some political leaders were not too enthusiastic about it and Gaddafi got a much needed push from traditional leaders. This support was especially reassuring because of the nature of African societies which respect traditional leaders even more than holders of political office in some instances.
Sheikh Abdilmajid from Tanzania told the BBC then that, “The people believe in the chiefs and kings more than they believe in their governments.” It was an ingenious and well calculated to have a political leader assume a traditional role which gave him legitimacy and power. At the ceremony, the “Brother Leader” reiterated his goals saying, “We want an African military to defend Africa, we want a single African currency, we want one African passport to travel within Africa.”
The statement was optimistic but a little overambitious. The passport now exists but the military, currency and Gaddafi himself do not. The King of Kings was killed in blurry circumstances crystallised in equally blurry videos caught on phone cameras in 2011. His ending was too humble for a king: stabbed in the anus with a bayonet and dozens of his followers executed. President Mugabe was one of the few leaders who had the audacity to challenge the West over its involvement in Libya and the unfortunate killing of Gaddafi.
In 2012, President Mugabe hosted a Chiefs Council conference in Zimbabwe’s second largest city of Bulawayo. It is at this ceremony that the veteran leader was given a black and gold gown which had belonged to Muammar Gaddafi. Kamlesh Mandoo Pattni who was referred to as the leader of of Kenya’s House of Traditional Elders handed over the symbolic gown and explained to the public what the hand over meant. He said, “I got the gown from Gaddafi before he died and after his death Mugabe is the only African leader who deserves to have it,” and added, “Mugabe is the next African chief...so am handing this gown to Mugabe.”
In a ceremony laden with symbolism, the baton was passed to President Mugabe. The office he had just been given was nothing in itself but simply an acknowledgement of his drive to see Africa unite. It was a much needed nod to an outspoken leader who refused to be bullied by imperialists even when refusal made little sense. It was an accolade bestowed upon a persistent rebel who refused to accept the world order. In fact, that very September, President Mugabe was on the United Nations stage unapologetically attacking the West for its double standards. Four Americans had been killed in Benghazi on September 11 of 2012 and Mugabe admitted, “I am sure we were all moved, we all agree that it was a tragic death indeed and we condemn it.”
He was not done! He continued, “As we in spirit join the United States in condemning that death, shall the United States also join us in condemning that barbaric death of the head of state of Libya –Gaddafi? It was a loss, a great loss to Africa, a tragic loss to Africa.”
President Mugabe only sat after scathingly criticising the West for abusing a mission meant to protect civilians and morphing it into a brutal manhunt of Gaddafi and his family. He was among only a few leaders who were able to challenge the self-ordained gods of modern civilisation – the West. It is not a wonder that he received the gown that had belonged to another man who longed to champion an African developmental crusade. These men, flawed as they may have been will be remembered for their legacy of standing up to neo-imperialism. The gown passed from one rebel to another will remind those who care of the African struggle for a seat at the table.