From the Editor’s Keyboard

Gaddafi and African nationalists

By  | 6 May 2011 at 23:19 | 580 views

During my student days at FBC, University of Sierra Leone (late 70s and early 80s), the "African Revolution" was at its peak, with Ahmed Sekou Toure screaming and yelling anti-imperialist slogans on Radio Conakry in neighbouring Guinea almost on a daily basis. French was one of my courses of study at the university (the others were English, Philosophy and Political Science) and I used to spend hours listening to Toure pontificating and lecturing his people in his almost daily marathon speeches.

He was a fascinating and very intelligient orator with an evident love for his country and people. My only problem with him was the way he handled his opponents or critics, many of whom were refugees in Freetown. The evidence was not good especially after his death in 1984 when the gates of Camp Boiro and other notorious Guinean prisons were flung open and the world saw the human scarecrows that emerged from the dungeons.

So I was kind of ambivalent in my assessment of him; I cannot say I admired him wholeheartedly, but I respected him as an African nationalist and Pan-Africanist. I have read most of his books in French in addition to the books of Kwame Nkrumah and Amilcar Cabral and the poems of Agostinho Neto of Angola. I was introduced to Frantz Fanon, Aime Cesaire and others in the French department.

I was what you might call a quiet radical, never shooting off my mouth or shouting slogans unnecessarily, always taking part in all the student demonstrations and protests on and off campus but always avoiding the limelight. I wrote on Chuck’s Press (the campus wall newspaper similar to what you see in China and other Asian countries) and the notorious Aureol Times (that exposed the sleazy underbelly of university life).

I always believed (and still do) in action, positive action, rather than too much talking or labo labo, as our people would say. Some people describe me as a moderate (whatever that means). So I read and listened to Sekou Toure (Le Guide de la Revolution) and read the little red books on the Juche Idea of the late North Korean leader Kim Il Sung, also known at the time as The Beloved Leader. He built, for free, he said, our City Hall in Freetown. There was no Green Book then although we were aware of Gaddafi and his antics in Libya. He later entered the consciousness of FBC after our batch had left in the late 80s.

The FBC of the late 70s and early 80s was tense with radicalism and radicals as was most of the continent. I remember attending a lecture by the late Zimbabwean freedom fighter Joshua Nkomo (nicknamed The Elephant) at the Mary Kingsley auditorium on campus. That was a huge event in my life. So was the visit to Sierra Leone of the then newly elected first Prime Minister of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe in 1980, for the OAU summit, in which I acted as an interpreter for some francophone delegates.

I was at Lungi airport when Mugabe’s plane landed and tears filled my eyes when the Zimbabwean students then at FBC, waiting with intense excitement to welcome their leader, broke into one of their revolutionary songs, wildly hopping and crying on the tarmac when Mugabe’s head emerged from the plane. Visibly surprised, perhaps not expecting such a welcome, Mugabe put aside protocol, rushed down the steps of the plane and joined in the singing and dancing. Yep, those were revolutionary days.

But then by the middle of the 80s, due to IMF and World Bank Structural Adjustment programs, the economies of African countries including Sierra Leone started to unravel. There were coup d’etats and counter coup d’etats. And then the rebel wars.

Muammar Gaddafi and his Green Book came to Sierra Leone by the middle of the 80s and he attracted and captured the dreams of a lot of young people in the colleges and Universities of Africa. In Sierra Leone he was never considered a threat by the complacent and happy go lucky Momoh government until he started giving free military training to young radicals and former soldiers and politicians from all over Africa. From West Africa, there were Charles Taylor and Prince Johnson from Liberia, Foday Sankoh, Abu Kanu, etc from Sierra Leone, Samba Sanyang from the Gambia, and others. He trained many fighters who launched vicious rebel wars, leading to massive destruction of lives and property in many parts of Africa.

Without Gaddafi, there would have most probably not been any rebel wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Many politicians in Sierra Leone knew about the training of Sankoh and others in Libya by Gaddafi but opted to keep their mouths shut. Were they as guilty as Gaddafi for the carnage that followed? I leave that to the people of Sierra Leone to judge. I am sure the learned Sierra Leonean legal scholar and politician, Dr. Abdulai Conteh, would call that "misprision of treason," knowing about such a very serious security matter and not reporting it to the authorities.

A couple of years ago, Gaddafi realized he had hurt Africa too much and he started what he may have considered a reconciliation process by giving away millions of dollars in raw cash and all sorts of other gifts like cars and tractors to African leaders. He has also been financing the United States of Africa project scheduled to kick off by 2017.

Many African revolutionaries like Professor Kete Molefi Asante (who I met last year at a conference) have forgiven and accepted Gaddafi again while others still detest him like the plague and want to see him punished in one way or the way. Others, like my friend and brother Jesmed Suma, want him to cough up billions of dollars to wipe away the tears of his victims in Africa.

Now Gaddafi is under extreme pressure as NATO forces led by France and Britain continue to bombard him, killing his son and some of his grandchildren recently. Would Africa stand behind him or offer him to his enemies like Pontius Pilate?

Difficult to say with any certainty. I know I don’t like him.

PS: Here is the late Sekou Toure on a visit to Paris, for readers that can understand French: