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!
African Dictators! T-H-E P-E-O-P-L-E D-O-N-’T L-O-V-E Y-O-U!
Release all political prisoners in Ethiopia, NOW!
Previous commentaries by the author are available at: www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/ and http://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/
By Alemayehu G. Mariam
Creeping Youthbellion and Youthvolution in Africa and the Middle East
“When the sun rises, it rises for everyone,” goes the old saying. The sun that rose over tyranny in North Africa will not set at the edge of the Sahel; it will shine southward on the African savannah and rainforest. The wind of change blowing across the Middle East will soon cut a wide swath clear to the Atlantic Coast of West Africa from the Red Sea. The sun that lifted the darkness that had enveloped Tunisia, Egypt and Libya for decades can now be seen rising just over the Ethiopian horizon. The sun rises to greet a new generation of Ethiopians.
Today we are witnessing a second African independence, an independence from thugtatorship no less dramatic or volcanic than the upheavals of oppressed peoples that overthrew the yoke of colonialism one-half century ago. In 1960, British PM Harold McMillan warned his fraternity of European imperial powers: “The wind of change is blowing through this [African] continent, and whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact. We must all accept it as a fact, and our national policies must take account of it.”
The wind of change that has kicked up a sandstorm of youth rebellion and revolt in North Africa has laid bare the ghastly facts of oppression and youth despair to global consciousness. Arab and African youths are crying out for freedom, democracy, human rights and equal economic opportunity. The vast majority of the uneducated, under-educated and mis-educated African youths have no hope for the future. Legions of Arab youths with college degrees, advanced professional and technical training waste away the best years of their lives because they have few economic opportunities. They too see a void in their future. African and Arab youths have had enough, and they are rising up like the sun to liberate themselves and their societies from the clutches of thugs. The outcome of the youth uprisings is foreordained. As Sam Cooke, the great pioneer of soul music sang, “It’s been a long, a long time coming/ But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will…”
But there are some who cynically argue that the type of volcanic popular uprisings sweeping North Africa cannot happen in Ethiopia. They offer many reasons. They say the thugtators in Ethiopia have used every means at their disposal to keep the people benighted, divided and antagonized. They point to the primitive state of information technology in Ethiopia as proof of a deliberate official strategy to prevent Ethiopian youth from accessing the Internet freely to learn new ideas and create cyber civic societies. (Ethiopia has the second lowest (after Sierra Leone) internet penetration rate in Africa.) They say Zenawi has bought off the best and the brightest of Ethiopia’s youth with cash, jobs, special educational opportunities and privileges just to keep them off the streets and happy as a clam. (It seems Ethiopia’s youth are a pressurized powder keg.) They say Ethiopia’s young people (who comprise the majority of the population) have no frame of historical reference and that Zenawi has brainwashed them into believing that he is their demi-god and savior. (It is possible to fool some of the youths all of the time, but it is impossible to fool all of the youths all of the time.) They say Zenawi’s vast security network of informants, spies and thugs will suppress any youth or other uprising before it could gather momentum. They say Zenawi has permeated the society with so much fear and loathing that it is nearly impossible for individuals or groups to come together, build consensus and articulate a unified demand for change. They say Zenawi has created so much ethnic antagonism in the society that he can cling to power indefinitely by playing his divide-and-rule game and raising the specter of genocide and civil war. Regardless of what anyone says, Zenawi has made it crystal clear what he will do to cling to power. He will “crush with full force” anyone who opposes him electorally or otherwise.
The Survival Principle of Thugtatorships
African thugtators will do anything to cling to power. Hosni Mubarak used a state of emergency decree to cling to power for three decades. When he was deposed from his Pharaonic throne, there were 30,000 political prisoners rotting in his dungeons. Ben Ali in Tunisia did as he pleased for nearly a quarter of a century. Gadhafi’s actions in Libya today offer a hard object lesson on what thugtators will do to cling to power. He continues to use helicopter gunships and MiG fighter planes to bomb and strafe civilians. He is using his private army of thugs and mercenaries to commit unspeakable violence on Libyan citizens. He has offered to buy off Libyans for $400 per household and pledged a 150 percent increase in government workers’ wages if they stop the uprising. They told him “to immerse it in water and drink it” (or “to stuff it…” in the English vernacular.) Gadhafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, has threatened to dismember Libya and plunge it into a civil war and “fight to the last minute, until the last bullet, until the last drop of my blood.” Gadhafi is doing everything in his power to cling to power. The only unanswered question is whether he will resort to the “chemical option”. On March 16, 1988, toward the end of the Iraq-Iran war, Saddam Hussien used chemical weapons against the Kurds in Halabja killing thousands. Will Gadhafi use chemical weapons against Libyans in March 2011 as his regime comes to its long overdue end? Whether Zenawi will follow Gadhafi’s scorched earth policy to cling to power remains to be seen, but careful analysis of his actions, public statements, interviews, speeches, writings, ideological perspective and the irrepressible and self-consuming hatred he has publicly displayed against those who have opposed him over the past 20 years suggests that he will likely follow the tragic wisdom of the old aphorism, “Apre moi, le deluge” (After me, the flood).
But thugtators, trapped in their bubbles and echo chambers, often overestimate their prowess and abilities. “Brotherly Leader” Gadhafi thought he was so powerful and the Libyan people so cowardly that he did not expect in his wildest imagination they would dare rise up and challenge him. He was proven wrong when Libyans broke the chains of crippling fear Gadhafi had put on them for 42 years. Gadhafi thought he could prevent Libyan youths from communicating and coordinating with each other by shutting down social media such as Facebook. Libya’s young revolutionaries proved to be more creative; they used Muslim dating websites to coordinate their activities. Now Gadhafi has completely shut down Internet service in the country believing he can control and distort the flow of information coming out of Libya. Gadhafi’s murderous thugs and mercenaries have been repelled time and again by a ragtag army of Libyan shopkeepers, waiters, welders, engineers, students and the unemployed. Despite Gadhafi’s talk of tribal war, Libyans have closed ranks to wage war on thugtatorship. After 42 years of ignorant ramblings in the Green Book, Gadhafi and his Jamahiriya (“republic ruled by the masses”) are in their death throes.
The Bouzazi Factor
Mohamed Bouzazi was the young Tunisian who burned himself to protest Ben Ali’s thugtatorship. Bouzazi’s desperate act became the spark that created the critical mass of popular uprising which has caused a chain reaction throughout North Africa and the Middle East. The tipping point for change in any country cannot be predicted with certainty. In Tunisia, Bouzazi was literally the “fissile material” that catalyzed the popular uprising. In Egypt, a number of factors worked together to get rid of Mubarak’s thugtatorship. The young Egyptians who led the revolt were well educated and tech savvy and used their knowledge to organize effectively. The Egyptian military maintained neutrality and opposition elements were able to build consensus on the need to remove Mubarak and his henchmen from power after three decades. In Libya, the people just had enough of a raving lunatic running their lives.
Change is a universal imperative and it will come to Ethiopia as it has for its northern neighbors. The coming change in Ethiopia may not necessarily follow any existing template. It will originate from an unexpected source and spread in unexpected ways. The tipping point in Ethiopia will likely revolve around three factors: 1) the clarity, truthfulness and persuasiveness of the message of change delivered to the people, 2) the unity in the voices of the messengers who deliver the message, and 3) the context in which the message of change is communicated to the people. Simply stated, a convergence of democratic forces and a consensus on a clear message of change is necessary to create a critical mass for change in Ethiopia.
Overcoming the Fear Factor
The one common thread in all of the uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East is that the people overcame their fears. The thugtators waged decades long campaigns of psychological warfare to instill fear and loathing in the hearts and minds of their peoples. For decades, the people believed the thugtators to be strong and invincible, untouchable and unaccountable. Recent evidence shows that all thugtatorships have feet of clay. The moment the Libyan people unshackled themselves from 42 years of crippling fear — the kind of fear President Roosevelt described as “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified, terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance ” — they were able to see Gadhafi for what he truly is — a thug. Ditto for Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak. Change came to Tunisia, Egypt and Libya not because the thugtators had changed but because the people had changed. They were no longer afraid! They found out the true meaning of the old saying, “Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is.”
The Hubris of Thugtators
Thugtators believe they can cling to power by eliminating their opposition, and particularly those who helped them get into power. They ward off potential challengers by keeping their military weak and appointing their cronies and henchmen to leadership positions. They believe they are loved, respected and admired by their people. Gadhafi said, “All my people love me!” They don’t. They hate him. Gadhafi convinced himself that all Libyans are happy under his rule.” They are not. Libya has a Sovereign Wealth Fund of $70 billion and nearly as much has been frozen by the American, British and Swiss governments. Yet the vast majority of the 6 million Libyans have difficulty making ends meet. Gadhafi has squandered much of the oil money buying arms, financing terrorists, seeking to develop weapons of mass destruction, giving it away to other countries to increase his prestige and paying blood money for acts of terrorism he personally ordered. He paid $3 billion to the survivors of the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in which 270 people died. Zenawi said he won the last election by 99.6 percent because the people love his party. They “consider themselves and the EPRDF as two sides of a coin” and “nothing can ever shake their unwavering support for our organization,” he said in his victory speech last May. He congratulated the people for “giv[ing] us the mandate through your votes” and patronized them for their “high sense of judgment and fairness” in voting for his party.
Regardless of what thugtators say or do, they will always remain weak and anxiety-ridden because they are in it for the money and not to serve the people. State power is the means by which they pick clean the economic bones of their countries. Thugtators are incapable of anticipating or understanding the need for change. Because they lack a vision for the future and the courage to do what needs to be done in the present, they are always swept away in a flash flood of popular uprising as Ben Ali, Mubarak and Gadhafi have found out lately.
Foolishly Riding the Tiger
President Obama needs to realize that it is not enough to talk about being “on the right side of history”. The U.S. must first do the right thing. For the Obama Administration to talk about “regime alteration” instead of regime change in the Middle East and North Africa today is not being on the right side of history. It is just being plain wrong! President John F. Kennedy said that being on the right side of history is being on the side of the “people in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery and helping them help themselves.” In his inaugural speech President Kennedy said:
To those new states whom we welcome to the ranks of the free, we pledge our word that one form of colonial control shall not have passed away merely to be replaced by a far more iron tyranny. We shall not always expect to find them supporting our view. But we shall always hope to find them strongly supporting their own freedom– and to remember that, in the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.
To those people in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required–not because the Communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.
The lesson of the spreading uprisings for African and Middle Eastern thugtators is a simple one best paraphrased in Gandhi’s immortal words: “There have been thugtators and murderers who have foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger. But in the end, they found themselves inside the tiger’s belly. Think of it, always.”
The weekly commentaries of the author are available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/
Alemayehu G. Mariam
Thugogracy in Africa
If democracy is government of the people, by the people and for the people, a thugogracy is a government of thieves, for thieves, by thieves. Simply stated, a thugtatorship is rule by a gang of thieves and robbers (thugs) in designer suits. It is becoming crystal clear that much of Africa today is a thugogracy privately managed and operated for the exclusive benefit of bloodthirsty thugtators.
In a thugtatorship, the purpose of seizing and clinging to political power is solely to accumulate personal wealth for the ruling class by stealing public funds and depriving the broader population scarce resources necessary for basic survival. The English word “thug” comes from the Hindi word “thag” which means “con man”. In India “Thugees”, well-organized criminal gangs, robbed and murdered unsuspecting travelers over a century ago. Africa’s “thugees” today mug, rob, pillage, plunder and rape unsuspecting whole nations and peoples and secrete away their billions in stolen loot in European and American banks.
Today, we see the incredibly extreme lengths Libyan thugtator Muammar Gaddafi is willing to go to preserve his thugocratic empire floating on billions of stolen oil dollars hidden in foreign bank accounts and corporate property holdings. The British Government recently announced that it expects to seize “around £20 billion in liquid assets of the Libyan regime, mostly in London.” The Swiss Government has similarly issued an order for the immediate freeze of assets belonging to Gadhafi and his entourage. The Swiss central bank announced that it will freeze Gaddafi’s 613 million Swiss francs (USD$658 million), with an additional 205 million francs (USD$220 million) in paper or fiduciary operations. In 2008, before a diplomatic incident involving the arrest of one of Gaddafi’s sons for assault in Switzerland, Gadhafi’s Swiss holdings amounted to 5.7 billion in cash and 812 million francs in paper and fiduciary operations. In 2006, the Libyan Sovereign Wealth Fund had investments of $70 billion. The U.S. closed its Embassy in Triopli and slapped a freeze on all Libyan assets described as “substantial.”
To protect his empire of corruption, Gadhafi has ordered his air force to bomb and strafe unarmed civilian demonstrators demanding an end to his 42-year rule. 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. In a televised speech, 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.” The buffoonish al-Islam contemptuously reassured the world: “Plan A is to live and die in Libya. Plan B is to live and die in Libya. Plan C is to live and die in Libya.” For someone who has no official role in government, it was an astonishing statement to make.
Gadhafi himself has vowed to fight on and die “like a martyr” in the service of his thugogracy. He urged his supporters in Green Square to fight back and “defend the nation.” He exhorted, “Retaliate against them, retaliate against them… Dance, sing and prepare. Prepare to defend Libya, to defend the oil, dignity and independence.” Gadhafi promised: “At the suitable time, we will open the arms depot so all Libyans and tribes become armed, so that Libya becomes red with fire.” It is not enough for Gadhafi and his thugs to have bled the Libyan people dry for 42 years, they now want to burn down the whole country to ashes. Apres moi, le deluge! (After me, the flood!)
The Ivory Coast is on the verge of civil war, according to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. In December 2010, Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down after he was decisively defeated in the presidential election. His own Election Commission said his opponent Alassane Ouattara won the election by a nine-point margin. The African Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the United Nations, the United States, the European Union all said Ouattara is the winner. Gbagbo has turned a deaf ear and is preparing to plunge the Ivory Coast into civil war to protect his empire of corruption. In 2000, Gbagbo imposed a curfew and a state of emergency and ordered security forces to shoot and kill any demonstrators in the streets: “Police, gendarmes and soldiers from all branches of the armed forces are ordered to use all means throughout the country to oppose troublemakers.” Like Gaddafi’s mercenaries today, Gbagbo’s troops back then went on a killing and beating rampage. The European Union, the Swiss and United States Governments have frozen Gbagbo’s assets in their countries.
In May 2010, Meles Zenawi said he won the parliamentary election by 99.6 percent. The European Union Election Observer Team said the election “lacked a level playing field” and “failed to meet international standards”, a well-known code phrase for a “stolen election”. In its 2005 report, the Observer Team said exactly the same thing. Zenawi’s EPDRF party pretty much owns the Ethiopian economy. “According to the World Bank, roughly half of the rest of the national economy is accounted for by companies held by an EPRDF-affiliated business group called the Endowment Fund for the Rehabilitation of Tigray (EFFORT). EFFORT’s freight transport, construction, pharmaceutical, and cement firms receive lucrative foreign aid contracts and highly favorable terms on loans from government banks.” The regime’s own anti-corruption agency reported in 2008 that “USD$16 million dollars” worth of gold bars simply walked out of the bank in broad daylight. A couple of weeks ago, in an incredible display of arrogance and total lack of accountability, Zenawi publicly stated that 10,000 tons of coffee earmarked for exports had simply vanished from the warehouses. He called a meeting of commodities traders and in a videotaped statement told them he will forgive them because “we all have our hands in the disappearance of the coffee”. He warned them that if anyone should steal coffee in the future, he would “cut off their hands”.
In 2005, Zenawi demonstrated the extremes he will go to protect his empire of corruption. Zenawi’s own Inquiry Commission documented that troops under Zenawi’s direct command and control mowed down 193 documented unarmed protesters in the streets and severely wounded nearly 800. Another 30,000 suspected opponents were jailed. In a meeting with high level U.S. officials in advance of the May 2010 election, Zenawi told them in plain words what he will do to his opposition if they try to “discredit the election”: “If opposition groups resort to violence in an attempt to discredit the election, we will crush them with our full force; they will all vegetate like Birtukan (Midekssa) in jail forever.” If Zenawi will “crush” those who “attempt to discredit an election”, it does not leave much to the imagination to figure out what he will do when the people ask him peacefully to leave power.
In April 2010, Omar al-Bashir of the Sudan claimed victory by winning nearly 70 percent of the vote. The EU EOM declared the “deficiencies in the legal and electoral framework in the campaign environment led the overall process to fall short of a number of international standards for genuine democratic elections.” Another election stolen in broad daylight; but that is not all Bashir has stolen. According to a Wikileaks cablegram, “International Criminal Court [ICC] Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo told [U.S.] Ambassadors Rice and Wolff on March 20  that [Ocampo] would put the figure of Sudanese President Bashir’s stash of money at possibly $9 billion.” After the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Bashir on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur, the first warrant of its kind for a sitting head of state, a sneering Bashir flipped his middle finger at the ICC: “They will issue their decision tomorrow, and we are telling them to immerse it in water and drink it“, a common Arabic insult which is the equivalent of “they can shove it up their _ _ _.” Bashir recently he said he will not run for the presidency again. (It is not clear if had decided not to run because he wants to enjoy his stolen billions or because he expects to put on the jail jumpsuit of the ICC.)
In February 2010, a group of soldiers in Niger calling itself the “Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy” stormed Niger’s presidential palace and snatched president Mamadou Tandja and his ministers. In 2009, Tandja had dissolved the National Assembly and set up a “Constitutional Court” to pave the way for him to become president-for-life. Niger’s state auditor reported that “at least 64 billion CFA francs [USD$128-million] were stolen from Niger’s state coffers under the government of former president Mamadou Tandja.” Tandja is sitting in jail in southwestern Niger.
In March 2008, Robert Mugabe declared victory in the presidential election after waging a campaign of violence and intimidation on his opponent Morgan Tsvangirai and his supporters. In 2003, Mugabe boasted, “I am still the Hitler of the time. This Hitler has only one objective: justice for his people, sovereignty for his people, recognition of the independence of his people and their rights over their resources. If that is Hitler, then let me be Hitler tenfold. Ten times, that is what we stand for.” No one would disagree with Mugabe’s self-description. In 2010, Mugabe announced his plan to sell “about $1.7 billion of diamonds in storage” (probably rejects of his diamond-crazed wife Grace). According to a Wikileaks cablegram, “a small group of high-ranking Zimbabwean officials (including Grace Mugabe) have been extracting tremendous diamond profits.” Mugabe is so greedy that he stole outright “£4.5 million from [aid] funds meant to help millions of seriously ill people.”
In December 2007, Mwai Kibaki declared himself winner of the presidential election. In 2002, Kibaki, criticizing his predecessor Daniel Arap Moi regime, urged the people to “Remain calm, even when intimidated or provoked by those who are desperately determined to rig the elections and plunge the country into civil war.” In 2007, Kibaki and his thugees unleashed such violence against the civilian population that 1500 Kenyans were killed and some 600 hundred thousand displaced, almost plunging Kenya into civil war. The Kroll Report revealed that Moi stole billions of dollars using a “web of shell companies, secret trusts and frontmen” and secreted the loot in 30 countries. Kibaki stonewalled further action on the report, including prosecution of Moi.
The story of corruption, theft, embezzlement and brazen transfer of the national wealth of African peoples to European and African banks and corporate institutions is repeated elsewhere in the continent. Ex-Nigerian President Sani Abacha, who was judicially determined to be a member of a criminal organization by a Swiss court, stole $500 million. Ben Ali of Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt also have their stolen assets in the hundreds of millions of dollars frozen in Switzerland and elsewhere. Other African thugtators who have robbed their people blind (and pretty much have gotten away with it) include Nigeria’s Ibrahim Babangida, Guniea’s Lansana Conte, Togo’s Gnassingbe Eyadema, Gabon’s Omar Bongo, Equatorial Guniea’s Obiang Nguema, Burkina Faso’s Blaise Campore and Congo’s (Brazaville) Denis Sassou Nguesso, among others.
Godfathers and African Thugogracies
In previous commentaries, I have argued that the business of African governments is corruption. African thugtators cling to power to operate sophisticated criminal business enterprises to loot their national treasuries and resources. These African “leaders” are actually “godfathers” or heads of criminal families. Just like any organized criminal enterprise, African thugtators use their party apparatuses, bureaucracies, military and police forces to maintain and perpetuate their corrupt financial empires.
When the U.S. first announced its “kleptocracy asset recovery program” to the world in July 2010, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder delivered the message, not at some international anti-corruption forum, but at the African Union Summit in Kampala, Uganda. Holder told the gathered African thugtators:
Today, I’m pleased to announce that the U.S. Department of Justice is launching a new Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative aimed at combating large-scale foreign official corruption and recovering public funds for their intended – and proper – use: for the people of our nations. We’re assembling a team of prosecutors who will focus exclusively on this work and build upon efforts already underway to deter corruption, hold offenders accountable, and protect public resources.
Holder’s announcement was nothing short of breathtaking. It was as though he was addressing the national convention of the “Commissione” of all the Mafia families from New York City, Chicago, Detroit, Miami, Atlantic City, Las Vegas, St. Louis, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. In Kampala, Holder was talking directly to the African equivalents of the Godfathers of the Bonnano, Columbo, Gambino, Genovese and Lucchese crime families in one place. Absolutely surreal!
The Political Economy of Thugtatorships
Thugtatorships in Africa thrive in the political economy of kleptocracy. Widespread corruption permeates every corner of society. Oil revenues, diamonds, gold bars, coffee and other commodities and foreign aid are stolen outright and pocketed by the thugtators and their army of thugocrats. Public funds are embezzled and misused and state property misappropriated and converted to private use. Publicly-owned assets are virtually given away to supporters in “privatization programs” or secretly held in illegal transactions. Bank loans are given out to front enterprises owned secretly by the thugtators or their supporters without sufficient or proper collateral. Businessmen must pay huge bribes or kickbacks to participate in public contracting and procurement. Those involved in the import/export business are victimized in shakedowns by thugocrats. The judiciary is thoroughly corrupted through political interference and manipulation.
Armageddon: Thugtators’ Nuclear Option
One of the common tricks used by thugtators to cling to power is to terrorize the people with warnings of an impending Armageddon. They say that if they are removed from power, even after 42 years, the sky will fall and the earth will open up and swallow the people. Thugtators sow fear, uncertainty and doubt in the population and use misinformation and disinformation to psychologically defeat, disorient and neutralize the people. Gaddafi thuggish son warned Libya will “spiral into civil war for the next 30 to 40 years and the country’s infrastructure ruined” without the Gadhafi dynasty. He said Libya will be awash in “rivers of blood”. Gadhafi urged his supporters: “This is an opposition movement, a separatist movement which threatens the unity of Libya. We will take up arms… we will fight to the last bullet. We will destroy seditious elements. If everybody is armed, it is civil war, we will kill each other.”
Zenawi has been talking about “genocide” for years. The 2005 European Union Election Observer Mission in its Final Mission Report strongly chastised Zenawi and his associates for morbid genocide rhetoric:
The end of the campaign became more heated, with parties accusing each other of numerous violations of campaign rules. Campaign rhetoric became insulting. The most extreme example of this came from the Deputy Prime Minister, Addisu Legesse, who, in a public debate on 15 April, compared the opposition parties with the Interhamwe militia, which perpetrated the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The Prime Minister made the same comparison on 5 May in relation to the CUD [Coalition for Unity and Democracy]. The EPRDF [Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front] made the same associations during its free slots on radio and TV… Such rhetoric is unacceptable in a democratic election.
Zenawi “is quick to talk up threats to his country, whether from malcontents in the army or disgruntled ethnic groups among Ethiopia’s mosaic of peoples. Radical Oromos, a southern group that makes up about a third of Ethiopia’s people, often fall under suspicion.” Last year, he compared Voice of America radio broadcasts to Ethiopia with broadcasts of Radio Mille Collines which directed the genocide in Rwanda in 1994.
If Africa’s thugtators plan to use the “nuclear option” and bring Armageddon on their societies, they would be wise to know who is destined to win the final battle between good and evil. Gadhafi’s fate now dangles between what he wants to do to bring this unspeakable tragedy to a swift conclusion, the will of the Libyan people once they vanquish his mercenaries and the International Criminal Court to whom the U.N. Security Council has voted unanimously to refer Moammar Gadhafi and members of his government in Libya for investigation and prosecution for crimes against humanity and war crimes. Like al-Bashir of the Sudan, Gadhafi and members of his thugocratic empire will not escape the long arms of justice. The days of massacring unarmed demonstrators, strafing and bombing civilians and detention of innocent people by the tens of thousands with impunity are gone. Justice may be delayed but when the people open the floodgates of freedom, “justice (not blood) will run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream” and wash out the wreckage of thugtatorship into the sea.
Thugtators and Their Business Partners in Africorruption, Inc.
Africa’s thugtatorships have longstanding and profitable partnerships with the West. Through aid and trade, the West has enabled these thugocracies to flourish in Africa and repress Africans. To cover up their hypocrisy and hoodwink the people, the West is now lined up to “freeze” the assets of the thugtators. It is a drama they have perfected since the early days of African independence. The fact of the matter is that the West is interested only in “stability” in Africa. That simply means, in any African country, they want a “guy they can do business with.” The business they want to do in Africa is the oil business, the (blood) diamond business, the arms sales business, the coffee and cocoa export business, the tourism business, the luxury goods export business and the war on terrorism business. They are not interested in the African peoples’ business, the human rights business, the rule of law business, the accountability and transparency business and the fair and free elections business.
Today, the West is witnessing a special kind of revolution it has never seen: A youth-led popular nonviolent revolution against thugtatorships in Africa and the Middle East. Neither the West nor the thugtators know what to do with this kind of revolution or the revolutionaries leading it. President Obama said, “History will end up recording that at every juncture in the situation in Egypt, that we were on the right side of history.” Well, what is good for Egypt is good enough for Ethiopia, Libya, Tunisia, the Sudan, Algeria, Kenya, Bahrain, Djbouti, Somalia…, and Zimbabwe. The decisive question in world history today is: Are we on the right side of history with the victims of oppression, or are we on the wrong side with thugtators destined to the dustbin of history?
Power to Youths in Africa and the Middle East!