What was life like in Gaddafi’s Libya? Was his killing a benefit to Libya, or a war crime?
The refugee crisis presents horror after horror since Western “interventionism” destabilised Libya and other countries. Since Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s murder in October 2011 after a lengthy bombing campaign, Isis rebels (among other factions) opposing Gaddafi’s leadership seized territory around areas like Sirte, now lawless and exploitable for discriminatory “cleansing”. Black Libyans have particularly suffered. For example, in Tawergha an entire town of 30,000 vanished after its takeover by NATO-backed NTC Misratan brigades in 2011.
Human trafficking accounts herald disturbing stories of hot-iron branding and prostitution, EU countries complicit in the crisis by preventing refugees from entering safer countries and deporting them back to war zones. In 2016 the UN estimated that 2.44 million people required protection and humanitarian assistance due to the Libyan conflict. There’s evidence that Western media manipulated public discourse. For example, an Amnesty International investigation into when Gaddafi’s forces retook the town of Ajdabiya in February 2011 found no evidence that they attacked civilians as media outlets claimed, concluding that:
‘much Western media coverage has from the outset presented a very one-sided view of the logic of events, portraying the protest movement as entirely peaceful and repeatedly suggesting that the regime’s security forces were unaccountably massacring unarmed demonstrators who presented no security challenge’
Was then, Gaddafi’s murder, so brutally captured on video, justified? Was he right to utter the dying plea ‘What have I done to you?’, as though anything redeeming existed?
Human rights organisations have catalogued atrocities committed during his rule. For example, in 1980 a policy of assassinations of political dissidents abroad, termed “stray dogs”, was introduced and on 28-29 June 1996 more than 1,000 prisoners were shot dead by security forces in Abu Salim prison. There was also the 1988 Lockerbie plane crash which Gaddafi accepted responsibility for in 2003, though one of his son’s has claimed only to precipitate sanctions removal. Gaddafi’s second son Saif al-Islam has even said the government was responsible for some human rights failings. However, as referenced previously, Libya since 2011 has seen further human rights atrocities.
During Gaddafi’s rule, the world’s largest irrigation project, the Great-Man Made River project, made water more easily accessible. Nationalised oil wealth meant Libyans enjoyed free healthcare, education, electricity and interest-free loans. Housing for Gaddafi was a human right, and women were freer to work and dress as they liked, subject to family constraints, than before. Based on ideas outlined in Gaddafi’s Green Book, a socialist system of Jamahiriya direct democracy allowed citizens to voice views directly via local committees. Numerous times Gaddafi’s proposals, like abolishing capital punishment, were rejected by popular vote and the opposite became legislation. Similarly, in 2009, Gaddafi’s proposal to effectively abolish central government altogether and give all oil proceeds directly to each family was rejected. In 2010, the UN index of human development ranked Libya as the world’s 53rd most advanced country. By 2015, it had slipped to 94th.
In 2009, chairing the African Union, Gaddafi proposed selling Libyan oil in gold-backed “dinars” (a single African currency made from gold), over the US dollar. With gold and silver reserves estimated at around 143 tonnes, French President Sarkozy recognised in emails the threat posed to the French franc circulating in Africa.
An imperialist war was launched against Libya in 2011, preventing the shift in the world economy’s balance of power through the gold dinar, where Africa would have become rich overnight. In my opinion, Gaddafi’s moment stands as one of the courageous attempts of the socialist 20th century to transform the world, and his departure during the iniquitous war against Libya truly was a war crime.