Capital Ethiopia Newspaper

A multi-million dollar question

The Libyan popular revolution is now at its critical stage. The anti-Gaddafi forces are in their final assault to fully control Sirte, the last remaining strong hold of pro-Gaddafi forces. The Transitional Council of Libya is now engaged in the most challenging process of forming the transitional government and leading Libya in to democracy. However, there is one important question which needs a correct answer. Where is Colonel Gaddafi now? This is indeed a multi-million dollar question. If we don’t know where Gaddafi is and take appropriate measures against him, it will not be possible to assert the triumph of the popular revolution.  Gaddafi is not a simple man and it is not easy to ignore him considering he is not light weight.  He has all the necessary credentials in international terrorism. Though much of the wealth he has stashed in foreign banks is frozen, it would be naive to assume that he is now a broke Bedouin without a horse in the desert. The man is Colonel Gaddafi.
A long time ago, the famous American comedian and Hollywood actor Eddy Murphy was on “The Late Night Show” TV Talk Show hosted by Jay Leno and faced his simple but judgmental question: “Edi, you became a millionaire at the age of 21 exactly as you predicted or let’s say as you planned. Now, being black and a millionaire, what is the practical leverage your deep pocketed wallet offered to you?” Eddy answered it straight forwardly with his trademark big smile by saying “Well, in America, being poor is something. Being poor and black is another thing. Being poor and black means you will have very short hands and you may even be unable to properly feed yourself. Being a millionaire provides you extra-long hands which sometimes can enable you to open the doors in the White House while you are sound asleep”.
This exactly fits Colonel Gaddafi. Being a president and the excess of Libya’s billions of petro-dollar at his disposal, his hands were very long. In his good old days, the National Bank of Libya was found under Gaddafi’s pillow in his bedroom. In actual terms, the National Bank of Libya was indeed Gaddafi’s deep-pocketed personal wallet. It was this wallet which gave Gaddafi very long arms capable of plunking the noses of many presidents and prominent politicians in Africa’s political stage. From traditional to modern, Gaddafi effectively bought many African leaders and kept them in his closet to use them at his will. Almost all of African Summits and meetings in which Gaddafi participated were marked by many of his weird acts. The yearly African Union leader’s summits were a unique stage for Gaddafi’s single man drama. From his imported tomato and salad to his all white Mercedes limousines, Gaddafi was unique. His many and predominantly “beautiful and allegedly virgin” female body guards and their deliberate security hassles in their quest to catch special attention as they were “the people of the special one: Gaddafi” were part of the drama. No one can blame the foreign affairs protocol workers and security personnel, if they complained all the African Union Summits and other meetings held without Gaddafi were quiet and colorless. The man was really noisy and flamboyant.
Gaddafi’s absence was felt not only by people with political economic touch, but also by international and regional organizations. However, from all the international and continental organizations, if there will be one which is seriously affected by the loss of Gaddafi and is digging bones, it will be the African Union. Undeniably, the African Union is highly indebted to Gaddafi. Gaddafi’s deep-pocketed wallet was wide opened to the African Union for many years. It is for this fact that the African Union was soft hearted and did not want to easily abandon Gaddafi and recognize the Transitional Council and its leaders as the legitimate leaders of the current Libya. To express this kind of situation well and sound, Ethiopian has a saying. They used to say “a dog barks where he eats”. Counting the current political developments in Libya, there is not the slightest of hope for the African Union to regain Gaddafi as a Libyan leader. Gaddafi’s sun is already set. If this is the case then, who will fill the hole on the coffers of the African Union left by the loss of their Brother Leader? This is also a multi-million dollar question.  Muammar Gaddafi’s fall not only left the African Union stranded in diplomatic no-man’s land, it’s given the lumbering continental organization a potential $40 million hole in its already strained budget. But Gaddafi’s role as generous benefactor is up for grabs. A close reading of the 2011 budget of the African Union tells a few interesting stories. There’s the astonishing fact that more than half of the $257 million total is not African money, coming from a collection of ambiguously titled “International Partners” which are other richer organizations like the European Union, or donations from NGOs. The European Union, incidentally, has a 2011 budget of $141.9 billion.
This might explain the vast gulf between the respective influence and international standing of the two organizations, but, given the EU’s budget is 1000 times bigger than the AU’s, the AU is punching above its weight. The money that’s not from “International Partners” is contributed by African countries and amounts to $123 million. However, the load is not divided equally. Five countries put in more than their fair share. The Big Five: Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Nigeria and South Africa – each contribute 15% of the African portion of the budget, effectively subsidizing everyone else. This means the other 49 countries in Africa only need to find around $30 million between them.  Not a huge amount of money, but still a stretch for some of them. Fortunately for the members who can’t afford the fees, they’ve always had a generous benefactor in the form of Gaddafi, who was more than happy to splash his cash around in pursuit of his dreams of empire. For Gaddafi, the African Union was his stepping stone to creating a single African polity, a “United States of Africa” of which, of course, he would be president. To this end, Gaddafi covered the African Union membership fees of a number of countries. Libya was estimated to be funding almost one-third of Africa’s contribution to the budget, which amounts to something like $40 million. But all good things come to an end and, with the collapse of the Gaddafi regime, came the end of his largesse.
The African Union, perhaps realizing how dependent it had become on Gaddafi’s generosity, supported him until the bitter end. Though unable to protect and save Gaddafi’s forty year old absolute dictatorial power, the African Union tried to leverage its diplomatic clout to deny recognition to the Transitional Council which kicked Gaddafi out from power and Libya’s national coffers. A bad move in hindsight, as it hardly endeared the organization to the rebels now leading the interim government. In Libya’s continuing confusion, no one knows if the country will keep up its African Union contributions. It seems unlikely that the new Libya will be willing to fork out to cover countries that didn’t support the revolution, a category into which most African states, with the exception of Ethiopia and Nigeria, fall. It also seems unlikely that Libya will continue to pay its own, disproportionately large contribution. Why should Libya prop up the organization which gave the new leadership absolutely no support whatsoever? Most likely is that, Libya will agitate or lobby for an overhaul of the current set-up, insisting that other countries increase their fees. After all, there’s no reason why the Big Five countries should be subsidizing the likes of Angola, Equatorial Guinea and Ghana – all countries with more than enough resource wealth to put a few million dollars into the kitty. Probably, some countries might leap at the chance to have greater financial involvement in the continental body. After all, with money comes power and influence.
The current African Union chairman, President Teodoro Obiang Ngueama of Equatorial Guinea is a case in point in this regard. He tried to bribe UNESCO by funding a $3 million prize for life sciences, intending to whitewash his own alleged bad image in human rights protection and from looting millions of his country’s wealth at the same time. It nearly worked too. UNESCO only backed off after a public outcry, and is reportedly said to be considering launching the prize again. This example shows that money can get things done in international institutions. As was previously well discussed, that is why Gaddafi was so influential in African politics. So far Gaddafi’s place is vacant. Nevertheless there will be no shortage of African suitors who would buy themselves some influence for a few million dollars. Who will be those candidates? Again this is also a multi-million dollar question.