Gaddafi: making sense of a not so simple guy.

22 Oct

In case you haven’t heard about all this…

Gaddafi was a paradoxical figure, situated an incredibly complex geopolitical backdrop. I’m not even certain that this BBC article does it all justice.

But I find the article’s above accompanying image of Mandela and Gaddafi compelling, because in an instantly jarring gut level it challenges us (more on who “us” is below) to examine the dominant North American & European ideas and narratives about Africa. Could it be, internationally beloved anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela sharing some common cause with internationally reviled dictator Muammar Gaddafi? What’s THAT all about?

For me, a fairly privileged North American white kid,  imperialism was an academic concept and not the day-to-day experience that it is for many folks in the “global south”.

So I think many like me are accustomed to this whole classroom narrative of “well Europe was in Africa and did horrible things, so there was lots of resistance in the 1960s but soon it gave way to lots of strongman dictators or well-meaning revolutionaries who became corrupted and squandered their countries’ wealth away and that’s why they’re all screwed and need the benevolence of The West for charity, capitalist structural adjustment and the occasional military intervention! Also, socialism is usually a bad idea.”

…except in not so many words, most of the time.

And coming from that perspective, it can be really hard to comprehend why a Nelson Mandela would be inclined to speak kindly of a guy like Gaddafi – it’s not like Mandela can easily be put into a box labeled “third world corrupt dictator guy”. Even more dangerously, you can feel backed into a corner and unable to properly articulate why NATO bombing Libya is a really, really bad idea.

For now, I’m searching for essays and insightful articles on this topic, but perhaps I’ll close with a couple more quotes after a second Mandela-Gaddafi photo:

“He [Gaddafi] had this wonderful dream about a United States of Africa – like [Ghana’s post-independence leader] Kwame Nkrumah, but I think we are going to remember what happened in the latter days of his rule when he actually bombed his own people.” – Desmond Tutu

“No country can claim to be the policeman of the world and no state can dictate to another what it should do. Those that yesterday [who] were friends of our enemies have the gall today to tell me not to visit my brother Gaddafi. They are advising us to be ungrateful and forget our friends of the past.” – Nelson Mandela, Tripoli, May 18, 1990 (Mathaba)


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