Friday 21 October – Thoughts on The Death of a Dictator
Today has been full of the news of Muammar Gaddafi’s death. I checked on Twitter, listened to news, checked Facebook to find some new, meaningful analysis to this event. There was none. The usual noises came from the usual quarters, whether this is the human rights groups, the anti-imperialist left, the imperialist west, and commentators being interviewed on the international media. No one was asking any interesting questions. “What next after Gaddafi?” hardly qualifies. “Was he executed or caught in crossfire or shot trying to escape?”. The end was about as predictable as it could have been. Either (i) he would get caught and killed (ii) he would get caught and tried (iii) he would disappear, pop up here and there and then get killed or (iv) he would go to a friendly country for exile. Having vowed to fight to the death, Gaddafi invited the end he met. And to me, that is the end of that sorry chapter.
But I am not hearing any propositions that get me to sit up and listen. The toppling of a tyrant who held on to power for 40 years would in any other year have been a momentous event. But in 2011, there is nothing particularly extraordinary about the Gaddafi story. Africans have lived through this time and time again-men who hang on to power by force, and refuse to see the writing on the wall. Change never looks like it is about to happen—until it does. And life goes on. The new order sets in with the usual exhiliaration and speculation, disappointments and surprises. So I would not given this more than a couple of headlines—certainly not more time than the Occupy Wall Street movement, which really is new news. After all, the man was already gone, if not dead.
‘What will this mean for the AU’? Probably not very much. A few adjustments here and there and the AU will continue, warts and all. The AU has pretty much established itself as an actor on the global and continental scene. Gaddafi’s exit may mean less money in the AU coffers, but I suspect on the part of some of the more earnest functionaries, there will be a sigh of relief to be done with the Gaddafi circus rolling into town each time there is a summit. Things will be quieter. More boring, but maybe more serious. The real work of regional integration has been plodding along, and I am not sure that Gaddafi had that much to do with any of it. Certainly, the killing of some 70 AU peacekeepers in Somalia reported today would, I imagine, present a much bigger headache for the AU than the death of long gone dictator. By now the AU has seen leaders come and go, and if it hasn’t figured out that nothing stays the same, well someone needs to haul them out of the 70s to the 21st century.
What about the rest of the continent? Will this be the African spring? Somehow (in some quarters) there is speculation that the rest of Africa will be caught up in a frenzy of revolution, ready to throw out the rest of the Big Men, the hegemons that have so long defined us as a continent. But the big men are pretty much a done and dusted story in Sub-Saharan Africa. The few who remain are anachronisms of their time. Did anyone notice the Zambian election? Yes, the one they had this year? Where a sitting President was defeated, handed over power and … the opposition took over? No war, no conflict, no fuss? Just a normal transition? Or Ghana where the same thing happened a couple of years ago? Or Mozambique and Tanzania and Namibia, where admittedly the same parties have been in power since independence but where heads of state step down after their constitutional terms are done and hand over to sucessor. You missed that? Sub-Saharan Africa has more than started its rocky, slow and painful road to democracy-one state and one regime at a time. As I see it, While the Arab Spring has been a boost for democracy in Africa, North Africa is catching up with the rest of sub-Saharan Africa. The real boost has been the challenge to the trend where sons, brothers and nephews of incumbents expected to be named as successors to the throne. For that I am supremely grateful to the Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans and Moroccans.
Gaddafi’s death is part of a big change that is happening in the world. The post cold war order, driven by corporate rule, oil dictatorships, and the world of global finance is falling away. It seems that these changes have happened every 20-30 years since world war 2. First, the 60s and 70s, student uprisings and the end of colonial rule. Then in the 90’s the Berlin Wall, communism, apartheid, and one party rule in Africa all fell away; and now here we find ourselves in the noughties … Wall Street crashes, the Arab Spring happens, and even Rupert Murdoch does not get to escape … and happily Occupy Wall Street emerges to finally hopefully set that very handsome first black President of theirs back on the straight and narrow.
So here we are, the pattern of generational change has set in. When Gill Scott Heron said the revolution will not be televised it will be LIVE’ he was prophetic in ways we did not imagine. As we said last year during the World Cup (FIFA are another bunch on the way out!) “Feel it, it is here.”