Libya’s leader Qaddafi made quite a triumphant return to the UN General Assembly. He was bold, brash, and all and all, very happy to be back in the spotlight. Yet, for all of the bravado beneath Qaddafi’s ninety-minute plus tirade, he was trying desperately to show that he is a leader with whom international players can do business with, and that he can be the man to represent the needs of Africa. He tried in part to accomplish this goal by wearing a black brooch of Africa the size of a grown man’s hand while speaking, and wearing all types of flowing, oddly pinned brown robes that apparently were supposed to resemble traditional African wear-
This choice of garb might seem odd, but for Qaddafi it made at least some sense in trying to manipulate the public. Qaddafi originally came to power in 1969 and since Qaddafi’s take over, civil liberties have been restricted severely, and the quality of life has plummeted as well. Even by the low standards of the North African region, which is by no means a bastion of human rights or free speech (Algeria, Morocco, Egypt and Tunisia are the other countries that make up North Africa), people in Libya have it very rough.
After he came to power, Qaddafi and Libya were in a sense banished from the international community due to the Lockerbie bombing, terrorism concerns, human rights violations, and his general unhinged demeanor. All of these past actions, of course, seem to be at odds with the UN’s concerns for human rights, but Qadaffi tried to polish his image with these groups by attending the Council on Foreign Relations meetings. This is obviously an irreconcilable paradox, but to Qaddafi, that does not matter. His appearance at the meeting alone signifies that he is back on the world scene after all of the sanctions and silent treatment from the West.
Qaddafi was elected head of the African Union last year, during a time when the African Union is desperate for attention to the concerns over climate change, poverty, AIDS and increasing inter-continental violence. It was a controversial choice, especially because Qaddafi is the leader of a country in an Arab-Muslim region not representing the whole of Africa, especially not of Sub-Saharan Africa.
During his speech (where he further tried to up his African “cred” by not speaking Modern Standard Arabic, but by speaking Libyan dialect composed of Arabic, French and local colloquial words), Qadaffi mentioned several times that Africa should play more of a role in UN bodies and councils, which, while a worthwhile suggestion is undermined by the fact that he is not the best person to represent it. This off base wardrobe further fed his delusion that he has some type of credibility to represent the whole continent of Africa, and in this dress he felt free to play the victim, to freely chastise the West for the sins of colonialism in order to gain favor with skeptical African countries. Yet at the same time he sits on oil in Libya, ensuring he will get US and European business.
The reversal of the UN on its attitude toward Qaddafi is a disturbing trend and further highlights the hypocrisy of an agency supposedly concerned with human rights, and especially with the future of Africa. Qaddafi has proven himself to be erratic, vengeful and unpredictable. It does not seem to be a smart course of action to suddenly invite such an unstable leader back into the fold of decision-making international leaders. Even if oil business could be lucrative, it is only temporary and not worth sacrificing the UN’s supposed morals for.
The UN will no longer have the authority to bad mouth countries such as Israel and the US if they continue to allow a human rights violator and terror supporter back onto the UN scene.