Gaddafi was fooling some of the people all of the time

August 24, 2011

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi

Col Mummar Gaddafi’s regime was facing the end as the opposition forces met unexpectedly light resistance to their entry into Tripoli. It seems he had been “fooling some of the people all of the time”.

Sunday [August 21st 2011] the news from Libya was of fierce fighting outside the capital Tripoli. By Monday morning local time, troops had advanced into Tripoli with only light resistance. An announcement was made that the Transitional National Council (TNC) would move within days to Tripoli to form a transitional government.

A Tipping Point?

President Obama was reported as describing the events as a tipping point for Gaddafi’s regime. The term was repeated by other commentators. Perhaps it was. But it shows how much easier it is to recognise a tipping point in hindsight than in advance.

Fooling some of the people …

The tipping point also showed how Gaddafi had created a belief that his support in Tripoli was deep-rooted. It fooled many people including all the commentaries I had read. It was a view even held by the advancing forces according to one of their spokesmen. On one hand, Gaddafi’s statements had become more violent and irrational. Yet on the other hand he preserved the one big myth, of the strong support for his regime in Tripoli.

‘Reading and testing” leadership messages

When a leader speaks, you will always have a chance to test their message. It is easy to dismiss a public speech as ‘just rhetoric’, or ‘only propaganda’. But taking such a bleak view blocks off any deeper reflection. The point always to be remembered is that the most convincing message contains a grain of truth. Most of us swallowed as truth the wrong grain. It was hard to believe his statement that he was successfully overcoming ‘NATO aggression’. But maybe, just maybe, the displays of public support were not entirely orchestrated…

Belief swings?

overnight there was a different sort of tipping point. The evidence before our eyes was that the oppositional forces had swept into Tripoli. Far from meeting whole-hearted resistance there appeared to be minimum support for the regime. Now the belief swung in the opposite direction. Gaddafi had no support whatsoever.
The tipping point (again in hindsight) was in the perceptions of ‘wide support’ to ‘no support’.

The fragile euphoria of liberation

Against a visible background on continuing fighting, one joyful young woman told the BBC that ‘100% of people now opposed Gaddafi’. Her joy was unfeigned. Within hours other realities became clearer. There is a fragile euphoria to a yearning for liberation.

What happened next

What happened next has been widely recorded, as President Obama’s tipping point did indeed have some predictive accuracy. For a while, ‘the fog of war’ further confused matters, as his son Saif al-Islam stood triumphantly outside the compound [Pictured above, Tuesday 23rd August] to demonstrate as false the rumours was of his own arrest. But within days the evidence was of a regime damaged beyond any immediate fight back. Gaddafi’s central fortress was quickly overwhelmed.

The next symbolic act

The next important symbolic act is considered to be the capture of Colonel Gaddafi. Until then, the information available remains in need of serious testing as the world remakes its maps of Libya’s future.

Zimbabwe’s plight needs more than regime change

December 9, 2008


When democracy fails, regime change is desirable but difficult. President Robert Mugabe’s regime is a case in point. Which scenarios are the most promising for addressing Zimbabwe’s mounting problems?

When Robert Mugabe refused to accept the results of the Presidential election he lost any claim to democratic support. It became even clearer that the democratic processes in that country were being be dismissed by Mugabe who continued to retain power through military and economic levers.

Economic meltdown in Zimbabwe continues, compounded with personal tragedy. The Aids epidemic is hardly mentioned in external reports, although the outbreak of cholera [December 2008] is reported as yet one more burden visited on a hapless community.

International pressures are not appearing to speed-up change. Sanctions are hurting the most vulnerable.

Regime change is ‘necessary but not sufficient’

However painful the thought to many people, removing President Mugabe will not solve the country’s desperate problems. There are lessons to be learned from recent history. The collective might and will-power of the United States (with not a little help from Great Britain and others) failed to work out a way of achieving regime change in Iraq which resulted in a plan for future stability. The problems in Iraq and in Zimbabwe are not resolved by limited and linear thinking. It is not enough to focus on the first step (First let’s get rid of Saddam, or Mugabe, and then we can really get things moving in the right direction).

Historical lessons

Our historical analyst Jeff Schubert has studied the rise and fall of tyrants. He is in no doubt over the political lessons for Zimbabwe. He points to how the apparatus of power might unravel:

Toward the end of his life, Stalin’s people personnel policies were catching up with him. His long history of picking-off colleagues and lieutenants one, or two, at a time made some of his lieutenants so fearful that they would be next that they began to resist his divide and rule tactics. Sergo Beria wrote: “In 1951 the members of the Politburo, Bulganin, Malenkov, Khrushchev and my father, began to appreciate that they were all in the same boat and it mattered little whether one of them was thrown overboard a few days before the others. They felt a sense of solidarity once they faced the fact that none of them would be Stalin’s successor – he intended to choose an heir from among the younger generation. They therefore agreed among themselves not to allow Stalin to set one against the other, and they would immediately inform each other of anything Stalin said about them, so as to frustrate his manipulations. … This solidarity among the members of the Politburo increased as time went by

Mussolini’s leading lieutenants also jointly sought some mechanism for achieving peace. On 16 July 1943, with Italy at war on the side of Germany, they went to his office. Giuseppe Bottai said: “We are not here to ask to diminish your powers, or rather your power; not to divide, that is dissect, fragment your responsibility. We are here … to ask to share your responsibility. To make of it, that is, co-responsibility, that binds us to you, but also you to us, in ready, absolute and declared solidarity.”

… but Mussolini would not make clear he would share power in the way that was now demanded, and he would not give up the war. [one of his aides] thought Mussolini was wearing a ‘mask’ – that he had lost his will-power, and was actually ‘resigned’ to his fate. In essence, Mussolini seems to have been trapped within his own image as ‘the Man’ and unable to surrender it even thought he clearly recognized that in some way his end was near.

For me, these lessons from history indicate how power drains away, with courageous actions from those directly in contact with the regime. External powers, however well-meaning, have a wider picture to consider: what can we do, even now, to help the people of Zimbabwe?

One day Robert Mugabe will be gone. Whether he was a hero who became confused and began to believe in his right to rule, or a malevolent force is less central to the change process than the material conditions in the country, and what might be done to bring some relief to its people