Africa has, time and again, proved that leaders are not mathematical constants whose characters are immutable and definite. There is almost always a story about the despotic tendencies of even the most progressive leaders in the continent. Kwame Nkrumah was labelled a "hero-turned-villain" while Thomas Sankara has on occasion been labelled an authoritarian but progressive leader. It is easy to conclude that dictatorship and authoritarian leadership are not always the antithesis of development as the West would have everyone believe. A contemporary case in point is China. Libya could have very well been Africa's China to the extent that the leader gave no room to dissent while pushing for development. Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was straddling the fine line between the good and the bad. It would be unfair to simplistically brand him as 'just a villain' as Western media has enthusiastically done. It is equally imprudent to deem him a saint.
When Gaddafi was killed, the lazy characterisation of a very complex leader began. BBC was only too excited to air a documentary titled Mad Dog: Gaddafi’s Secret World which may have been factual but no attempt was made to appreciate the Colonel's less sinister qualities. In any case, the documentary revealed that Gaddafi would torture and kill political opponents and he kept the head of one of his perceived enemies in a freezer. He also kept the bodies of other rivals in a walk-in freezer and would occasionally pay them visits. The man is alleged to have also raped young teenage girls before sending them to asylums after. The gory details were corroborated by various officials like Frank Terpil who ran a "murder for hire" team used by Gaddafi.
In 2011, thousands of documents detailing orders from Gaddafi's senior generals to "bombard and starve the people of Misrata" were discovered. One order from Youssef Ahmed Basheer Abu said, "It is absolutely forbidden for supply cars, fuel, and other services to enter the city of Misrata from all gates and checkpoints." The details were so horrific that there was a general consensus that a War crimes conviction had already been secured. It was overwhelming evidence of sheer brutality.
The brutality did not begin late into his rule. In the 1970s, security forces were used to ruthlessly crush dissent with some political opponents disappearing. Political parties were simply not allowed with Gaddafi himself saying "...execution is the fate of anyone who forms a political party." In the 1980s, exiled political opponents were extrajudicially executed and exact numbers are unknown. In 1996, at least 1,167 prisoners were shot dead by security forces on June 28 and 29 in Abu Salim.
To say Gaddafi has a tainted legacy is to understate matters. People were killed, tortured and terrorised. The problem with labelling Gaddafi an absolute saint in the face of such horrors is the implicit disrespect for those affected by his rule and brutality. It is invalidating the suffering of Gaddafi's victims, a most unfortunate consequence. Also, Gaddafi's acts of dictatorship should not be discounted simply because they were publicised by the West. It is an intellectually lazy approach to take. However, the West's selective amnesia of all the good Gaddafi did is equally toxic. As Africans take back the narration of their history, they should readily accept that leaders like Gaddafi are still just men with complex personalities. They can be evil, at times progressive but overall, they are human. It is dishonest to ignore any aspect for the sake of making political points.
Qaddafi was not killed for humanitarian purposes but for the oil and for money. His ideas of an African gold-backed currency were his major undoing.
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