Libya, Getting it Right: A Revolutionary Pan-African PerspectiveBy Gerald A. Perreira -Guest Perspective- | Last updated: Mar 8, 2011 - 11:53:55 AM
For those of us who have lived and worked in Libya, there are many complexities to the current situation that have been completely overlooked by the Western media and ‘Westoxicated' analysts, who have nothing other than a Eurocentric perspective to draw on. Let us be clear – there is no possibility of understanding what is happening in Libya within a Eurocentric framework. Westerners are incapable of understanding a system unless the system emanates from or is attached in some way to the West. Libya's system and the battle now taking place on its soil, stands completely outside of the Western imagination.
News coverage by the BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera has been oversimplified and misleading. An array of anti-Qaddafi spokespersons, most living outside Libya, have been paraded in front of us – each one clearly a counter-revolutionary and less credible than the last. Despite the clear and irrefutable evidence from the beginning of this rebellion that Muammar Qaddafi had considerable support both inside Libya and internationally, not one pro-Qaddafi voice has been allowed to air. The media and their selected commentators have done their best to manufacture an opinion that Libya is essentially the same as Egypt and Tunisia and that Qaddafi is just another tyrant amassing large sums of money in Swiss bank accounts. But no matter how hard they try, they cannot make Qaddafi into a Mubarak or Libya into Egypt.
The first question is: Is the revolt taking place in Libya fuelled by a concern over economic issues such as poverty and unemployment as the media would have us believe? Let us examine the facts.
Under the revolutionary leadership of Muammar Qaddafi, Libya has attained the highest standard of living in Africa. In 2007, in an article which appeared in the African Executive Magazine, Norah Owaraga noted that Libya, “unlike other oil producing countries such as Nigeria, utilized the revenue from its oil to develop its country. The standard of living of the people of Libya is one of the highest in Africa, falling in the category of countries with a GNP per capita of between USD 2,200 and 6,000.”
This is all the more remarkable when we consider that in 1951 Libya was officially the poorest country in the world. According to the World Bank, the per capita income was less than $50 a year - even lower than India. Today, all Libyans own their own homes and cars. Two Fleet Street journalists, David Blundy and Andrew Lycett, who are by no means supporters of the Libyan revolution, had this to say:
“The young people are well dressed, well fed and well educated. Libyans now earn more per capita than the British. The disparity in annual incomes... is smaller than in most countries. Libya's wealth has been fairly spread throughout society. Every Libyan gets free, and often excellent, education, medical and health services. New colleges and hospitals are impressive by any international standard. All Libyans have a house or a flat, a car and most have televisions, video recorders and telephones. Compared with most citizens of the Third World countries, and with many in the First World, Libyans have it very good indeed.” (Source: Qaddafi and the Libyan Revolution)
Large scale housing construction has taken place right across the country. Every citizen has been given a decent house or apartment to live in rent-free. In Qaddafi's Green Book it states: “The house is a basic need of both the individual and the family, therefore it should not be owned by others.” This dictum has now become a reality for the Libyan people.
Large scale agricultural projects have been implemented in an effort to ‘make the desert bloom' and achieve self-sufficiency in food production. Any Libyan who wants to become a farmer is given free use of land, a house, farm equipment, some livestock and seed. In addition, all basic food items are subsidised and sold through a network of 'people's shops'.
Today, Libya can boast one of the finest health care systems in the Arab and African World. All people have access to doctors, hospitals, clinics and medicines, completely free of all charges.
The fact is that the Libyan revolution has achieved such a high standard of living for its people that they import labour from other parts of the world to do the jobs that Libyans refuse to do. The Libyans themselves are able to sustain a very decent standard of living without having to take menial work - this is because the families and extended families are prosperous and therefore do not need their young sons and daughters to work at jobs they do not want to do in order to be housed, clothed and fed. Many of these 'unemployed' travel to lands as far as Malaysia and China buying goods for sale in their family businesses. Libya has been called by many observers inside and out, ‘a nation of shop keepers'. It is part of the Libyan Arab psyche to own your own small business and this type of small scale private enterprise flourishes in Libya. We can draw on many examples of Libyans with young sons who expressed the idea that it would be shameful for the family if these same young men were to seek menial work, and instead preferred for them to remain at home supported by the extended family.
Those workers who are not being brought into Libya to do menial work are being brought in to work in professions such as nursing, teaching in the international schools and as professionals in oil related and other high tech industries. All Libyans have access to free education from primary to university level and are encouraged to take up scholarships for advanced post-graduate studies at universities abroad. However, it is important to note that Libya is a deeply traditional society, and although the Libyan revolution has made education and training freely available to all its citizens, male and female, there has been a preference in many families for women not to go to higher levels of education and into professions which are traditionally seen as 'male professions', and for young Libyan males to go into the family business rather than seek professional training.
No system is perfect, and Libya is no exception. They suffered nine years of economic sanctions and this caused huge problems for the Libyan economy. Also, there is nowhere on planet earth that has escaped the monumental crisis of neo-liberal capitalism. It has impacted everywhere – even on post revolutionary societies that have rejected 'free market' capitalism. However, severe economic injustice is not at the heart of this conflict. So then, what is?
A Battle for Africa
The battle that is being waged in Libya is fundamentally a battle between Pan-African forces on the one hand, who are dedicated to the realization of Qaddafi's vision of a united Africa, and reactionary racist Libyan Arab forces who reject Qaddafi's vision of Libya as part of a united Africa and want to ally themselves instead with the EU and look toward Europe and the Arab World for Libya's future.
One of Muammar Qaddafi's most controversial and difficult moves in the eyes of many Libyans was his championing of Africa and his determined drive to unite Africa with one currency, one army and a shared vision regarding the true independence and liberation of the entire continent. He has contributed large amounts of his time and energy and large sums of money to this project and like Kwame Nkrumah, he has paid a high price.
Many of the Libyan people did not approve of this move. They wanted their leader to look towards Europe. Of course, Libya has extensive investments and commercial ties with Europe but the Libyans know that Qaddafi's heart is in Africa.
Many years ago, Qaddafi told a large gathering, which included Libyans and revolutionaries from many parts of the world, that the Black Africans were the true owners of Libya long before the Arab incursion into North Africa, and that Libyans need to acknowledge and pay tribute to their ancient African roots. He ended by saying, as is proclaimed in his Green Book, that “the Black race shall prevail throughout the world”. This is not what many Libyans wanted to hear. As with all fair skinned Arabs, prejudice against Black Africans is endemic.
Brother Leader, Guide of the Revolution and King of Kings are some of the titles that have been bestowed on Qaddafi by Africans. Only last month Qaddafi called for the creation of a Secretariat of traditional African Chiefs and Kings, with whom he has excellent ties, to co-ordinate efforts to build African unity at the grassroots level throughout the continent, a bottom up approach, as opposed to trying to build unity at the government/state level, an approach which has failed the African unification project since the days of Kwame Nkrumah and Sekou Toure. This bottom up approach is widely supported by many Pan Africanists worldwide.
African Mercenaries or Freedom Fighters?
In the past week, the phrase ‘African mercenaries' has been repeated over and over by the media and the selected Libyan citizens they choose to speak to have, as one commentator put it, “spat the word ‘African' with a venomous hatred”.
The media has assumed, without any research or understanding of the situation because they are refusing to give any air time to pro-Qaddafi forces, that the many Africans in military uniform fighting alongside the pro-Qaddafi Libyan forces are mercenaries. However, it is a myth that the Africans fighting to defend the Jamahiriya and Muammar Qaddafi are mercenaries being paid a few dollars and this assumption is based solely on the usual racist and contemptuous view of Black Africans.
Actually, in truth, there are people all over Africa and the African Diaspora who support and respect Muammar Qaddafi as a result of his invaluable contribution to the worldwide struggle for African emancipation.
Over the past two decades, thousands of Africans from all over the continent were provided with education, work and military training - many of them coming from liberation movements. As a result of Libya's support for liberation movements throughout Africa and the world, international battalions were formed. These battalions saw themselves as a part of the Libyan revolution, and took it upon themselves to defend the revolution against attacks from within its borders or outside.
These are the Africans who are fighting to defend Qaddafi and the gains of the Libyan revolution to their death if need be. It is not unlike what happened when internationalist battalions came to the aid of the revolutionary forces against Franco's fascist forces in Spain.
Malian political analyst, Adam Thiam, notes that “thousands of Tuaregs who were enrolled in the Islamic Legion established by the Libyan revolution remained in Libya and they are enrolled in the Libyan security forces.”
African Migrants under Attack
As African fighters from Chad, Niger, Mali, Ghana, Kenya, Guinea and Southern Sudan (it should be noted that Libya supported the Sudanese People's Liberation Army under John Garang in their war of liberation against Arab hegemonists in Khartoum, while all other Arab leaders backed the Khartoum regime) fight to defend this African revolution, a million African refugees and thousands of African migrant workers stand the risk of being murdered as a result of their perceived support for Qaddafi.
One Turkish construction worker described a massacre: “We had 70-80 people from Chad working for our company. They were cut dead with pruning shears and axes, attackers saying: ‘You are providing troops for Qaddafi. The Sudanese were also massacred. We saw it for ourselves.”
This is a far cry from what is being portrayed in the media as ‘peaceful protesters' being set upon by pro-Qaddafi forces. In fact, footage of the Benghazi revolt shows men with machetes, AK 47s and RPGs. In the Green Book, Qaddafi argues for the transfer of all power, wealth and arms directly into the hands of the people themselves. No one can deny that the Libyan populace is heavily armed. This is part of Qaddafi's philosophy of arms not being monopolised by any section of the society, including the armed forces. It must be said that it is not usual practice for tyrants and dictators to arm their population.
Qaddafi has also been very vocal regarding the plight of Africans who migrate to Europe, where they are met with racism, more poverty, violence at the hands of extreme right wing groups and in many cases death, when the un-seaworthy boats they travel in sink.
Moved by their plight, a conference was held in Libya in January this year, to address their needs and concerns. More than 500 delegates and speakers from around the world attended the conference titled ‘A Decent Life in Europe or a Welcome Return to Africa.'
“We should live in Europe with decency and dignity,” Qaddafi told participants. “We need a good relationship with Europe, not a relationship of master and slave. There should be a strong relationship between Africa and Europe. Our presence should be strong, tangible and good. It's up to you as the Africans in the Diaspora. We have to continue more and more until the unity of Africa is achieved.
From now on, by the will of God, I will assign teams to search, investigate and liaise with the Africans in Europe and to check their situations...this is my duty and role towards the sons of Africa; I am a soldier for Africa. I am here for you and I work for you; therefore, I will not leave you and I will follow up on your conditions.”
Joint committees of African migrants, the United Nations, the African Union, the European Union and international organizations present at the conference discussed the need to coordinate the implementation of many of the conference's recommendations.
Statements are appearing all over the internet from Africans who have a different view to that being perpetuated by those intent on discrediting Qaddafi and the Libyan revolution. One African commented:
“When I was growing up I first read a comic book of his revolution at the age of ten. Since then, as dictators came and went, Colonel Qaddafi has made an impression on me as a man who truly loves Africa! Libyans could complain that he spent their wealth on other Africans! But those Africans he helped put in power, built schools and mosques and brought in many forms of development showing that Africans can do for themselves. If those Africans would abandon him to be swallowed by Western Imperialism and their lies and just let him go as a dictator in the name of so-called democracy...if they could do that...they should receive the names and fate that the Western press gives our beloved leader. If there is any one person who was half as generous as he is, let them step forward.”
And another African comments:
“This man has been accused of many things and listening to the West who just recently were happy to accept his generous hospitality, you will think that he is worse than Hitler. The racism and contemptuous attitudes of Arabs towards Black Africans has made me a natural sceptic of any overtures from them to forge a closer link with Black Africa but Qaddafi was an exception.”
This counter-revolutionary revolt caught everyone, including the Libyan authorities, by surprise. They knew what the media is not reporting: that unlike Egypt and Tunisia and other countries in the region, where there is tremendous poverty, unemployment and repressive pro-Western regimes, the Libyan dynamic was entirely different. However, an array of opportunistic forces, ranging from so-called Islamists, Arab-Supremacists, including some of those who have recently defected from Qaddafi's inner circle, have used the events in neighbouring countries as a pretext to stage a coup and to advance their own agenda for the Libyan nation. Many of these former officials were the authors of, and covertly fuelled the anti-African pogrom in Libya a few years ago when many Africans lost their lives in street battles between Africans and Arab Libyans. This was a deliberate attempt to embarrass Qaddafi and to undermine his efforts in Africa.
Qaddafi has long been a thorn in the side of Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the Party of Islamic Liberation. In his recent address to the Libyan people, broadcast from the ruins of the Bab al-Azizia compound bombed by Reagan in 1986, he asked the 'bearded ones' in Benghazi and Jabal al Akhdar where they were when Reagan bombed his compound in Tripoli, killing hundreds of Libyans, including his daughter. He said they were hiding in their homes applauding the US and he vowed that he would never allow the country to be returned to the grip of them and their colonial masters.
Al Qaeda is in the Sahara on his borders and the International Union of Muslim Scholars is calling for him to be tried in a court. One asks why are they calling for Qaddafi's blood? Why not Mubarak who closed the Rafah Border Crossing while the Israeli's slaughtered the Palestinians in Gaza. Why not Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Blair who are responsible for the murder of millions of Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan?
The answer is simple - because Qaddafi committed some ‘cardinal sins'. He dared to challenge their reactionary and feudal notions of Islam. He has upheld the idea that every Muslim is a ruler (Caliph) and does not need the Ulema to interpret the Quran for them. He has questioned the Islam of the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda from a Quranic/theological perspective and is one of the few political leaders equipped to do so. Qaddafi has been called a Mujaddid (this term refers to a person who appears to revive Islam and to purge it of alien elements, restoring it to its authentic form) and he comes in the tradition of Jamaludeen Afghani and the late Iranian revolutionary, Ali Shariati.
As already noted, Libya is a deeply traditional society, plagued with some outmoded and bankrupt ideas that continue to surface to this day. In many ways, Qaddafi has had to struggle against the same reactionary aspects of Arab culture and tradition that the holy prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was struggling against in 7th century Arabia - Arab supremacy/racism, supremacy of family and tribe, historical feuding tribe against tribe and the marginalisation of women. Benghazi has always been at the heart of counter-revolution in Libya, fostering reactionary Islamic movements such as the Wahhabis and Salafists. It is these people who founded the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group based in Benghazi which allies itself with Al Qaeda and who have, over the years, been responsible for the assassination of leading members of the Libyan revolutionary committees.
These forces hate Qaddafi's revolutionary reading of the Quran. They foster an Islam concerned with outward trappings and mere religiosity, in the form of rituals, which at the same time is feudal and repressive, while rejecting the liberatory spirituality of Islam. While these so-called Islamists are opposed to Western occupation of Muslim lands, they have no concrete programmatic platform for meaningful socio-economic and political transformation to advance their societies beyond semi-feudal and capitalist systems which reinforce the most backward and reactionary ideas and traditions. Qaddafi's political philosophy, as outlined in the Green Book, rejects unfettered capitalism in all its manifestations, including the ‘State capitalism' of the former communist countries and the neo-liberal capitalist model that has been imposed at a global level. The idea that capitalism is not compatible with Islam and the Quran is not palatable to many Arabs and so-called Islamists because they hold onto the fallacious notion that business and trade is synonymous with capitalism.
Getting it Right
Whatever the mistakes made by Qaddafi and the Libyan revolution, its gains and its huge contribution to the struggle of oppressed peoples worldwide cannot and must not be ignored. Saif Qaddafi, when asked about the position of his father and family, said this battle is not about one man and his family, it is about Libya and the direction it will take.
That direction has always been controversial. In 1982, The World Mathaba was established in Libya. Mathaba means a gathering place for people with a common purpose. The World Mathaba brought together revolutionaries and freedom fighters from every corner of the globe to share ideas and develop their revolutionary knowledge. Many liberation groups throughout the world received education, training and support from Muammar Qaddafi and the Libyan revolution including ANC, AZAPO, PAC and BCM of Azania (South Africa), SWAPO of Namibia, MPLA of Angola, The Sandinistas of Nicaragua, The Polisario of the Sahara, the PLO, The Native American Movements throughout the Americas, The Nation of Islam led by Louis Farrakhan to name but a few. Nelson Mandela called Muammar Qaddafi one of this century's greatest freedom fighters, and insisted that the eventual collapse of the apartheid system owed much to Qaddafi and Libyan support. Mandela said that in the darkest moments of their struggle, when their backs were to the wall, it was Muammar Qaddafi who stood with them. The late African freedom fighter, Kwame Ture, referred to Qaddafi as ‘a diamond in a cesspool of African misleaders'.
The hideous notion being perpetuated by the media and reactionary forces, inside and outside of Libya, that this is just another story of a bloated dictatorship that has run its course is a deliberate distortion. In the words of the Islamic scholar Mahmoud Ayoub:
“For millions of the oppressed of Asia, Africa and Lation America, Qaddafi is a hero, a comrade in the revolutionary struggle against imperialism, exploitation and recism. In short, Qaddafi has been loved and hated, admired and ridiculed, and above all feared as an impulsive politician who refuses to play the usual games of international diplomacy.”
No one can deny Muammar Qaddafi's invaluable contribution to human emancipation and the universal truths outlined in his Green Book.
Progressive scholars in many parts of the world, including the West, have acclaimed The Green Book as an incisive critique of capitalism and the Western Parliamentary system. In addition, there is no denying that the system of direct democracy posited by Qaddafi offers an alternative model and solution for Africa and the Third World, where multi-party so-called democracy has been a dismal failure, resulting in poverty, ethnic and tribal conflict and chaos.
Every revolution, since the beginning of time, has defended itself against those who would want to roll back its gains. Europeans should look back into their own bloody history to see that this includes the American, French and Bolshevik revolutions. Marxists speak of Trotsky and Lenin's brutal suppression of the Kronstadt rebellion by the Red Army as being a 'tragic necessity'.
Let's get it right: The battle in Libya is not about peaceful protestors versus an armed and hostile State. All sides are heavily armed and hostile. The battle being waged in Libya is essentially a battle between those who want to see a united and liberated Libya and Africa, free of neo-colonialism and neo-liberal capitalism and free to construct systems of governance compatible with the African and Arab personalities and cultures and those who find this entire notion repugnant. And both sides are willing to pay the ultimate price to defend their position.
Make no mistake, if Qaddafi and the Libyan revolution are defeated by this opportunistic conglomerate of reactionaries and racists, then progressive forces worldwide and the Pan-African project will suffer a huge defeat and set back.
Gerald Perreira has lived in Libya for many years and was an executive member of the World Mathaba.