The Ruler-for-Life Syndrome in the Third World and the Danger of a Protracted Conflict in Libya (3)

4. Even after they might have succeeded in driving away Col. Gaddafi, the probability of internal dissension taking place within the leadership of the Transitional Council over who should rule and what form of government should be established is very high. In fact, the Tunisians and the Egyptians are still debating and wrangling over the leadership of their countries, after they successfully drove away their dictatorial leaders. In Libya, under a fractious situation, in the event of a rebel victory, it would be very easy for opposition forces to destabilize the country by launching guerrilla-like attacks in order to cripple the financial capability of the new government to maintain itself economically during the restructuring of the government and the reconstruction of the infrastructure. Likewise, some members of the Transitional Council, if dissatisfied with the process, could join the pro-Gaddafi forces to further destabilize the country. Moreover, the members of the Libyan Senussi royal family too could contest power by arguing that they want the monarchy to return.

5. The Libyan Transitional Council should be able to tell the NATO countries to play a behind-the-scene rather than a direct role, as soon as the rebels take over the country. This is to avoid the Transitional Council being characterized as a Western-installed regime like in Afghanistan and Iraq.

6. NATO countries that are involved in the Libyan conflict should speak less if they do not want to derail the success of the rebels. The more the political leaders of these countries speak about kicking out Co. Gaddafi, the more it would appear that they are responsible for pushing him out and not the rebels who sacrificed a lot to do so. This will destroy the credibility of the rebels as authentic Libyan national fighters.
Similarly, as Western nations openly support the application of force to evict Col Muammar Gaddafi, the more likely for political and military leaders in Bahrain, Jordan, Oman, Syria and Yemen to use more repressive methods to try to quell the mass uprisings in their countries. They are likely to justify the need to crackdown real hard on people they view as being sponsored or funded by Western nations. Since the West is increasingly viewed as being responsible for the uprisings, the leaders of these countries seem to feel that the national security of their countries are being threatened by the indirect war being waged against them. Under this inclination, they are more likely to deploy very suppressive measures to stop the demonstrations and protests. Phyllis Bennis (2011, March 23) noted the possibility that outside support is likely to intensify a crackdown on the demonstrators:

Ironically, one of the reasons many people supported the call for a no-fly
zone was the fear that if Gaddafi managed to crush the Libyan people’s
uprising and remain in power, it would send a devastating message to
other Arab dictators: Use enough military force and you will keep your

Instead, it turns out that just the opposite may be the result. It was after
the UN passed the no-fly zone and use-of-force resolution and just as US,
British, French and other warplanes and warships launched their attacks
against Libya, that other Arab regimes escalated their crack-down on their
own democratic movements

Based on this logic, it is argued that Gaddafi is going to continue to resist, believing very strongly that the rebels are sponsored by Western countries to destabilize Libya so that they would be able to take control of the country.

7. As soon as the rebels succeed, NATO should withdraw and allow the Arab League, the African Union, and the United Nations to assist in the political rebuilding of Libya.

8. As soon as the fighting ends, Western contractors should not be allowed to get most of the contracts for rebuilding Libya. Otherwise, Libya will increasingly look like Iraq and Afghanistan where Western companies dominate the infrastructural reconstruction effort. If that were to take place, critics would say that the West got involved by intentionally bombing and destroying Libyan infrastructure in order to create economic opportunities for Western companies to do business in the country. It is necessary to avoid creating the impression that Western companies dominate the reconstruction effort as a means to recycle Libyan oil wealth back to the West. Such a perception in a post-Gaddafi Libya could hurt the Transitional Council government.

9. Whenever the rebels finally succeed in driving away Col. Gaddafi and his regime, they should not celebrate the victory in a robust manner as in Tunisia and Egypt. The reason is that in both countries, the credit for the regime change rested entirely upon the shoulders of the people. Apparently, they had all the rights in the world to jubilate robustly over the victory. On the other hand, it is very clear that any victory achieved by the rebels in Libya came through the military support and political backing of NATO countries. Consequently, if they jubilate excessively, that could arouse pro-Gaddafi elements to want to turn their victory into a political mess.

Lessons Learned from the Arab Uprising and the Libyan Civil War on the Ruler-for Life Syndrome

A number of lessons can be deduced from the Arab uprisings leading to the Libyan civil war:

1. The Arab League and the African Union, to a large extent, are rendered powerless to act decisively due to the fact that many African and Middle Eastern countries have authoritarian and ruler-for-life regimes. Technically, the Arab League and the African Union represent authoritarian, corrupt, and repressive regimes that constantly violate the rights of their own citizens. Resultantly, they are not in a position to act decisively in Libya. This is why the Libyan rebels do not seem to pay much attention to these two organizations.

2. Co-incidentally, the current chair of the African Union is President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who is the president-for-life leader of Equatorial Guinea. This, further adds to the powerlessness of the AU, even though it has a workable plan to resolve the Libyan deadlock.

3. No government can be more powerful than its citizens. This means that citizens have the ultimate power to decide the fate of their governments and leaders. When pushed to the corner, they will react in a manner that is comparable to a very powerful earthquake.

4. The leaders of the armed, police and security forces in most developing countries should realize that they are responsible for making it possible for an individual to cling to power for life. In other words, it would not have been possible for one individual to remain in power for twenty or thirty or more years without the tacit support of the military, police and intelligence services. Consequently, these services actually contribute to the reinforcement of insecurity rather than security by allowing an individual to rule endlessly, through authoritarian means.
They should understand that no amount of security forces or security mechanisms instituted to stifle opposition can stop citizens if they decide to act proactively to effect change in the political leadership of their countries. Thus, it is t

ime for the leaders of the security establishment in most developing countries to stop perpetuating and institutionalizing the ruler-for-life syndrome. In this regard, it could be said that currently, the police and security services in Senegal are abetting the institutionalization of President Abdoulaye Wade as a potential ruler-for-life leader by clamping down on the opposition. Indeed, the Senegalese police arrested popular rap singer, Omar Toure, who criticized the effort of the president to run for a third term, after having already served for eleven years. He was later released as people protested his arrest. In June, President Wade was alleged to have wanted to change the constitution of the country by making it much easier to win a presidential election. The attempt resulted in a riot in Dakar, the capital of Senegal (BBC News, 2011, July 27).

5. Political and military leaders who want to rule for life are seeding, planting, germinating, and nurturing political crops that would eventually destroy them. It is possible to infer that Ivory Coast’s political crisis which led to the forceful eviction of former President Laurent Gbagbo, was seeded, planted, and nurtured by the late President Felix Houphouet-Boigny, who ruled the country paternalistically for thirty three years, from 1960 to 1993 (Encyclopaedia Britannica 2011, July27) as if the country was his personal estate. Similarly, former President Suharto of Indonesia, Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, Reza Pahlavi of Iran and the Somozas planted the political seeds that eventually drove them out of power. To avoid leaving office in a humiliating manner as that of former President Laurent Gbagbo, who was forced out of office militarily (Stearns, 2011), Mubarak and Ben Ali, it is time for leaders like President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, President Paul Biya of Cameroon, President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso, President Jose Eduardo dos Santos of Angola, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, President Ali Abdullatif Saleh of Yemen, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, President Yoweri Moseveni of Uganda, etc. to seriously consider voluntarily retiring and allowing others to assume the top leadership position in their countries. It should be noted that former President Gbagbo, was forced out of office through a military action after refusing to concede defeat in a presidential election. Mr. Alassane Outtara who was declared the winner in the election is now the president of Cote d’Ivoire (Stearns, 2011, April 11)

6. Political and military leaders who want to perpetuate themselves and their families through the establishment of political dynasties are laying the political dynamite that might fuel the anger that could result in massive uprising against them and their families. In this regard, it was no coincident that when Anastasio Somoza Garcia assassinated Augusto Cesar Sandino, who opposed his authoritarian and corrupt rule, he eventually seeded, planted, germinated and nurtured the Sandinista Revolution which overthrew his son, Anastasio Somoza Debayle and stopped the Somoza dynasty in Nicaragua. Similarly, when former President Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines instigated the assassination of Mr. Benigno Aquino, he laid the groundwork for the peoples’ revolution that Mrs. Aquino led in driving him out of power. Consequently, the children of those political and military leaders who continue to think that they will take over the political throne of their countries from their fathers should give up the dream and allow others to rule. In this regard, President Assad, President Faure Gnassingbe of Togo, President Kim Jung-Il Kim of North Korea, President Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon, President Raul Castro of Cuba, and others should prepare to hand over when their terms of office expire.

7. Any political leader who has been in power for more than ten years should lay the ground work to step down. In this regard, no leader should remain in office more than two terms. If a term of office is five years, then ten years should be the maximum time allowable for any leader to remain in office. If a term of office is four years, like in the US, then the maximum years in which a leader can remain in office should be eight years. This is necessary to reduce the personalization of the state and the abuse of citizens constitutional and human rights by self-centered and repressive leaders.

8. Political parties that have been in power for more than ten years should make a committed effort to accommodate other political parties in order to rotate the governing process. In this regard, the Peoples Democratic Party of Nigeria (PDP), the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa, the Communist Party in Cuba, the Patriotic Front in Zimbabwe, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), President Chavez’s political movement in Venezuela, the Baath Party in Syria etc. should stop turning their countries into one-party-ruled states and consciously allow other political parties to prevail. This is necessary if they do not want what is happening in Libya to happen in their own countries.

9. It is not sufficient for political leaders and political parties to claim that they are in power continuously because they won majority of the votes during elections. The reason is that, quite often, the incumbents and their political parties make it almost impossible for opposition candidates and their political parties to campaign and solicit votes on equal footing. This is why in many Third World or developing countries, the incumbents almost always win by a very wide-margin, thereby, indicating that the elections were heavily rigged in favor of the leaders and the political parties in power. In short, any time a political leader of a country wins an election by 90 to 99% margin, it means that opposition candidates and opposition political parties were hindered from effectively participating in the electoral process. Due to the fact that elections are often heavily rigged by the incumbents, it is not justifiable for a political leader to claim a constitutional right to rule. Thus, Angolans, Cameroonians, Chinese, Cubans, Egyptians, Kenyans, Nigerians, North Koreans, Rwandans, Tunisians, Ugandans and Yemenis are quite familiar with what goes on during elections.

10. The actions and inactions of the political and military leaders of developing countries are responsible for encouraging the intervention of Western nations in the internal affairs of their states. When a Third World leader decides to rule for life, he/she is automatically laying the groundwork to justify foreign intervention. When a leader in a developing country decides to install his family members as heads of state, he/she is planting the seed that will eventually result in his/her ouster. When a leader of a developing country loots public funds and properties of the state, he/she is laying the groundwork for outside intervention. Therefore, those leaders who decry Western intervention in the internal affairs of their countries should not create conditions that justify such foreign interventions. In other words, Col. Gaddafi created the conditions that led to Western intervention in his country. Otherwise, he would have left office twenty or more years ago, after overthrowing King Idriss 1 of Libya in 1969. Similarly, President Gbagbo would not have acted the way he did, thereby, enabling France and others to intervene militarily in Ivory Coast through UN support to force him out by force.

11. The ruler-for-life tendency of many, if not most Third World leaders, prevents the germination of statesmen who can provide valuable advice to incoming leaders. In other words, due to the refusal of many leaders to leave office after serving one or two terms, African, Middle Eastern and some Asian countries are deprived of the ability to tap into the wealth of knowledge of their former leaders. For a country to grow politically and economically in steady manner, it

is important for newer leaders to enhance their political skills by consulting with former leaders who have vast diplomatic, economic and military experiences. This is not possible because in most developing countries, the leaders want to rule-for-ever.

12. The only region of the Third World that seems to escape the ruler-for-life syndrome in a remarkable manner is the Caribbean island nations, with the exception of Haiti which briefly experienced the ruler-for-life phenomenon under Papa Doc and Baby Doc. On the other hand, Latin American countries have improved their political systems considerably. Latin America is followed by South-East Asia in terms of democratization. On the other hand, the Middle East and Africa are still clogged with many ruler-for-life leaders who do not want change.

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Dayen, D. (2011, March 20). Arab League shifts, criticizes Libya intervention. Retrieved July 26, 2011 from

Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2011). Felix Houphouet-Boigny. Retrieved July 27, 2011 from

Kamba, A. (2011, April 18). The use of force in Libya: The AU caught off-guard. The Current Analyst. Retrieved July 25, 2011 from

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Written by
Priye Torulagha
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