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Why NATO overthrew Gaddafi

By Andrew M. Mwenda

MI6 was spying on Libyan dissidents in Britain and passing the information to Gaddafi

New revelations of the secret relationship between Libyan intelligence under Maummar Al Gaddafi and America’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Britain’s MI6 are shocking but not surprising.


America and Britain have always worked with some of the most repressive regimes whenever it suited their interest and viciously condemned those who took an independent stance. However, the new revelations shed greater light on why NATO intervened in Libya to remove from power a man they were working closely with to suppress democratic expression in that country.

Most interesting are the intelligence documents found in the Tripoli home of Gaddafi’s former chief of intelligence and later foreign minister Moussa Koussa. Infamous for his brutality against Libya dissidents, Koussa defected to the UK at the beginning of the Libyan revolution. After being debriefed there, he was sent to the US. Today he lives comfortably in one of the Gulf States enjoying his loot. Now we know why the International Criminal Court (ICC) has indicted Gaddafi and his sons but not Koussa. Even a child of six can see that the ICC is not a court of justice but a political instrument of western powers to push a particular agenda.

In some of the documents, the CIA was telling Libya’s psychopathic ruler that “we are eager to work with you and to interrogate terrorists.”  In another letter to Koussa, MI6 wrote: “Dear Moussa,” (note the informal and personal use of his first name), “Thank you for the oranges you sent us. They were delicious.” Apparently, the “oranges” were terror suspects handed to MI6 and CIA for torture to extract information. Libyans had become mere oranges and torturing them was delicious. In fact MI6 was spying on Libyan dissidents in Britain and passing the information to Gaddafi for follow up. The relationship between MI6 and Gaddafi was so strong that they once even wrote a speech for the Libyan ruler.

Yet this friendship was not limited to intelligence sharing and torture of suspected terrorists. Reports also show that at the heart of this collaboration was increasing economic ties between Gaddafi and western corporations. Western oil and construction companies were getting lucrative contracts while their banks were getting huge deposits of Libya’s billions. Indeed, towards the end of his rule, Gadaffi had been rehabilitated and was now dining and wining with Barack Obama, Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, Silvio Berlusconi, Nicolas Sarkozy, etc.

So why did the west abandon Gaddafi so quickly especially at a point when both sides appeared to be in each other’s embrace? Why was the west all of a sudden concerned about democracy in Libya and protecting innocent Libyans from Gaddafi’s terror? We don’t have the hard evidence yet. But we can infer from this a couple of lessons. The spread of the democratic revolution from Tunisia to Egypt and on to Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Jordan, Syria and Bahrain shocked the western world.

Although the west has always called for democracy in the Arab world in its rhetoric, it has actually always promoted regimes that suppress democratic expression. The governance systems in that region are autocratic: power is concentrated in the hands of an autocrat who is either a monarch, an emir, a military or civilian ruler who is above the law. The local autocrat organises local elite groups behind him. They forge alliances with western economic interests to appropriate oil resources for their mutual benefit and to suppress popular demands.

However, even under this system, major structural changes have been taking place in that region which rendered this arrangement unstable. First these societies are suffering from a youth bulge. Second, there has been spread of education so that today, most citizens in many of the Arab countries have a secondary school education, many have gone to university. Third has been increasing incomes – per capita income in Egypt is $7,000, Tunisia $10,000, Libya $13,000 etc. Fourth the spread of modern communication technology – mobile phones and social networking sites like Facebook and twitter have given educated youth highly efficient tools for organisation, mobilisation and coordination.

It is in this context that the democratic revolution was born seeking to bring into place governments that serve national rather than personal interests; ones that answer to the citizens rather than their masters in Paris, London and Washington. The west was taken by surprise and had to fight rearguard action to gain control over these revolutions. In Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, where the regimes were stronger, they turned a blind eye to massive brutality used to suppress democratic aspirations. In Tunisia and Egypt where the regimes were weaker, the west helped stage military coups that on the face of it seemed to represent people’s democratic aspirations. In Jordan and Yemen, they allowed local rulers to re-establish their hold.

It seems that of all these regimes, the one that was most vulnerable was that of Gaddafi. Intelligence may have shown that the democrats in Benghazi were going to win; so Gadaffi was a liability and therefore expendable. Yet the west did not have any relationship with Libya’s military to stage a coup like they had done in Egypt and Tunisia. How then would they retain effective hold over the democratic revolution to ensure that it does not bring into power a group they could not control?

One way was to intervene militarily to support the democratic forces that had assembled in Benghazi. Military, financial and technological support would give western powers a strong say in the democratic revolution and actually hijack it. The west would be in a position to propose who should lead, what policies the new government should follow and even have considerable influence in shaping the character and ideology of the emergent institutions especially the intelligence and military services. The language of humanitarianism would be used to mask a largely imperial project.

Therefore, although the new dispensation will need to have a semblance of a democratic character, it must primarily seek to sustain western control over vital decision making power in Libya largely for the interests of the west first, Libyans last. Gaddafi was therefore fought because he was expendable, not because he was threatening to kill his people; and also because Libya, with Africa’s largest oil reserves, was too important to fall into hands over which the west had no control.

amwenda@independent.co.ug

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