What does Gaddafi's death mean for Africa?

Nelson Mandela and Muammar Gaddafi (archive shot)

A grandson of Nelson Mandela is named Gadaffi - a sign of how popular the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi once was in South Africa and many other African countries.

With his image of a revolutionary, Col Gaddafi inspired South Africans to fight for their liberation, funding and arming the anti-apartheid movement as it fought white minority rule.

However, he also backed notorious rebel groups in Liberia and Sierra Leone and his demise could serve as a warning to the continent's other "big-man" rulers.

Start Quote

We saw him [Col Gaddafi] slap his foreign minister in our presence, which is something unexpected of any dignified and self-respecting head of state”

End Quote Moses Wetangula Kenya's foreign minister

After Mr Mandela became South Africa's first black president in 1994, he rejected pressure from Western leaders - including then-US President Bill Clinton - to sever ties with Col Gaddafi, who bankrolled his election campaign.

"Those who feel irritated by our friendship with President Gaddafi can go jump in the pool," he said.

Instead, Mr Mandela played a key role in ending Col Gaddafi's pariah status in the West by brokering a deal with the UK over the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

It led to Col Gaddafi handing over Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi for trial in Scotland. He was convicted in 2001, before being released eight years later on compassionate grounds - a decision Mr Mandela welcomed.

Mr Mandela saw the Lockerbie deal as one of his biggest foreign policy achievements.

"No-one can deny that the friendship and trust between South Africa and Libya played a significant part in arriving at this solution... It vindicates our view that talking to one another and searching for peaceful solutions remain the surest way to resolve differences and advance peace and progress in the world," he said in 1999, as he approached the end of his presidency.

"It was pure expediency to call on democratic South Africa to turn its back on Libya and [Col] Gaddafi, who had assisted us in obtaining democracy."


Col Gaddafi's position in Africa was paradoxical. Just as he backed pro-democracy causes, he also fuelled rebellions in countries such as Liberia and Sierra Leone and supported Uganda's infamous dictator Idi Amin.

African leaders tended to overlook this.

"Muammar Gaddafi, whatever his faults, is a true nationalist. I prefer nationalists to puppets of foreign interests," Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said in February.

"Therefore, the independent-minded Gaddafi had some positive contribution to Libya, I believe, as well as Africa and the Third World.

Col Muammar Gaddafi with African traditional leaders (archive shot) Col Gaddafi was declared Africa's "king of kings"

"We should also remember, as part of that independent-mindedness, he expelled British and American military bases from Libya [after he took power]," Mr Museveni said.

Start Quote

The AU will work better now without his [Gaddafi's] delaying it and with some members no longer feeling as intimidated by him as they did”

End Quote Jacob Zuma South African president

Col Gaddafi played a prominent role in the formation of the African Union (AU) - a body in which he wielded enormous influence because he was one of its major financiers.

At an AU summit in 2008, he got many African traditional leaders to declare him the continent's "king of kings".

A spokesman for one of those traditional leaders - Uganda's Tooro kingdom - says Col Gaddafi was a "visionary" and would be missed.

"We saw the human side of him - not Gaddafi the colonel or the proverbial terrorist as the Americans and Europeans described him," Philip Winyi said.

"In spite of what many see as his weaknesses, he has done quite a lot for Africa, contributing to the building of infrastructure."

Col Gaddafi pushed for a United States of Africa to rival the US and the European Union (EU).

"We want an African military to defend Africa. We want a single currency. We want one African passport," he said.

Africa's other leaders paid lip-service to achieving this vision but none seemed very serious about putting it into practice.

In a BBC interview after Col Gaddafi's death, Kenya's Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula said the late Libyan leader sometimes showed a violent streak at AU meetings.

"He really suppressed Libyan people and vanquished them to the extent that in one of many AU meetings we saw him slap his foreign minister in our presence, which is something unexpected of any dignified and self-respecting head of state," Mr Wetangula told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.

Mugabe and Gaddafi

An AU expert with the South African Institute for International Affairs, Kathryn Sturman, says Col Gaddafi's death will have a profound effect on the AU.

Col Gaddafi on Africa

2008: "We want an African military to defend Africa, we want a single African currency, we want one African passport to travel within Africa," after being declared king of kings by African traditional rulers in Libya.

2010: "We don't know what will happen, what will be the reaction of the white and Christian Europeans faced with this influx of starving and ignorant Africans," after discussing halting the flow of African migrants to Italy.

2007: "Libya is an African country. May Allah help the Arabs and keep them away from us. We don't want anything to do with them."

2009: "I am an international leader, the dean of the Arab rulers, the king of kings of Africa and the imam of Muslims, and my international status does not allow me to descend to a lower level," at an Arab League summit.

"It's the end of an era for the AU. Libya was one of the big five [along with South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt and Algeria] financial contributors of the organisation. It paid 15% [of its budget], and also the membership fees of countries in arrears, like Malawi," Ms Sturman said.

"The new government in Libya is not going to be well disposed to the AU [which opposed the Nato-led intervention in Libya]."

Ms Sturman said that while the AU financial woes may worsen, it may work more effectively in the post-Gaddafi era.

"He was very adamant about pursuing a United States of Africa - and was quite obstructive in attempts to bring about deeper regional integration."

Last week, South Africa's President Jacob Zuma - whose government initially backed Nato intervention, but then denounced it - echoed a similar view in a foreign policy speech.

"Colonel Gaddafi spent a lot of time discussing a unity government for Africa that was impossible to implement now. He was in a hurry for this, possibly because he wanted to head it up himself.

"I had arguments with him about it several times. The AU will work better now without his delaying it and with some members no longer feeling as intimidated by him as they did," the South African president said.

It is an open secret in political circles that some African leaders are also intimated by Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, who remained a staunch ally of Col Gaddafi until his death.

Having spearheaded Zimbabwe's independence struggle, Mr Mugabe - who has been in office since 1980 - portrays the opposition as "puppets" of the West as he tries to hang on to power.

But as Col Gaddafi's fate shows, such rhetoric no longer strikes a chord with most Africans - a point South Africa's Nobel Peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu made when he told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme:

"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."


More on This Story

Libya after Gaddafi


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    One thing Gadaffi did for Libya was keep Al Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb out. Other nations have not achieved this (e.g. Niger, Mali, Algeria, Mauritania). Now watch - AQIM will be in Libya big time. When the west goes to collect its oil, AQIM will be there to collect their engineers and professionals. Ask the 4 Frenchmen who were taken from the uranium mine in Arlit Niger - 400 days ago!

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    Would that Zimbabwe now has a 'Spring'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    I cannot believe that the British Government is condoning murder. So William Hague feels his murder is not something the British can condone! All the jubilation over one man's death, makes me sick. So much for justice and humanity. It is no excuse to say he deserved it. His victims didn't get it, but neither did he. Less of the manic laughter, and more circumspection, please.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    -Those who killed Ghadafi've shown that they'r just lyk him, murderers.An oposing General isnt killed, but captured alive n handle th peace and smooth transition that follows[As happened with Ggabo in the Ivory Coast]
    -Mugabe's crime is 2 give land back 2 millions, from 4 000, who had stolen it by use of force 1890-1900.Zimbabweans were tired of being slaves, while the Settlers pocketed the $$.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    I can only hope that the people in the LTCouncil have their heads screwed on and bullet proof shields around them. So often we hear of great leaders, striving for peace, being shot by extremists.

    Sad that the person in charge of running this country, Dave, said he was "celebrating the death of a devil".

    He really feels human life is so cheap, including ours.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    He died in the gutter which is more than what he deserved.

    Spot on.

    He could have surrendered himself to justice ages ago, he chose his own end.

    Remember the innocent Lockerbie victims and the lovely Yvonne Fletcher, what chance were they given? Remember the victims of terrorism in GB and Ireland sponsored and armed by him, what chance were they given? Remember all his victims.........?

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    Well folks here's a twist, look at the Sky News photo of Gaddafi knelt on the floor with a pistol at his head


    Now isn't that pistol a Walther PPK????

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    remember seeing him sat in a tent saying he was a river to his people but,he was a tyrant,from the start to his demise, a tyrant, for the impact on africa the dice are in spin. with others still in the hands of tyrants.no tyrants should be tollerated.our track record is not great on this matter pinnochet being a prime example it is now in the hands of the people.i wish them well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    I agree its pity he wasn't tried but it was the Libyans who decided his fate.

    Africa along with the rest of the World has 1 less tyrant to worry about.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    He was not as bad a Bin Laden, should have been captured and put on trial. At least with his sort there was room for negotiation than the former.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    H'mmm certainly ended like it was scripted in Holywood, I'm quite sure Mr Mandela knew exactly what he was dealing with! I'm guessing method in his madness, as for those other western political leaders well they had one other thing on their agenda's! The meddling in this region since before and after aka Lawrence of Arabia...stability cannot be guaranteed !

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Let his demise be a warning to tyrants everywhere. Mugabe, are you listening ? The people can be oppressed only so much. The country's wealth may indeed be siphoned into the hands of a few greedy, corrupt cronies. But when the people's vengeance comes, it is a mighty storm.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    One less despot, perhaps a warning call to the others. Uneasy lies the head who stole the crown etc.
    The West has promoted the virtues of liberal democracy for decades, while, even now, backing some pretty despicable regimes, including Gaddafi's.
    Everyone would benefit from some consistency of approach.
    A clear preference for representative, democratic governance should be the way forward.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Africa is too diverse to say with any certainty what impact his death will have, without making generalised statements. However the events surrounding his demise are worrying. To brutally kill him/drag the body through the streets does not sound like the actions of a group of people with the power to bring about stability, with a rule of law which facilitates justice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    What does Gaddafi's death mean for Africa?

    Not a lot, the various corrupt regimes wil continue to prop each other up, the elites will continue to get richer whilst the masses continue to suffer.

    Until African people manage to purge corruption from their governments they will continue to suffer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Nothing will change, the rebels are all fighting for different causes and when certain ones are not met, then there will be more blood shed.

    Sadly alot of countries in the world cannot handle democracy example at the moment is to watch egypt. What will happen when they vote for a party which doesn't get into power? Watch as they take to the streets again and again and again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    The west can now access Libya's oil reserves no doubt?

    This is all to do with access to oil: compare Iraq for example. Strange that we have not intervened in Syria or Zimbabwe??

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    in the UK it the cultural norm that if someone does something very bad, any good deeds they have done are properly looked upon in the light of the true character of the person.

    Gaddafi may have backed some good causes but not out of any goodness of his heart, he backed them seemingly on a whim. He did raise Libyan living standards, but only to pacify those who hated him

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    The AU has come out of this particularly badly. Their support for Gaddafi implied support for repression, corruption, and the siphoning of Africa's wealth by a few at the top into their foreign bank accounts. As is still happening in several AU countries, so it is perhaps not surprising that these guys are getting worried by Gaddafi's toppling. Who is next? I bet on Mugabe.


Page 12 of 14


More Africa stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.