Gaddafi fall will test Libya democracy

Sam Makinda
Sam Makinda 

The conflicting media reports from Libya about the status of the capital city Tripoli may show that both sides in the war for national control are unreliable and that the reporters on the ground are gullible, but they also suggest that the end-game for Colonel Muammar Gaddafi is close.

Whatever the rhetoric, it is likely that Gaddafi will surrender, be captured or be killed in the fighting. But what remains uncertain is the identity, character and orientation of the next government.

Writing in this column on March 11, I urged caution in regard to the steps the UN and NATO were about to take, including the UN Security Council resolution 1973 that imposed a “no fly zone” on Libya, and argued that the post-Gaddafi regime would be a tough test for everyone.

The mysterious assassination of an anti-Gaddafi military leader, General Abdel Fattah Younis, by some militia within the Libyan opposition late last month indicated that it would be naïve to assume that the Benghazi-based Transitional National Council (TNC) would, on its own, provide a stable government.

The TNC hastily claimed that General Younis had been killed by Islamist-linked groups, but other sources suggested that Younis was a victim of a power struggle within opposition ranks.

While I have been opposed to Gaddafi for several decades, I am reluctant to concur with various Western leaders, including US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron, who have claimed that the TNC has proved its democratic credentials.

The TNC’s character aside, I look forward to the fall of Gaddafi whenever it will be, which could reveal a lot of information about his relationships with African, Arab and Western leaders.

Some reports from Tripoli have suggested that despite the heightened level of insecurity, senior African, Arab and European diplomats have returned to, or remained in, the capital in recent weeks to try to “secure their assets”, which has included shredding sensitive documents.

A Western diplomat told me the shredding of documents could give some leaders who had close relations with Gaddafi a false sense of security because most of the information is stored in cyberspace. After Gaddafi is toppled, the world might learn what kind of things Western leaders and oil companies offered him in order to secure lucrative oil contracts in the past decade. We might also learn what arrangements the US and UK governments reached with Gaddafi before he agreed to pay compensation for the victims of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

Of special interest to African researchers curious to learn about Gaddafi’s tactics or strategies for bribing African leaders are the activities of the Libyan African Investment Company (Laico), which was known as the Libyan Arab African Investment Company until 2007.

Laico, which is a fully government-owned entity, has acquired assets, including oil infrastructure, tourist facilities and hotels around Africa.

While I have no evidence of Laico’s impropriety in Kenya where it owns a number of high profile assets, including the former Grand Regency Hotel, diplomatic sources suggest the company has been a conduit for Gaddafi’s bribes to various African leaders.

Thus, Gaddafi’s fall from power, which looks likely, will have serious implications for Libyan democracy as well as for political leaders in Africa and around the world.

Prof Makinda teaches at Murdoch University, Australia.