Libya: Dreamland of "One Africa"
By Tom Kamara
Oct 23, 2000
After all the fanfare and hullabaloo of blending chaotic Africa into the dreamy United States of Africa most likely under Col. Muammar Gaddafi's command, reality has overcome fantasy. Thousands of Africans living in this farcical "Mecca" of African brotherhood have found themselves under siege, with hundreds butchered in the wilderness of xenophobia. "Some injured ones are in hospitals. Hundreds were burned and killed and are now in morgues," according to The Guardian' of Lagos quoting one returnee. Despite the facts, Libya initially denied the pogroms, with a foreign ministry spokesman dismissing them as a "dispute between Africans about a problem of morals and no Libyans were involved in any sort of way."
The Libyan lynching and exodus was bound to happen. Hundreds of Africans, escaping from collapsed economies, war and famine, storm North Africa periodically in search of a passage to "Paradise" Europe. Many have been killed as human cargo. "They brought us to Europe as slaves", said one young refugee aimlessly wandering the streets of Holland with slim chances of fulfilling his dream for better life. "But now, we pay to come here. It is not easy."
However, on a more positive side of the tragedy, the killings may cause a switch from illusion to pragmatism. Africans will have to minimize migration by concentrating on creating economic opportunities in their individual countries, improving the lives of their people, establishing stable Governments around human rights and transparency as the principal guarantors of self-respect and progress. A union of poor and the rich has its numerous problems. One will be the master while the other remains a servant condemned to servitude. This is why the European Union has not allowed poor nations with unenviable human rights records into the fold, fearing that the rich nations may have to share the poverty of the poor. Skin color is not the yardstick here, although some European nations advocate granting permission to refugees with white skins. The sooner Africans abandon the illusive dream of one government as a precondition for progress, and place much needed energy and emphasis on economic innovation, the better.
However, what is clear is that the Libya killings and exodus have betrayed all the nonsensical parades of Africa being Africa regardless of countries and race, and thus the need for one Government, one presumably with Tripoli as its capital. Late Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere, one of the only true sons of the Continent, once remarked that Africans were trying hard to be Tanzanians, Zambians, Ghanaians, etc., when in fact they are only Africans. This may very well be true, but colonial boundaries and structures have led to distinct nations and peoples protecting their economic interests. In Ghana, for example, Liberian refugee traders were barred from selling in public markets. One Liberian refugee, using her skills in pastry, was on the way up the economic ladder when the Ghanaian authorities dampened her hopes for self-reliance she did not have the "correct papers". Thus in many cases, it's easier for African refugees to find employment in skinhead Germany, where they are reminded of the "ignominy" of their race every second, than in another African country. The sad truth is that African refugees in an African country are more out of place than being in Europe or America despite the stigma of racism. For instance, in Accra, angry Ghanaians decided a serial killer, whom the Police were unable to identify, was a Liberian. They therefore stormed a Liberian refugee entertainment center and burnt it down.
A typical test of strength of African oneness came during 1996 exodus out of Liberia on crawling, leaking boats as armed factions competed to control the capital Monrovia. When one of the boats made an emergency docking in the Ivory Coast, the authorities denied them refuge, despite the fact that the Ivory Coast provided immense backing for the rebels and the horrors the refugees were fleeing from. Women and children were chased with whips to ensure they did not leave confined areas. The Ghanaians, after assurances of aid from international humanitarian organizations, became magnanimous, but callers on a radio talk show warned the authorities against accepting the fleeing Liberians, with one angry woman labeling all Liberian women "prostitutes" that must be barred from her country. Unfortunately, there are still over 40,000 Liberian refugees in Ghana, afraid to return home or running from home.
The dreamy ambitions of African brotherhood are no more. Ghana was one of the pioneering nations of African unity under its visionary President Kwame Nkrumah, who, following his ouster by the Army, became "co-president" to a fellow visionary, Guinea's Sekou Toure. Men like Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe and many other Africans received their political baptism in Nkrumah's Ghana. But apart from Nkrumah's crusade for One Africa, Ghana needed professionals in schools, hospitals, etc. after independence. Mugabe, who later married a Ghanaian, was a teacher in Ghana. So was Malawi's late Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda. Times have however changed. In the rat-race competition for a better life, Africans see Africans as threats while they see wealth in White faces, even if the contrary is true. In Liberia, the Lebanese own the country's most valuable real estate and now control what is left of the criminal economy. Many arrive in the country in tattered clothing but soon emerge as "business tycoons" in league with corrupt politicians. During his days in Samuel Doe's junta, Charles Taylor's key "business partners" were Indians and Lebanese. Now, they virtually own the economy. Sadly, Liberians, as many Africans, have no qualms in Lebanese or Europeans having the best in the country---servants, plush homes, etc. The problem arises when an African aspires for or lives the same life-style. Historically, Liberian politicians prefer to accept crumbs from Lebanese than empower their people in commerce or industry.
With over a million Africans swarming Libya in search of an illusive good life denied them at home, the Libyans felt threatened and took action to defend their privileges. But it was more than that. Racism is at the core of the attacks. Libyans were amongst the most brutal of Arab slavers. For long since Gaddafi began his one Africa crusade, they simply regarded African migrants as "slaves" who had come under their leader's deceiving blanket of African brotherhood to take their jobs, even if they were not prepared for the menial, sweatshop jobs Africans were just too happy to do.
Winning and dinning on Libya petro-dollars at OAU meetings and the accompanying lofty pronouncements of oneness, cannot change a slave master's mentality cemented by centuries of slave trade. It was only a matter of time for this deep hatred and contempt, always found amongst people victimized by harsh economic realities, to explode. We see it in the Ivory Coast, where even the wretched of Ivorians, believe foreigners have caused their wretchedness. Black South Africans loath Africans because they see them as threats to their jobs. We see it re-emerging in Germany, where skinheads believe foreigners taking jobs they are unwilling to take have caused their economic disadvantages.
Unemployment has been high amongst Libyans, hit for years by international sanctions. Thus the Africans became a convenient canon fodder despite Gaddafi's grandstanding as the champion of African unity. The "great leader" may just be discovering that his Arab brothers and sisters are less reluctant for his "Great Jamahariya" and its wooing of disciples from other parts of the continent.
What the killings have done is to depict how unpopular Gaddafi's great "one-nation" Africa has been. Many Libyans may not have cared about their leader's sponsorship of rebel wars and anarchy in other African countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone, Chad, etc., once the export of wars did not affect their life-style. But when they woke up overnight and realized the prospects of sub-Saharan African becoming competitors in their country, however foolhardy their fears, they unleashed their anger, and not even Gadaffi's iron grip on them could stop them from implementing their pogroms against immigrants.
Reports say Ghana's Rawlings, with long-standing cordial ties to Gaddafi, found himself without a counterpart president welcoming him when he visited Libya after the killings. Gaddafi is reported to have later sent a message of apology, stating that Rawlings was at home even without him. But this was a snub so clear that words could not conceal. Rawlings flew with 200 of his citizens out of Libya, leaving almost 5,000 behind.
The onslaught against Africans in Libya has been sweeping. Many fleeing Africans left properties behind as the flames of xenophobia spread. From Nigeria, Niger, Sudan, etc., Africans have been fleeing from the Jamahariya, Col. Gaddafi's proclaimed "Haven" in which such things, we have been told, are unthinkable. Nigeria has announced plans to evacuate its citizens. Sudan, which should have merged with Tripoli within the next 5 years as one country, said a number of its citizens have been killed, and plans were afoot for evacuation.
The killings and expulsions come just a few months after Col. Gaddafi stormed West Africa as a self-proclaimed shinning knight of African unity. His prescription for Africa's problems, tied around merging all African countries, was endorsed by heads of state at the OAU meeting in Lome. To replace the OAU, an "African Union" would be formed. With notable exceptions of countries like Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe, African rulers attending the conference approved Gaddafi's dream without even bordering to ask their peoples if they wanted domination by Arabs.
The farce of unity is crumbling at a time when Libya has been the single most important player in West Africa's destabilization process. In Liberia, Libya suffered a setback during the reign of Samuel Doe, then under the protective cover of Reagan's America for service in the Cold War. Doe survived a series of attempts to unseat his brutal rule primarily because of Washington's blessings. Once Washington's protection was in question, Gaddafi saw an opportunity to help dump his foe like a banana tree, avenging the humiliation it suffered when its "People's Bureau" was shutdown and its key backers in the military junta shot on orchestrated charges of treason. Taylor's triumph has made Tripoli's victory over the US in Liberia complete, that is, if one considers her triumph a contest because Uncle Sam had in fact lost interest in Liberia.
But the Libyans are not however hungry for global power role in Africa without watching their pockets. According to reports in London's Financial Times, Taylor is making regular payment to Libya for money borrowed to destroy Liberia. When Taylor demanded $26m from Liberians to pay Libya for debts incurred in waging the war, many Liberians protested in vain but their President was determined to pay the debts that made him president. Without Gaddafi, Houphouet Boigny, Blaise Compaori and later Sani Abacha, Taylor's presidency would have been illusive.
Gaddafi recruits for Africa's greatness include Sierra Leone's Foday Sankoh, who trained in Libya with Taylor and other African rebels, Libya's crusaders for "progress" in Africa. Their footprints in Liberia and Sierra Leone are covered with terror and poverty.
Slowly, Africans will realize that that self-respect lies in being able to handle your own affairs. Chinese, Koreans, Vietnamese and many Asian countries have shown that. We must create our conditions needed to change our image as unwanted migrants all over the world. Gaddafi's "One Africa" is not the answer, and recent events in the Jamahariya have proved that.