Many in Sub-Saharan Africa Mourn Qaddafi’s Death
By Josh Kron
The New York Times
October 22, 2011
NAIROBI, Kenya — While Libya’s former rebels and many Western nations welcomed the end of the country’s long and brutal dictatorship, many sub-Saharan Africans are mourning the death of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, celebrated as much for his largesse as for his willingness to stand up to the West.
To them, his violent death was another sad chapter in a long-running narrative of Western powers meddling in Africa’s affairs.
“We are the 1 percent who are not celebrating,” said Salim Abdul, who helps run a major mosque in Uganda’s capital named for the former Libyan leader, who provided the money to build it.
“He loved Uganda,” said Mr. Abdul in an interview at the mosque, in Kampala. He noted that Colonel Qaddafi had committed to paying the salaries for the staff of 20 for the next 20 years. “His death means everything comes to an end,” Mr. Abdul said.
On Friday, approximately 30,000 people packed the mosque to pay tribute to the slain leader, according to local news media in Uganda.
The Daily Monitor, a prominent independent Ugandan newspaper, reported that Sheikh Amir Mutyaba, a former ambassador to Libya, wept as he told followers that Colonel Qaddafi had “died as a hero.” He added that while “Allah will bless him,” foreign “oil diggers will be punished,” likely alluding to a perception among some that the West intervened in Libya mainly because of its oil riches.
In Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country and about half Muslim, a senator told local news media that Colonel Qaddafi “was one of the finest African leaders we have.” And a former Nigerian militia leader, who said he was once financed by Colonel Qaddafi, told Agence France-Presse that the former Libyan leader’s death would be “avenged.”
The colonel “spilled his blood as a martyr to rekindle the fire of revolution all over the world,” said Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, the militia leader. “The people of the world will rise up against this.”
Colonel Qaddafi came to power in 1969 as a 27-year old ideologue, who modeled himself on President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, and focused his energy on leading a pan-Arab renaissance. But by the turn of the century, feeling spurned by his fellow Arabs, he turned his focus south toward sub-Saharan Africa. He used his own money, as well as state-owned investment firms, to build mosques, hotels and telecommunications companies.
He also meddled in the politics of other African countries — at least a dozen coups or attempted coups on the continent were traced to his support.
One of the many grandiose titles he embraced for himself was “the king of kings of Africa.”
Over time, his efforts won him many African allies, and when the uprising against him began this year, the African Union took months to recognize a rebel council as the country’s governing authority.
There were many reports early in the revolution that Colonel Qaddafi had reached out to fighters in African states and had used them as mercenaries, but journalists saw little evidence of mercenaries during the revolt.
As Colonel Qaddafi’s enemies begin their efforts to rebuild their country, many on the continent remain angry that the transfer of power happened, in large part, because of the military support NATO provided to the former rebels.
In Zimbabwe, where President Robert Mugabe led a liberation struggle against a white-minority regime that ended in 1980, a presidential spokesman said Colonel Qaddafi would be remembered there for his support of Zimbabwe’s independence fight and railed against foreign interference in Africa’s affairs.
“The government cannot accept drawing blood as a model for changing political systems on the continent,” said George Charamba, the spokesman. “Moreso when that blood is drawn at the instigation of foreign countries.”
Zimbabwe, of course, has had its own run-ins with West, facing intense criticism for a bloody, discredited presidential election in 2008. “As a matter of principle,” Mr. Charamba said, “Zimbabwe does not believe it is the duty of the West to tell us who our friends are and who our enemies are, who the beautiful ones are and who the ugly ones are.”
Even some Africans who said they did not necessarily support Colonel Qaddafi were stricken by the way he was killed and argued that he had left behind an important legacy.
“I had never been really a fan of Qaddafi, but now I am touched by how he died,” said Manny Ansar, the director of a popular annual music festival in Mali. “Love him or not, we must recognize that this is one of the greatest African leaders who influenced several generations, including mine, and found in the constancy and courage of his positions what we research in a hero. In a word: pride.”