Col. Muammar Gaddafi, Libya’s ousted dictator was killed on Thursday, October 20, 2011 following his capture by troops from the National Transitional Council in his hometown of Sirte. Libyan Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril confirmed the report of his capture and eventual death at a news conference.
Gaddafi’s death ended 42 years and 49 days of his rule in Libya, where he supported radical groups, amassed chemical weapons and missiles, started wars, and orchestrated atrocities. He was one of the longest ruling non-royal leader in the world and the longest ruling Arab leader. He came to power in a bloodless coup at the age of 27 in 1969.
Born to a Bedouin Family in Sirte in 1942, Muammar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi attended a Muslim elementary school far from his home. He was exposed to the events in the Arab world in the aftermath of World War II and these events influenced him profoundly, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser was his hero and he took part in anti-Israeli protests during the Suez War between Great Britain, Israel, and France against Egypt in 1956.
He joined the Libyan military academy in 1961. Graduated in 1966, and had risen to the rank of lieutenant before seizing power in 1969.
Inspired by Nasser and the new brand of Arab nationalism, Gaddafi led a small group of junior military officers in staging a successful bloodless coup d’état against King Idris while the king was in Turkey. The monarchy was abolished and the Kingdom of Libya became the Libyan Arab Republic.
He abolished the Libyan Constitution of 1951, invented his own system of government, and planned an economy based on socialist ideals with revenues from large reserves of natural resources. His anti-western stand and socialist based policies made him popular and a welcome change in a country steeped in poverty.
He shut down western military bases in Libya, criminalized dissent and shared power only with his family and closest confidants. He expelled Italian settlers in 1970, replaced the calendar with an Islamic Calendar, renaming the month of August and July, Hannibal and Nasser.
He became increasingly eccentric, styling himself as ‘brother leader,’ ‘guide of the revolution,’ etc. He retained an all-female team of bodyguards. He erected a luxurious Bedouin tent in his palace grounds and the tent is erected anywhere Gaddafi is lodging even on trips abroad.
In 1973, a law denying freedom of expression was enacted, which made dissenting illegal. Political opponents were publicly executed and members of the Islamist fundamentalist were executed in the 70s. Dissidents abroad were also targeted and many killed by Libyan agents.
An unsuccessful attempt was made in 1986 to replace English with Russian as the primary foreign language.
Gaddafi and his family controlled most of Libya’s industry and trade and amassed great wealth. Oil revenues and a small population combined with high education index made Libya the most successful African country in terms of GDP. However, a large number of the population lives in poverty especially in the eastern part of the country.
In the first 15 years of Gaddafi’s rule, the number of Libyan doctors per 1000 citizens increased sevenfold. Infant mortality rate went from 125 per 1000 births to 15.04 per 1000 births during his reign, making Libya the best country for a newborn in Africa.
He was obsessed with the notion of Arab nationalism and wanted to create a great Islamic state comprising of all the countries of North Africa, he tried to merge with Chad and Sudan.
He was instrumental in Muslims taking power in Sudan in 1971 and tried unsuccessfully to engage in battle with Israel and return the entire country to the Palestinians, which was his goal. In 1995, he expelled some 30,000 Palestinians living in Libya in response to the Palestinian Liberation Organizations peace negotiations with Israel.
He sponsored Idi Amin, gave him the idea of the expulsions of Indian-Ugandans, and maintained a close relationship with him, sending Libyan soldiers to fight for him against Tanzania. He gave him refuge in Libya in 1979 after his fall from power.
He financed Mengistu Haile Mariam’s military junta in Ethiopia that was responsible for one of the deadliest genocides in recent history. He established a school called the World Revolutionary Center, and notable graduates have seized power in other African countries such as Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso; Idriss Deby of Chad; Charles Taylor of Liberia; and he had close ties with Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia and Yugoslavia.
He backed the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia and developed a relationship with Venezuela’s President Hugo Chaves.
In 1998, Gaddafi shifted focus from Arab nationalism to Pan-Africanism and African Unity. He wanted to create a “United States of Africa.” In a speech to followers in September 1998, Gaddafi said, "I had been crying slogans of Arab Unity and brandishing standard of Arab nationalism for 40 years, but it was not realised. That means that I was talking in the desert, I have no more time to lose talking with Arabs...I am returning back to realism...I now talk about Pan-Africanism and African Unity." He added,
"The Arab world is finished...Africa is a paradise...and it is full of natural resources like water, uranium, cobalt, iron, manganese…"
Middle Eastern programs were removed from the media schedule replaced with programs on black issues such as slavery. The map of the Arab league was replaced with a map of Africa on television background. He courted African warlords and dictators, providing aid and refuge when needed. He provided military support for President Ange-Felix Patasse of the Central African Republic in 2001and signing a deal giving Libya a 99-year lease to exploit all of the country’s natural resources. He rescued Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and acquired numerous luxurious properties from the deal.
His strong military and financial support of African despots gained him several allies across the continent and over 200 African traditional rulers and kings were present to celebrate him and proclaim his as “King of Kings of Africa” in 2008 since he had been in power longer than any African King or traditional ruler. In 2009, he was elected as the head of the African Union.
He supported the Iranian Revolution and several militant anti-western organizations around the world. He gave arms to the Irish Republican Army, supported the Red Brigades, and began financing the IRA in 1986. In April 1984, a British policewoman, Yvonne Fletcher, was killed by Libyan diplomats who shot at refugees protesting the execution of two dissidents in London. This incident led to end of diplomatic relations between the United Kingdom and Libya.
In 1986, the United States bombed Libya leading to fractious relations between the two countries. Gaddafi public stated his support for anti US government organizations and financed the Nation of Islam and Al-Rukn. Suicide squads were trained to attack American and European interests.
In 1988, he orchestrated the bombing of a Pan Am flight from London Heathrow Airport to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. The plane exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland killing 259 people on board and 11 people from the town and destroying several houses.
However, Gaddafi changed his tune after the fall of the Soviet Union and began to repair Libya’s image in the west. He extradited the two Libyan intelligence agents indicted for planting the bomb on the ill-fated plane. The United Nations removed sanctions against Libya and Gaddafi agreed to pay the victim’s families.
He began to face growing opposition for the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group in the 1990s; he issued the first arrest warrant for Osama bin Laden in 1998. He gave counter-terrorism intelligence to western agencies and the links deepened during the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush. He denounced the September 11 attacks on the US.
While he had offered to stop his active weapons of mass destruction program in 1999, he admitted to having kept the program in 2003 after the fall of Saddam Hussein but offered to end the program because of the influence of the Iraq war on him and he would prefer to focus on peace.
Gaddafi’s apparent commitment to the war on terror helped in restoring relations between Libya, the US, and the UK. The US went back to full diplomatic relations with Libya and took it off its list of state harboring terrorists. While a number of people questioned his motives, with some speculating that he was afraid of meeting the same fate as Saddam Hussein and others wondering if he was cozying up to the west to have oil sanctions against Libya removed.
In 2008, Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice became the first high ranking US official to meet with Gaddafi, she persuaded him to pay the balance of the victim’s compensation.
President Bush signed an executive Order restoring the Libyan government's immunity from terrorism-related lawsuits and dismissing all of the pending compensation cases.
Gaddafi took part in a 2009 G8 summit in Italy as chairman of the African Union, his handshake with President Barack Obama was the first greeting between Gaddafi and a sitting US president. He also met with Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman.
The only man convicted of the Pan Am flight bombing, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was released on compassionate ground in Scotland. His subsequent welcome by Gaddafi and Libyans who hailed him as a hero drew condemnation from western leaders.
On February 17, 2011, protesters against Gaddafi’s rule started marching in Tripoli and other towns following the examples of similar protests in neighboring Egypt and Tunisia. As the protests gained significance and momentum, Gaddafi’s response was to quash the protesters.
Military forces killed protesters in the street, beating and shooting them. His aggressive stance created dissent in the government with key allies resigning and fleeing the country.
He fled into hiding while forces loyal to him fought fierce battles against rebels fighting to depose him. Amid calls from the international community for him to resign, Gaddafi insisted that he was a beloved leader and he will conquer the rebel forces. Due to the killings the rebels took up arms and the protests turned violent.
The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution freezing Gaddafi’s assets and restricting his travels and that of his close associates and family. However, forces loyal to him rallied and fought on, gaining some ground and beating the rebels back. Due to airstrike launched against the rebels, the UN enforced a no-fly zone over Libya but this proof unsuccessful and on March 23, a NATO operation to aid the people of Libya and to prevent further bloodshed was launched.
In August, the rebels overwhelmed forces loyal to Gaddafi in Tripoli, capturing key properties and members of the inner circle including his spokesman and killing one his sons. A number of Gaddafi’s family, including his wife of 40 years and daughter fled to Niger but the whereabouts of Gaddafi remained unknown.
Sirte was one of the few remaining Gaddafi strongholds since the rebel forces won the battle for Tripoli on the August 21, while there had been indications that Gaddafi might be hiding in his hometown there had been no confirmation.
In the early hours of Thursday, a rebel fighter found him in a hole by the roadside, in the video released, he could be heard pleading for his life, and minutes later, he was dead.
As Libyans took to the street to celebrate what is being called a turning point in Libya’s history and a sure victory for the opposition. The question remains, what next?
by Yetunde Adurota, contributing editor Trendy Africa Media