(NNPA) — The mass protests that led to the downfall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak after 35 years in power and the 23-year tenure of Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali have inspired protests throughout Northern Africa and the Middle East – including in Libya, Bahrain, and Yemen – and have underscored the United States’ inconsistent foreign policy.
While professing support for democracy around the world, the U.S. has openly supported dictators who routinely exploited and killed their own people, as was the case in Egypt under Mubarak and is the case in Bahrain under King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. In those and other instances, the U.S. turned a deaf ear to human rights violations because the leaders of those countries were allied with America in the fight against international terrorism.
In the case of Libya’s Moammar Gaddafi, he has been considered both friend and foe.
Libya, a mostly desert country about four times the size of California, was divided into three different provinces, each with deep tribal tension, until a Gaddafi-led revolution ousted its former king in 1969. Even Gaddafi’s severest critics concede that he has used Libya’s newly-discovered oil wealth to uplift the poor, improving hospitals and schools. But detractors say he runs an oppressive regime, where political opponents are victims of public hangings.
Gaddafi became an international pariah 25 years ago. In 1986, the Reagan administration accused Libyan agents of bombing a disco in Berlin, Germany, in which two American soldiers were killed. Reagan retaliated by bombing Libya. In the process, dozens of innocent civilians were killed, including Gaddafi’s adopted infant daughter.
Two years later, Libya experienced the wrath of the international community after it was suspected of bombing Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, resulting in the deaths of 270 people. In 1992, the United Nations applied sanctions against Libya for failing to turn over two suspects in the bombing.
Beginning in 1998, when Libya became the first nation to issue an international arrest warrant for Osama bin Laden, it took a series of high-profile actions to repair its tarnished international reputation.
In 1999, Gaddafi turned over two suspects in the Pan Am bombing, prompting the U.N. to lift economic sanctions against Libya. Two years later, when the two suspects were found guilty of murder, Gaddafi condemned the Sept. 11 attacks and urged his fellow citizens to donate blood to the victims. The U.N. made additional concessions in 2003 by lifting travel and weapons bans against Libya after it formally accepted responsibility for the Pan Am bombing. Libya paid more than $2 billion to settle claims by the victims’ families.
In another step toward regaining international respectability, Libya disbanded its nuclear program and provided the CIA with information that helped uncover a nuclear underground market in Europe. President George W. Bush, eyeing Libya as a potential partner in the war against terrorism, lifted most U.S. trade sanctions in 2004.
Describing the newly-thawed relationship, the Los Angeles Times, which spells the Libyan leader’s last name differently from most news outlets, observed: “As it struggles to combat Islamic terrorist networks, the Bush administration has quietly built an intelligence alliance with Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi, a onetime bitter enemy the U.S. had tried for years to isolate, topple or kill.
“Kadafi has helped the U.S. pursue Al Qaeda’s network in North Africa by turning radicals over to neighboring pro-Western governments. He has also provided information to the CIA on Libyan nationals with alleged ties to international terrorists.”
The newspaper continued, “In turn, the U.S. has handed over to Tripoli some anti-Kadafi Libyans captured in its campaign against terrorism. And Kadafi’s agents have been allowed into the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba to interrogate Libyans being held there.”
Now that the U.S. has joined France, the United Nations and now NATO in launching air strikes on Libya, however, some African leaders wonder what that will mean for African democracy.
The international media’s obsession with highlighting only war, disease, poverty and national disasters in Africa means that many Americans don’t know about the progress being made in expanding democracy on the continent. The leaders of Egypt and Libya have been in power more than three decades. However, two-thirds of the 54 countries in Africa have leaders that have been in power 15 years or less.
According to a 2008 poll of 19 African countries by www.afrobarometer.org, 29 percent of those polled rated their country as a full democracy, 30 percent of the respondents described their country as a democracy with minor problems, 25 percent labeled their country as a democracy with major problems and only 11 percent said they either didn’t live in a democracy or didn’t know the status of their nation.
Despite those statistics, some African leaders fear the Obama administration may now use its incursion into Libya as an excuse to support military intervention in other African counties, providing a further setback to sovereignty and self-governance on the continent.
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of “Emerge” magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, media coach and NNPA columnist. He can be reached through his website, www.georgecurry.com You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.