Saif al-Islam Ghaddafi, P.hd, London School of Economics, and the best known son of Muammar Ghaddafi was set free this week. He had been detained for six years since November 19, 2011 when following the Libyan ‘Civil War’ he was captured by the Abu Bakr al-Sadiq Brigade while attempting to flee to Niger Republic. Announcing his release, the Brigade said “We have decided to liberate Saif al-Islam Muammar Gaddafi. He is now free and has left the city of Zintan” where he was being held.
Saif is released into a country with at least five factional governments. The Government of National Accord (GNA) or ‘Unity Government’ led by Fayez al-Serraj, is recognized by the ‘international community’ and ensconced in a Naval Base secured by an armed militia it does not control. The Islamist National Salvation Government led by Khalifa al-Ghawi shares Tripoli with the GNA where it controls strategic places including the airport. A third government, led by Aguila Saleh, has capital in Tobruk; the Islamic State with over 6,000 armed fighters has its headquarters near Sirte, Ghaddafi’s home base, while renegade General Khalifa Hafter, calls the shots in Benghazi.
He is released into a society where his father was cornered like a rat and executed like a stray dog. A society in which his brothers, Mutassim and Khamis were killed and his youngest brother, Saadi is still held in Tripoli for alleged war crimes. He knows another of his brothers, Hannibal is in exile in Lebanon, with his mother, Safia and sister, Aisha in Oman, on exile. With these, his losing some fingers, and his experiences in detention and the circumstances of his release, it will be difficult to conclude if Saif still holds to the fierce patriotism and spirit of service he was identified with. We cannot now know if he is still dedicated to the reforms he was spear heading – including the release of political prisoners – before the uprising.
Also, his reactions may be determined by the actions of the West which had set his country on fire; armed thugs, bandits and Islamists to overthrow his father; bombed the Libyan military into submission; and today, under the International Criminal Court, declares him wanted for alleged ‘war crimes’ His release is by the Tobruk government which declared amnesty as part of reconciliation moves; moves not backed by the two rival governments in Tripoli that may still want to arrest and send him for trial.
Whatever may be the case, Saif, given his father’s legacy, his own force of character and the anarchy in the country, is a force to be reckoned with. Many of those who knew peace under Ghaddafi, had perhaps the best social security in the world and the joy of being able to carry out basic human activities like going to the market, taking children to school and family on a picnic, might be nostalgic for the old era. Many in the middle and upper classes who could go to the airport and take an international flight rather than risk a road journey to neigbouring Tunisia, might yearn for the return of the Ghaddafi days. Many of those who lived in a secured and peaceful Libya would long for the days they had a country worthy of its name. Therein lie the appeal of Saif.
A freed Saif may be crucial in national dialogue, restoration of peace, national reconstruction and unity; a country with multiple governments cannot be said to be a country. But in a large sense, his role will be determined by the forces on the ground, the logic of the Libyan trajectory, his perception of the various armed groups in the country, and of course, the extent of the intervention of Europe and America in the internal affairs of Libya.
It was these international policemen from Brussels and Washington who setup Libya for the kill. It was they and their agents who for decades sold the crap to the world that President Ghaddafi was a lunatic seating on huge oil wells that they can put to better use. They were the forces that isolated Libya and were alarmed that Ghaddafi was not only bankrolling African unity but also wanted an international monetary medium of exchange independent of the NATO countries. They are the forces that cooked up the lie that Libya agents planted a bomb in the Pan Am Flight 103 which on December 21, 1988 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland killing all 259 on board and 11 on ground. These are the same people who accused Libya of sponsoring terrorism and on April 14, 1986, without a declaration of war, bombed Tripoli killing over 70 people. They are the same gang that imposed a No-Fly-Zone over the entire country threatening to shoot down any aircraft that violated the ban, until the unforgettable Nelson Mandela flew into Libya daring them to bring down his aircraft. It is these same forces that engineered the February 2011 uprising from Benghazi and provided the insurgents massive air power to smash the Ghaddafi government and impose the present chaos.
But for these forces of colonialism and neo-colonialism, Libya might not today, be a basket case. But for them, tens of thousands of Libyans might not have died in half a dozen years of chaos, and the over five thousand Libyans who perished in the Mediterranean Sea trying to reach Europe, might still have been alive. Libya was prosperous and self-sufficient, today, thanks to the West, 2.5 million Libyans are in need of humanitarian aid including food. Saif’s transformation since 2011, might be for good. On the other hand, he could have become a battle axe cutting both ways and returning with a vengeance against those that destroyed Libya. Doubtlessly, the NATO powers that sunk Libya would not want to see the country refloat under Saif; but if faced with a choice between him and the Islamic State, they may prefer the former. For Africa and the rest of the underdeveloped world; it is a shame that we allowed Libya to be destroyed, adding to our litany of woes. The fall of Ghaddafi triggered the rise of the Islamists in Mali, and is partly responsible for the renewed flow of illegal arms across West Africa including to the Boko Haram who continue to terrorize Nigeria, Niger, Cameroun and Chad. Tragically, it does not appear we have learnt useful lessons from the Libyan experience.