African Dictators: The People Don’t Love You! By Alemayehu G. Mariam
In February 2011, at the onset of the Libyan Revolution, Moamar Gadhaffi trumpeted to the world, “They love me. All my people with me, they love me. They will die to protect me, my people.” He called the rebels fighting to oust him from power “rats and cockroaches”. He believed it was his birthright to rule Libya as “king of kings” and remained in total denial of his own doom until the bitter end in a sewer tunnel. In the end, in an ironic twist of fate, Gadhaffi was served poetic justice. He was trapped like a sewer rat and smashed like a cockroach as he begged for mercy: “Don’t shoot me!”
The man who had played God in Libya for 42 years died a wimpy thug. The man with the absolute power to decide who shall live and who shall die was shot down like a rabid dog in the street by a nameless rebel. The man who had tortured and abused so many thousands of his people in secret prisons and dungeons was himself tortured and abused with unspeakable inhumanity broadcast for the world to see.
The man who slaughtered thousands of his people ended up in the meat locker of a slaughterhouse where his victims gloated over his bloodied and half-naked body discarded on a filthy mattress like big game hunters inspecting their kill on an African safari. The man with the golden gun died from a lead bullet. The man-turned-monster who once called himself “brother leader,” “guide of the revolution,” “king of kings,” “Great Leader,” and “keeper of Arab nationalism” was escorted to his unmarked grave in the featureless desert by a swarm of hungry maggot-bearing flies. Only one question remained: Is it possible for Gandhi’s warning about dictators to have momentarily flashed before Gadhaffi’s eyes or echoed in his ears as he prepared to meet his Maker: “I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it–always.”
Gadhafi boasted he will die a hero and a martyr, but died a hated villain and a coward. But the manner of his death left an ugly blotch on the glorious record of the Libyan Revolution. Gadhaffi’s young captors, unable to contain their pent up rage, treated him with such unspeakably inhumanity that their actions spoke very poorly for all of humanity. His execution in the street was an ugly public testament to man’s inhumanity to man. Even the most wicked and depraved dictator is entitled to basic human dignity. But in the euphoria of the moment, Libyans erupted with celebration at the news Gadhaffi’s dehumanization and death. With muted jubilation and a sigh of relief, acting Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril declared: “We have been waiting for this moment for a long time.” President Obama followed, “This marks the end of a long and painful chapter for Libya.”
Gadhaffi was the ultimate personification of the adage, “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Over four decades, he became convinced that he was a god and untouchable by any man or law. He became an egomaniac, a megalomaniac, and a monomaniac. Gadhaffi and members of his family believed that they had a divine right to own Libya and Libyans as their personal property. His son Saif al-Islam threatened to dismember the country and plunge it into a civil war that “will last for 30 or 40 years” if anyone tries to oust his family. The young thug promised a bloodbath: “We will fight to the last minute, until the last bullet. I will fight until the last drop of my blood. We have a Plan A which is to live and die in Libya. Plan B which is to live and die in Libya…” Gadhaffi refused to resign and leave the country peacefully. He would not listen to reason and defiantly declared he would never negotiate, mediate, compromise or surrender. He urged his supporters to fight to the last man and watched Libya burn in a civil war holed up in the sewer. As many as thirty thousand Libyans are estimated to have died as a result of Gadhaffi’s futile attempt to cling to power.
The African People Do Not Love Their Dictators
They say love is blind. That is especially true for dictators. Dictators are so blind that they believe the people love them. Long before Gadhaffi announced to the world “my people love me”, his brother-dictator Saddam Hussien of Iraq told the interrogators who snatched him out his spider hole, “The Iraqi people will always love me.” He even authored a romantic novel and spoke through his main character (king): “I’m a great leader. You must obey me. Not only that, you must love me.”
Long before Saddam, the Italian Fascist leader Benito Mussolini pontificated, “With every beat of my heart, I give service to the Italian people. I feel that all Italians understand and love me.” Idi Amin of Uganda was less sentimental: “The people should love their leader!”; and if they don’t he had his own tough love methods to get the job done. Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire would often chuckle and tell foreign correspondents that not only do his people love him, they want him to stay in power because the “people need me.” Mengistu Hailemariam believed that he ruled with an iron fist out of patriotic duty and love of country. No doubt he loved Ethiopia to death, and proved it for seventeen years by killing thousands of its citizens wantonly. Last May, in a victory speech, Meles Zenawi said he won the election by 99.6 percent because the Ethiopian people love his party and implicitly himself as the party leader. He said the people “consider themselves and the EPRDF [Zenawi’s party] as two sides of a coin” and “nothing can ever shake their unwavering support for our organization.” He returned the love by congratulating them for their “high sense of judgment and fairness” and for “giv[ing] us the mandate through your votes.”
African dictators are so tone-deaf that they just don’t get the message no matter how many times it is repeated to them. Perhaps they might understand if told in sign language: T-H-E P-E-O-P-L-E D-O-N-’T L-O-V-E Y-O-U! In fact, they loathe you. It is a raw and visceral feeling that is manifest in the eyes, thoughts and words of the people. African dictators love having absolute power and boundless privilege. They worship at the altar of money. They love themselves and no one else because they are narcissistic. Every day they look into the ghostly mirror in their minds seeking reassurance: “Mirror, mirror!! Who is the smartest, cleverest, boldest, cruelest, wickedest, trickiest, slickest, shrewdest, quickest, savviest, cunningest… of them all? The answer is always the same.
African dictators are all self-delusional and spend most of their time on Planet Denial. In the face of total repudiation by their people, they invent their own mythology of self-grandeur. They reassure themselves that even if the people don’t love them, “history will one day vindicate me”. To avoid facing the truth, they categorically claim that they have “never killed even a fly and all the crimes I’m accused of are all lies perpetrated by my enemies.” They justify their cruelty by making the excuse that “my country is better off under me” than the previous regime. They brag about their accomplishments “successfully managing the transition from military dictatorship to an emerging democracy” and put themselves out as messiahs who “rekindle hope through a renaissance” and “chart a course of optimism” on a “trajectory of fast economic growth.” African dictators are as loveable as an African scorpion.
Perhaps it is a bit of an overstatement to say African dictators do not love their people. They do. They love to kill them; they love to jail them and torture them. They love to intimidate them, and most of all they love to crush them like cockroaches. How they love to rob, steal and cheat them! They thrive on the blood, sweat and tears of their people. African dictators love their people in much the same way as vampires love people. They love the sound of their own voices which resonate with lies, echo with deceit and jangle with hate: Those who oppose them are “rats and cockroaches” and “terrorists and insurrectionists”.
Did Gadhaffi Cheat the Libyan People in Death as He Did in Life?
It was jarring, confusing and troubling to hear acting Libyan Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril declare on the confirmation of Gadhaffi’s death that “We have been waiting for this moment for a long time.” I wish he had said, “The day we have been waiting for was the day Gadhaffi is brought to the bar of justice.” I wish the rebel fighter who shot Gadhafi in the face would have said the same thing that young fighter who captured the dictator Laurent Gbagbo of Cote d’Ivoire said a few months ago. “We attacked and forced in a part of the bunker. Gbagbo was there with his wife and his son. He was slapped by a soldier, but was not otherwise hurt.”
The moment to wait for would have been that precious moment when Moamar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi stood in the dock in a Libyan court or at the International Criminal Court in the Hague listening to the long list of criminal charges as his victims paraded in one by one wagging an accusatory finger at him. That would have been a historic moment worth waiting for no matter how long it took.
Gadhaffi is one of the top ten worst human rights abusers and criminals of the post-World War II era. I personally believe he is the apotheosis of evil. Regardless, I fully respect his human rights, including his right to a presumption of innocence and unabashedly defend his basic human right to proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law based exclusively on legally admissible evidence. This I believe to be the true meaning of human rights. Even monsters walking amongst us in human skin are entitled to due process (fair trial) and must be protected from lynching or street, mob or vigilante justice. The line that separates the rule of law from the rule of one man or the rule of the mob is a mighty slender one; and the rule of law must be defended at all costs against those who seek to breach it. It is easy to defend the human rights of Eman al-Obeidy, the courageous Libyan woman who was gang-raped by Gadhaffi’s thugs or Gadhaffi’s revenge killing victims. But it is infinitely more difficult to stand up for monsters like Gadhaffi; but the ironic truth is that the brand of human rights that fully protects Eman al-Obeidy also protects fully the monster once known as Moamar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi.
But I am afraid Gadhaffi in his death, as in his lifetime, got away with murder and torture and all sorts of crimes against humanity. He cheated al-Obeidy and the Libyan people out of justice. He cheated them out of the TRUTH. Now, al-Obeidy will never get the chance to confront Gadhaffi in a court of law, wag her delicate fingers at him as her tears roll down her cheeks and scream with all her might, “Gadhaffi! I accuse of rape and torture!” Her tears which testified before the court of world opinion and seared the conscience of all humanity will never get the chance to testify against Gadhaffi in a court of law and have him held accountable.
The truth is now buried with Gadhafi’s corpse and lost forever in the featureless sand dunes of the Sahara. His humiliation will give no satisfaction to al-Obeidy or the thousands of other innocent victims in Libya or those he blew up on Pan Am flight 103. The ghoulish public display of his corpse as a trophy game animal and all the gloating that went with it might give momentary satisfaction to some but it will never quench Libyans’ thirst for justice that could have come only from bringing Gadhaffi to trial. By taking the truth to his grave, Gadhaffi had the last laugh. He took his last revenge on the Libyan people for he knew that there could be no reconciliation in Libya without the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth laid bare before the people. It is too bad that Gadhaffi was given the easy way out!
The End of African Dictators
Winston Churchill said, “Dictators ride to and fro upon tigers which they dare not dismount. And the tigers are getting hungry.” President John Kennedy cautioned us to “remember that, in the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.” He warned the “new states” liberated from colonialism that “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
The people of Africa are beating the drums of change and democracy and encircling the mud walls of African dictatorships. The die is now cast and African dictators will have to make a choice. The smart ones will read the writing on the wall and beat feet to enjoy their stolen loot in comfort and luxury in the sanctuary of well-known “dictatordoms”. Ben Ali and Mengustu are doing just that now as did Idi Amin before them. The stubborn ones will stick around and face the scales of justice. Mubarak is doing that now as did Jean-Bedel Bokassa, the self-proclaimed Emperor of the Central African Republic, before him. The self-delusional ones like Gadhaffi and Laurent Gbagbo of Cote d’Ivoire and Samuel Doe of Liberia before them will cause a civil war to cling to power only to find themselves at the mercy of their ferocious and vengeance-thirsty adversaries. The rest will try to hide and hope their crimes will not catch up with them. Like Robert Mugabe and Omar al-Bashir, they will always be looking over their shoulders for the long arm of international law or the sharp tiger claws of the people that will one day surely hook them. African dictators who make peaceful change impossible will make vigilante justice possible as they peek straight through the barrel of a gun whimpering, “Don’t shoot me! Please don’t shoot me!” African dictators, there is a better way. Show your people some love. LEAVE THEM!