Romanticisation and the Revisionist Viewing of African Despots




Three days ago, the world was reminded of the ghastly last images to be seen of a once flamboyant and tough talking African head of state. It was October 20th, 2011 and like everyone who followed the events as they materialized, I vividly remember where I was and what I was doing.

It was just another school day and I was fiddling with my phone while attempting to work through pages of homework assignment when BBC broke the story. On my barely smart phone’s screen was a grainy image of a man whose face was in blood, patches of hair strewn across his scalp haphazardly and a crowd surrounding him like a mob does when it lays hand on a thief. It was a blood curdling sight!

Boldly written with a seeming air of British joy, the caption to the image read “Col Gaddafi Dead”. It was the culmination of Libya’s Arab Spring, a continuance of the wave of resistance which swept in from Egypt via Tunisia. At least at the time it felt like it. In retrospection however, it has become folktale in many circles that the death of Gaddafi was the cradle of the current chaos Libya is immersed in.

What once was reportedly a country where unemployment was extremely low, infrastructure at an advanced stage, welfare benefits for citizens ubiquitous and an immigration destination for multitudes from West Africa is now a country reeling from war and terrorism. The central government continues to grapple with the task of sewing together what is left of its sovereignty with some parts of Sirte under the control of ISIS and other areas being semi-autonomous. But was Gaddafi really the savior of Libyans as his supporters have casted him to be? The country was probably one where the closest thing to utopic economic wellbeing in Africa could be found, a claim disputed by many Libyans. (Read this: ) Granted that claim is even true, is it enough to overlook the alleged instances of oppression of opponents and suppression of dissent?

The right to dissent without fear is an inalienable right of all citizens and should not be usurped by any person or entity. Gaddafi was notorious for how he suppressed those who dissented with him. Stories abound of torture camps filled with people who opposed him or were deemed as guilty of Zindaka (heresy). The infamous Abou Sallim prison was one of the alleged killing and torture sites of Gaddafi where in 1996 an estimated number of 1200 prisoners were summarily executed. Countless of other such instances are well documented in Libya.

More than quelling opposition, hanging protesters and assassinating dissidents overseas (read this list again ), Gaddafi was an alleged sexual predator. In an IB Times interview, Seham Sergewa, a Libyan psychologist details the machinery put in place to select and groom kids for the sexual pleasing of Gaddafi. His victims were scouted for, tested to ensure they were STD free and then abused by the self-styled African King of Kings.

This characterization of Gaddafi has for a long time been public knowledge. It was the among the reasons why a section of the Libyan populace rose up against Gaddafi once the winds of the Arab Spring had swept into Benghazi. The issue however is, it has mainly been parroted by western media sources. These sources are not inherently inaccurate but with a history of playing to the tunes of Western governments, the rest of Africa is genuinely skeptical of BBC and CNN reportage.

What Africans sub of the Sahara knew of Gaddafi was an endearing pan-Africanist who championed a cause left to the dusty bookshelves of Universities across the continent and the headquarters of the African Union. An image of an African Regalia wearing Arab who insisted on the formation of a United States of Africa, was charitable to many countries and was reportedly instrumental in making telecommunications cheaper on the continent has been seared on sub-Saharan Africans. That is why many continue to view Gaddafi through lenses entirely different from the one most Libyans used.

The revisionist appreciation of African despots and the accompanying romanticization is not unique to Gaddafi. Some quarters of Africa continues to see Mugabe as hero worthy of celebration despite decades of tyrannical rule and economic misappropriations against his own people. No matter what Al Jazeera, CNN, BBC and their ilk say of such despots, people will be swayed by the anti-imperialist/pan-Africanist rhetoric of these despots rather than their human rights infractions. You will be told that “Democracy is not for every country” and left wondering why basic respect for human life should be a preserve of Democracy and not every human organizing system or community. This will continue unabated until a crop of leaders emerge from the divide of tough talking anti-imperialist despots on one extreme end and corrupt stooges of the west on the other.

3 thoughts on “Romanticisation and the Revisionist Viewing of African Despots

Add yours

  1. Interesting.
    Would you not agree that that an argument can be made for romanticization – not to justify it, but to posit is as a mere necessity? In the case of Gaddafi and in the context of the West’s notorious interference with and their media’s portrayal of the political and social realities of the Global South, his romanticization could be considered a necessity – to quell the level of hyperbole of these inflated accounts, no? I’d like to hear your thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I do agree with you. I think romanticization is informed by our longing for figures who stand up to western hegemony and imperialism. That is why most Ghanaians think Assad is a good guy or even Putin is some leader to admire. But as you did say, that’s just the rationalization of it and not moral justification. The problem is we substandardize leadership and egg on despots.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s alarming to find out that people actually think that the leaderships of Assad and Putin are admirable. But yes, you do have a point.

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Powered by

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: