The cost of freedom in Libya and Darfur: Lessons for Nigeria

(By Dennis Alemu)

Leaders in Nigeria and elsewhere in the world should realise that change is the only concept or phenomenon that is constant and, therefore, inevitable in the affairs of men. While humans have a transient existence in the present order of creation on earth, human institutions like government outlive them. This is why no leader is in true sense indispensable to the existence or survival of a nation. When an aggrieved people rise up in arms against their leadership, it is a clarion call on that leadership that its time is up and that they no longer need its services.

GAINING political autonomy or independence is expensive, as can be empirically extracted from the pages of world history. In every sense, history of the world is a history of wars and conflicts fought by humanity for political freedom and against political oppression and subjugation.

In recent times, the wars of freedom fought respectively in the south-western Sudanese region of Darfur (now officially part of the Republic of Southern Sudan), and Libya provide useful insight into the real cost (value) of freedom – for a people to have their political destiny in their own hands. The two conflicts are typical examples of what it can cost to engage in belligerence to secure political emancipation.

The Darfur crisis: For a better part of its history as a sovereign state, the North African country, Sudan, was engulfed in civil strife. For this reason, when the people of Darfur revolted against the central government in 2003, the international community read it as another round of the ceaseless metamorphosis of violence for which Sudan was known. Little did the world know then that the country was on the last lap of its fateful journey to bifurcation.

The basis of the uprising, according to the insurgents, was the “long years of neglect of Darfur,” which is home to a substantial share of that country’s vaults of oil wealth. The Darfur people were not allowed full participation in the affairs of their country, under the control of the Islamic north in Khartoum. Darfur was denied all forms of meaningful development as the oil basket of Sudan.

The revolt was to set afoot a grievous ethnic cleansing agenda orchestrated by the government of President Omar al-Bashir. The armed Arab militants, who were government-sponsored, known locally as Janjaweeds (which literally means “demons on horsebacks”) engaged in massive killing, maiming and assault on women of Darfur. Officially describing the Darfur genocide in 2008, the UNHCR said some 350,000 Darfur men, women and children had been killed in the conflict. The commission also drew the world’s attention to the over 2.5 million people who had been displaced at the height of the crisis.

Aerial footages on cable news showed the rampaging Janjaweeds setting houses ablaze, after the Sudanese Air Force had strafed villages and towns. Darfur was a blot on a continent constantly in search of peace and stability to consolidate the gains made in democratic governance, education and the MDGs. The mission of the Arab-controlled government was to ultimately Islamise Darfur communities, which are mainly Christians, by wiping out all males, including day-old male babies. To accomplish this mission, the Janjaweeds threw male babies into burning houses in communities they had sacked, but spared female babies in the hope of raising a new generation of Arab children in Darfur.

However, after so much bloodshed and destruction, Khartoum and the dissident leaders eventually entered an armistice in Nairobi, Kenya, which cleared the path for a referendum to decide the political future of Darfur and the entire Southern Sudan. The referendum was conducted in January 2011. With over 98 per cent voting in favour of independence, the Republic of Southern Sudan was born on July 9, 2011. Africa’s youngest state leaves behind a dark chapter of history that is steeped in violence, criminal neglect and underdevelopment, gross violations of human rights and bloodshed.

The Libyan Revolution: The story of the Libyan insurgency is all too familiar and well narrated. In much of the Arab world, the conspicuous political landmark is that of a chronology of decades of one-man rule without accountability to the people. In those climes, there is no fixed term of office, only a leader’s longevity and/or death that determines his stay in power. The leaders there exercise absolute political and religious authority that is rooted in Islamic theocracy. This offers them the political franchise to run their countries according to their personal caprices and their actions largely go unchallenged.

Libya was a quintessential example of countries in this unique “political comity” and Col. Muammar Gaddafi was the “landlord of the nation” in that political order. The Libyan uprising, which began in February 2011, was seen globally as deriving from the Arab Spring and it culminated in the ouster and death of Gaddafi. At least 35,000 Libyans died in the war that dragged for eight months. What initially began as street protests against the 42-year old regime of Gaddafi snowballed into a full-scale civil war that left the country’s political economy in tatters.

Tripoli’s air-borne bombardments of unarmed protesters provoked worldwide anger, forcing the United Nations to pass Resolution 1973, which mandated NATO and its allies to cripple Libyan air defences. A no-fly zone was declared and enforced by the UN through NATO. European powers consisting of France, Britain, Spain and Germany led the decisive offensive to liberate Libya.

Besides the prohibitive human cost the Libyan people incurred in the insurgency, the country’s critical infrastructure suffered severe setback. NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, at one of his press briefings, declared that the Libyan people had had enough suffering, death and destruction because of the conflict. He declared: “The Gaddafi regime is clearly crumbling. The sooner Gaddafi realizes that he cannot win the battle against his own people, the better – so that the Libyan people can be spared further bloodshed and suffering.”

He advised the former leader, Gaddafi, to spare his people further suffering by stepping down from power. His plea fell on deaf ears, as Gaddafi didn’t until insurgent fighters killed him in November 2011. It is instructive that there are many lessons to be learnt from the Libya and Darfur crises. First, leaders should not take the people they lead for granted in anything. Gaddafi took his fellow countrymen and women for granted and paid the ultimate price. However, he did so at a very great cost to the Libyan nation.

Another important lesson is that the will of the people is the cornerstone of legitimate governance. To put it differently, a government that enjoys the support and goodwill of the people is the “true government of, by and for the people.” This is why the will of the people must be respected at all times to preserve government’s legitimacy.

Leaders in Nigeria and elsewhere in the world should realise that change is the only concept or phenomenon that is constant and, therefore, inevitable in the affairs of men. While humans have a transient existence in the present order of creation on earth, human institutions like government outlive them. This is why no leader is in true sense indispensable to the existence or survival of a nation. When an aggrieved people rise up in arms against their leadership, it is a clarion call on that leadership that its time is up and that they no longer need its services.

More often than not, when the flood of change surges, leaders who can’t manage it get swept away from their seat of power. The Libyan experience in particular is a perfect laboratory experimentation that has proved the hypothesis valid, that when a people are pushed to the wall, it is natural that they fight back in their collective subjugation. Gaddafi’s fist of iron rule in Libya endured for 42 years, and when Libyans said enough was enough, he didn’t blink and what followed is now history – he ended up making himself a past tense in Libyan affairs.

Furthermore, social injustice and leadership exclusivity, as we saw in the Darfur case, can trigger revolutions whose destructive power can consume a nation. The best bet for leaders is to correlate every segment of society and give everyone a true sense of belonging by way of consultation and consensus building, creating equal opportunities for all and access to state resources, social justice, physical development through social infrastructure and appointments, among others. This is the foundation for forging a united, virile and strong nation.

It is high time Nigerian leaders offered selfless service to their country by making the desired sacrifices that would help catapult the country higher on the vault of development. It is beyond any argument that Gaddafi’s Libya was a welfare state, yet that political order was toppled in what became known as the Libyan revolution.

If a revolution of that scale can engulf that welfare North African country, where the state provided free education and accommodation, among others, to its citizens, what is the guarantee that it can’t happen in seemingly docile countries, including Nigeria, with the rampant economic pains and hardship being faced by the common man in the midst of stupendous oil and gas wealth that is controlled by a few to the detriment of millions?

• Mr. Dennis wrote from Lagos.

“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”

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