Benghazi, Libyans in rebellion mood in the spirit of Omar Mukhtar By; Kiflu Hussain
To some of us, the revolution that is spreading like a bushfire in North Africa and elsewhere in the Arab world including the Horn of Africa might have lost its appeal as a juicy news.Yet,to people who always maintain a sense of history, the uprisings that sparked off in Tunisia and got transmitted to Egypt after rubbing some of its flame on Algeria before it crossed to the Arabian land in Yemen and Bahrain only to be back again to rock the establishment in Libya, remain an interesting phenomenon to be scrutinized. In fact, it might even stir emotional involvement and recollection of some past events in a few of us whereby it propels us to collate it with what is unfolding today. I don’t know about you but it produced that effect on me thereby prompting a series of missive about these momentous occasions taking place in our midst.Personally, the latest revolt in Benghazi, Libya provoked me to be transported back on a memory lane.
My experience with Libyans
In the capricious global politics where alignment and realignment takes place between nations, particularly during the cold war period, the military regime of Mengistu Hailemariam and its Libyan counter part led by Muammar Gaddafi enjoyed a brief romantic relationship in the 1980s.Mengistu subjecting my country under the sphere of the Soviet influence as a “revolutionary socialist leader” also whipped us in a “proletariat discipline” within our respective association such as worker, peasant, women and youth association. Being young then, I was compelled to belong to the youth association.Worse, as I grew up in the area near the international airport called Bole where the few middle class, then known as petit bourgeois congregated, it was our unfortunate fate to receive a foreign dignitary from the “socialist and anti-imperialist or anti- Zionist camp” whenever one drops by in Addis. Among the “revolutionary” despots I was forced to receive was one called Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.It was his first time to visit Ethiopia which was in the wake of his receiving tones of bombs from the American Air Force and Marine aircrafts during the Reagan administration. I remember distinctly that he came with large entourage in three different aircrafts ranging from Lear jet to Boeing 727 and Boeing 720.Though, we weren’t that much politically conscious, it wasn’t lost on us that Gaddafi was frittering away the resources of his oil rich country by running Libya as his personal fiefdom. However, there was no way that enabled me to foresee that I would somehow benefit by being employed in a joint venture born out of that brief romantic relationship between my country’s despot and his counterpart from Libya. At any rate, I had an opportunity years later to work as a legal service officer in an enterprise called Ethio-Libyan joint mining company until it got dissolved and gobbled up by the TPLF loving tycoon, Mohammed Al Moudi.During my employment, I got to know three Libyans, the board chairman who was in his early fifties, a young auditor who was mostly having fun in the company. The third one was a friend of the auditor who used to come to our office frequently. He happened to be in Ethiopia to be trained as an aviation engineer in Ethiopian Airlines. Since we were in the same age, we developed a friendship even better than the one with my Libyan colleague. Soon we began to exchange views on politics.Amazingly, we were on the same wavelength.But, I was more surprised since I had also been a victim of stereotyping all Arabs as devoid of any revolutionary spirit and political inquistiveness.I assumed that almost all Arabs had no ambition more than their Friday prayers in the religion that allows them to marry as many wives as possible. I thought all of them benefit from the oil revenue to the point of making them smug and content. My Libyan friend dispelled that notion by openly criticizing Gaddafi in front of his countryman and my colleague in the joint venture. Later he told me that he had no intention of going back to his country. True to his word, when he finished his training he remained behind and applied for asylum in Ethiopia. As his application for asylum coincided with the freezing of relationship between Mengistu and Gaddafi, my Libyan friend faced no problem in being granted asylum. Decades later, after I myself sought refuge in Uganda, I was forced to remember my Libyan friend due to the arrogant utterance of Colonel Gaddafi.In 2009, while paying a visit to his former colonial masters in Rome, in what sounded like music to his Italian host and generally to the Europeans who have been engaged in anti-immigrant exercises to the point of xenophobia and racism, Gaddafi said “Africa has no political refugees.” This brazen distortion of facts by Gaddafi,naturally conjured up the image of my refugee Libyan friend whom I met in my country in the early 1990s.To me,Saad Ali Salaamat did not only demystify the propaganda that the man with the “green book” is loved and admired by all Libyans. He also told me that it’s a matter of time until one day Libyans rise up against him. Frankly on this one, I dismissed Saad as a typical malcontent engaged on a wishful thinking. Yet, decades later, out of the blue erupted a revolution in Libya that forced Gaddafi to hire mercenaries to massacre his own people since his army began to side with the legitimate demands of the people. I wonder where the hell Saad Ali Salamaat is. Last I met him he mentioned something about his case being referred to America or Canada by UNHCR which ironically took my being a refugee to enable me understand that mechanism as a “resettlement.”
Second flashback from a memory lane.
The total fearlessness of the Libyans in Benghazi in spite of a cruel mercenary unit deployed by Gaddafi that ultimately enabled them to retrieve their dignity by ejecting Gaddafi’s henchmen, reminded me what Aklilou Habtewold,Prime Minister during Emperor Haile Selassie’s regime, observed about Libya in 1949.According to Ambassador Zewdie Retta’s book titled “Eritrean Affair during the reign of Haile Sellassie I” which is written in Amharic,Aklilou irked by the unfairness of the United Nations that kept on postponing a decision on the future of Eritrea while expressing readiness to grant independence within two years to Libya, whose fate as one of the former Italian colony was tabled alongside the case of Eritrea as claimed by Ethiopia, lamented as follows.
“Without the majority of the Libyans posing resistance for independence or unity that’s worthy of any news, to appease the Arab block and the Islamic nations, it’s decided that it be granted independence after two years by uniting all the three districts.”/Pg 270/ I for one don’t even think for a minute that Aklilou said that out of jingoism or despise for other people. Either the heroic resistance of Omar Mukhtar to Italian colonialism who incidentally hailed from Tobruk which is in the vicinity of Benghazi had not yet emerged to the public domain due to the then primitive dissemination of information. Or having known about Omar Mukhtar, Aklilou might have thought of little of the then generation of Libyans due to their failure to continue the resistance where Mukhtar left off. Whatever the case, it’s inspiring to know that the resistance to dictatorship in Libya rose from the same area where the “Lion of the Desert,” Omar Mukhtar was born and grew up.Mukhtar rattled the Italian colonialists for twenty years before he got captured and executed in September 1931. Now the new generation of Libyans is rattling the homegrown dictator. Speaking of Italian colonialism brings me back to another façade of dictatorship that knows no shame. While it’s Saif al-Islam’s father that has recently been hobnobbing with Western powers, particularly with Italy,Saif accused the protesters as desiring to hand over Libya to the “Italians and Turks.” Since dictators always suffer from a self-induced amnesia, it’s imperative to remind Saif that his decadent father went on record again in 2010 with his rude and fascistic remarks in the former fascist land by requesting an annual remuneration of 5 million Euros for service rendered in catching “starving and ignorant Africans” that threatens to engulf White Europe via Libya. One is also mindful of the irony that Gaddafi tried to play the part of a unionist figure for Africa while spouting racist and divisive remarks.
The implication of the Libyan revolution.
By now there is no illusion as to what comes to the minds of the Western policy makers. Their first concern cannot be the violation of human rights in Libya. The greedy and gluttonous Western appetite makes it imperative for them to think first and foremost about the price of oil going up. News for them; the gallant protesters in Benghazi promised that if the Western world doesn’t stop its double standard and hypocrisy, they will stop the flow of oil altogether. Quite a revolution, isn’t it? To others who are wriggling under dictatorship like my fellow Ethiopians, it’s an immense source of inspiration. It’s a lesson to all Ethiopians who seemed to be demoralized by the ineptitude and sometimes self serving agenda of opposition figures. It sends a clear message that so long there is a genuine need for freedom, which by itself can be a rallying point. Those who think that Ethiopians have given up, and apathy has descended on the terrain, should remember once again Tolstoy’s timeless observation whereby he quipped “Insurrection is a machine that makes no noise.” To regimes like Uganda that recently claimed victory in a sham election, it’s good to remember that Hosni Mubarak was also booted out of office after claiming a landslide victory.Ironically, it’s reported that Museveni of Uganda received fund from Gaddafi to enable him train young cadres under a program called “patriotism.” Apparently these same cadres were instrumental in bringing him “landslide” victory among other things from the recently concluded circus. Whatever transaction took place between Museveni and Gaddafi before their falling-out, it’s recallable that Gaddafi encouraged his “revolutionary” comrade by reminding him that “revolutionaries” will not go anywhere until they finish their mission. He had even the chic to suggest Barack Hussein Obama as lifetime president for Americans. As things stand now, I am afraid his end along with his sons can be much the same like Saddam Hussein.
An Ethiopian Refugee in Uganda