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

The purpose of this Article

When Libyan citizens initially joined the Tunisians and Egyptians to demand a change of leadership and to stop the ruler-for-life sundrome, it was presumed that the Libyan government would collapse the way the Tunisian and Egyptian governments did. However, it appears that the UN declaration of no-fly zone and the resultant Western intervention to enforce the no-fly zone angered Col. Gaddafi, his children and his supporters to the extent of vigorously resisting the Western intrusion. As a result, instead of giving up power, Gaddafi and his supporters decided to use heavy-handed security measures to crackdown on the opposition. In reaction, the opposition too decided to fight back with the aim of driving him out of power. This led to a military confrontation between the two sides. Thus, since February 2011, the two sides have been engaged in combat with mixed results, thereby, creating the feeling that the conflict will not end as quickly as was earlier anticipated.

The purpose of this write up is to briefly explore the ruler-for-life syndrome among leaders of Third World countries and the issue of whether NATO’s military intervention in the Libyan civil war is contributing to the elongation of the conflict rather than shortening it. Additionally, to determine whether Western military intervention in Libya is contributing to the complication of the popular uprisings in other Middle Eastern countries, as the regimes react forcefully to stop the uprisings based upon the view that the demonstrations are sponsored or staged by Western nations to destabilize them.

Thus, as the fighting in Libya drags on, there is the possibility that the conflict could become protracted, as both sides strongly maintain their positions on the issue of governmental change. In this regard, the following arguments are being made:

1. The ruler-for-life tendency of many leaders in the Third World or developing countries is a major cause of instability and stunted political growth of many countries.

2. The Libyan uprising which is intended to stop the ruler-for-life tendency of Col Muammar Gaddafi that has blossomed into a full-fledged civil war, could spiral into a protracted conflict.

3. The more the rebels rely openly on the tactical military and political support of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the more the conflict is likely to become protracted, as pro-Gaddafi and Islamic elements join forces to resist Western presence in Libya.

4. The more the rebels aligned with the NATO to wage the war, the more their credibility as a patriotic force is likely to be questioned by many people in the developing world.

5. The more the West openly supports the rebels’ efforts in Libya, the more the regimes in Bahrain, Iran, Jordan, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen, will resist change believing that those demanding a political change are agents of Western nations.

6. Political and political leaders of developing countries are responsible for creating the opportunities for former colonial and western powers to intervene in the internal affairs of their countries.

The Ruler-for-Life Syndrome

Libya is symptomatic of why a considerable number of Third World or developing countries are unstable. Apart from the fact that they were arbitrarily created by European powers and imposed upon the inhabitants of the territories which became colonies, their so-called political and military leaders, through a tendency to rule-for-life, have turned them into personal political fiefdoms. The tendency to rule-for-life has contributed immensely to stunting their growth and preventing them from maturing as stable countries. Indeed, these countries are unstable because the rule-for-life syndrome leads to the wanton abuse of constitutional, legal, and political powers by the political and military leaders. It breeds frustration, anger, insecurity, and prevents the germination of democracy while reinforcing the institutionalization of authoritarianism. The rule-for-life phenomenon also breeds economic stagnation and massive corruption as every economic activity is forced to revolve around the leader, his family and close friends.

Additionally, the rule-for-life model of governance tends to turn honorable citizens into sycophants and plutocrats. As a result, in many Third World countries, high government officials, including ministers, governors, senators, representatives, heads of the military, police, and intelligence services, directors of government agencies, judges, and so forth, praise-sing the head of state and allow the individual to personalize the country. They do so in order to be rewarded for being loyal servants to the head of state, who then institutionalizes himself as a ruler-for-life. Thus, in many developing countries, high government officials are loyal to the heads of state and not to the states. This allows the political and military leaders to violate the constitution and laws of their countries with impunity. Loyalty to the individual enables many high government officials to remain in their positions for scores of years, even when they do not contribute to the development or progress of the state.

Generally, in order for any leader to attempt to perpetuate himself/herself in power in perpetuity, the individual must consciously take measures to violate the constitution, bend the legal rules, institute heavy-handed security measures to clamp down on any group or individual who challenges him/her, create fear by arresting, detaining, torturing, and possibly killing some individuals in order to teach the entire population a lesson about the danger of opposing the leader who wants to rule-for-life. In fact, these things are being carried out in Senegal right now as President Abdoulaye Wade wants to run for a third term, after having served for eleven years already (BBC News, 2011, July 27). The late President Francois Duvalier (Papa Doc) did exactly the things described above in Haiti after declaring himself president-for-life in 1964. Others, including the Somozas of Nicaragua, Saddam Hussein of Iraq, Shah Pahlavi of Iran, Gen, Suharto of Indonesia, Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, President Teodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea, Col. Gaddafi of Libya, the Assads of Syria etc. engaged in brutal tactics in order to force the population into submission. Consequently, it is possible to say that currently, in countries like Algeria, Angola, Bahrain, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cuba, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Jordan, Libya, North Korea, Oman, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, Yemen, Zimbabwe and so forth, the pattern of governance is intended at perpetuating the rule-for-life system.

In addition, in some countries in the developing world, even the rule-for-life is not enough for some of the leaders who want to permanently own their countries as their family properties. In such countries, the leaders take proactive measures to institutionalize a political dynasty so that their children or brothers would be able to succeed them after they pass away or retire. Countries in which dynasties have been technically functionalized include Bahrain, Cuba, Gabon, Jordan, Kuwait, North Korea, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Togo and so forth. In the case of Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and other Persian Gulf Emirates, family dynasties are justified on the basis that these countries are monarchies. Since they are monarchies, the leaders believe that they have a right to pass the throne to their children or relatives. However, in countries like Cuba, Gabon, North Korea, Pakistan, Syria, and Togo, there is no justification whatsoever for the leaders to pave the way for their children or relatives to take over after their retirement or death since these countries are not monarchies. Nonet

heless, the children or relatives have succeeded their fathers or brothers and now serve as political leaders in the aforementioned countries. On the other hand, in countries like Egypt and Libya, the leaders prepared the groundwork for their children to take over the political leadership but circumstances intervened to change the plans. In Venezuela, it is being rumored that President Hugo Chavez’s brother, Adan Chavez, the governor of the state of Barinas, is being considered as the heir to the presidency in the event that President Chavez steps down, following the report of a colon cancer (Pachico, 2011, July22). In Nigeria, the attempt to institute a president-for-life has repeatedly failed to materialize due to vigorous opposition. This is why Gen. Yakubu Gowon was overthrown in a bloodless military coup in 1975 after he reneged on his promise to hand over power. Gen. Ibrahim Babangida’s effort to succeed himself as a civilian president resulted in his ouster after the June 12, 2003 incident. Gen. Sani Abacha’s attempt to succeed himself as the president of the country ended in his mysterious death. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s effort to elongate his rule failed when Nigerians rejected his third-term bid. Due to the opposition, Nigeria has had fourteen (14) heads of state since 1960 when it got its independence. Ghana is like Nigeria in the sense that the citizens frontally oppose any attempt to institute a president-for-life system. Ghana too has had many heads of state and it seems to be very democratic. Like Nigerians, Senegalese are engaged in political battle to stop President Wade from running for a third term the way former President Obasanjo attempted in Nigeria. On the other hand, Kenya has had only three heads of state since its independence. The same goes for Egypt, Togo and Uganda. Gabon has had only two heads of state after independence. The two are the father and son, thereby, making it a family dynasty. Angola, Cameroon and Syria have had only two political leaders since independence or liberation from the colonial system. Zimbabwe has had only one leader after the successful eviction of the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) of Ian Smith. Thus, the country is reeling from the unwillingness of President Robert Mugabe and the Patriotic Front to hand over power to a new leadership. Countries like Iran, Haiti, and Nicaragua briefly toyed with the idea of family dynasties when Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi replaced his father in Iran, Jean Claude Duvalier (Baby Doc) replaced his father, Francois Duvalier (Papa Doc) in Haiti, and the Somoza family members replaced themselves in Nicaragua. The Gandhi family in India operated as a political dynasty when Mrs. Indira Gandhi became a prime minister and her son replaced her after she was assassinated. Indonesia under Suharto and the Philippines under Ferdinand Marcos prepared the groundwork for their families to become ruling dynasties. The dynastic experiments in these countries collapsed following revolutions in Iran, Nicaragua, Philippines, Indonesia and a vigorous uprising in Haiti, leading to the fleeing of Baby Doc. The Gandhi family retreated after the assassination of Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s son, Mr. Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991. The Bhutto family in Pakistan too has experienced pain following the assassination of Mrs. Benazir Bhutto. However, Pakistan is still toying with the idea of a Bhutto family dynasty, hence, the husband of assassinated Mrs. Bhutto, Mr. Asif Zardan is now the prime minister, in place of the assassinated wife. It appears that the Pakistani Peoples Party (PPP) is a Bhutto family owned political organization.

Unfortunately for the political leaders of Middle Eastern countries in which the rule-for-life and political dynastic models seem to be thriving, the Arab Revolution, initially spearheaded by Tunisia, has severely dented the effort. In short, the Arab Revolution, like a political tsunami, has shattered the notion that an individual could rule endlessly and turn the state into a personal or a family fiefdom. The realization forced the political leaders of Tunisia (Zine El Abidine Ben Ali) and Egypt (Hosni Mubarak) to give up the illusion that they were going to rule for ever. They also gave up the view that their children or relatives were going to succeed them, the way it did in Cuba, Gabon, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Nicaragua, North Korea, Pakistan, Syria and Togo.

Shocked and terrified by the sudden fall of the rule-for-life leaders in Tunisia and Egypt, the leaders of Bahrain, Jordan, Libya, Oman, Syria and Yemen decided to use strong-arm tactics to quell popular uprisings in their countries, instead of giving in to the demands of the demonstrators. In Libya, the effort to quell the uprising by security forces resulted in a full-fledged civil war as some opposition groups took up arms to liberate their country from a one-man rule that has spanned over four decades.

Although unprepared and ill-equipped, the Libyan rebels launched their attacks on the one-man-rule system from Benghazi in Eastern Libya, in an attempt to drive away Col. Muammar Gaddafi from power. Col. Gaddafi and his supporters resisted the rebel plan to oust him and deployed the national military forces to contain the rebel advancement. To offset the military imbalance between Gaddafi forces and the rebels, the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), intervened militarily to assist the rebels with tactical aerial bombardment of strategic Libyan military targets, after the United Nations declared the country a no-fly zone.

The fighting in Libya started in February 2011 and continues with no end in sight yet. NATO’s intervention has contributed to the shifting of the balance of military power between the two forces. It has enabled the rebels to capture territories and to advance militarily toward Tripoli. Despite the rebels’ successes, Col. Gaddafi’s forces continue to slow down the rebel advancement by using heavy weaponry to counterattack, thereby, dragging the conflict and turning it into a potentially protracted war.

The Need for the Libyan Rebels to Exercise Caution

While the Libyan rebels deserved praise for their courage and the determination to free themselves from the yoke of a one-man rule, they should be very careful, otherwise, they might end up creating a protracted conflict that could devastate the country and possibly break it into two. The following provide strategic reasons that could lead the civil war into a protracted conflict as in Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan:

1. The rebels could taint their patriotic political image by being too closely aligned with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In other words, the more they rely on military support from NATO countries, they more they sacrifice their patriotism and independence and seem to look like a group created, financed and supported by the West to topple Col. Gaddafi.

2. The involvement of NATO in the Libyan situation creates the feeling in the eyes of many people that the West is using the rebels as a ploy to create a politico-military foothold in Libya with a strategic desire to control the oil-fields in the country. This feeling should not be discounted since for almost four decades, Col. Gaddafi operated outside the influence of the West, thereby, creating the impression that he is a Libyan nationalist and a fighter for Third World political and economic rights. By so doing, he has for decades popularized himself in many parts of Africa, Latin America and Asia, despite his despotic rule.

3. The more the conflict drags on, many people who originally supported the effort to oust Gaddafi could change their positions and begin to support him on the ground that the West is trying to annihilate him and take over the country. They could be aroused to do so, based increasingly upon the perception that the West is engaging in neo-colonialism.

4. The more

the conflict drags on and NATO continues to carry out tactical bombardment of strategic military targets in order to weaken Col. Gaddafi’s military position, the more he will appear as a hero who stands firm against the West. If he dies in the process of resisting NATO, the more likely that he will be glorified in many parts of the developing world by those who have strong anti-Western, anti-colonial, and anti-neocolonial sentiments. Thus, the more he resists and the conflict drags on, the more the rebels are likely to appear as agents of the West. The likely result of a dragged out fighting is that he will be regarded as a fearless fighter for Arab, African and Third World independence while the rebels would be viewed increasingly as puppets of Western powers.

Written by
Priye Torulagha
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