The head of Libya's National Transitional Council(NTC) ,on Wednesday(yesterday), formally called for an extension of NATO's Libya mission till the end of the year ' to ensure the security of Libyans from some remnants of Gaddafi's forces which fled into neighbouring countries' reports the BBC.
You may be forgiven for thinking that the NTC is merely appeasing their NATO backers but the NTC will actually need support to hold the country together in the post-Gaddafi era.
For all their failings,dictators are not credited for their masterly in securing national security and the art of ridding their countries of turmoil and anarchy.
After the US invasion of Iraq and ouster of Saddam Hussein in 2003, the US,with that unforgettable image of former president George W Bush on an aircraft carrier, declared 'mission accomplished'. But they spoke too soon. With Saddam Hussein's feared security apparatus all but dismantled, Iraq soon descended into an endless quagmire of home-grown terrorism and occupation-resistance. As we write,Iraq has never recovered its Saddam-era stability.
Closer to home, Somalia which was a stable country albeit with simmering political divisions where 'dictator' Siad Barre was ousted by political opponents. He departed along with the Somalia state as we knew it. 'Strong men' in ethnically-diverse countries or 'dangerous places', to borrow a Paul Collier term, have an uncanny ability of preserving national security.
After 9/11, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan to rid it of state-inspired terrorism and deny Islamic fundamentalists a breeding ground for terrorists. After ten years of US occupation and a trillion-dollar military operation, Afghanistan is yet to return to normal-lacy and the Afghan insurgents are boasting: 'you have the watches but we have the time'.
So, what makes dictators so tick when it comes to preserving national security?
Well, irony of ironies. It is everything we abhor about dictatorships- a secret police,ruthless crack down on dissent,instilling fear of the state within the population, maintaining patronage networks, playing the ethnic politics of divide and rule,repressive laws,,denial of press freedom etc. There is always that classical question. As president of a 'dangerous place',would you rather be feared or loved?
At the moment Libya is a hot favourite to step into the foot steps of Afghanistan and Iraq. The NTC is not on top of things and will have struggle to rein in the 'rats'as we saw with the gruesome extra-judicial murder of Gaddafi. Libya is made of dozens of rival ethnic groups and the idea of a one Libya is a work- in- progress,as it is with most African countries. It is littered with small arms(thanks to the eight-month revolution), there is a high population of 'demobilized' soldiers and security personnel, there are Gaddafi-avengers waiting to pounce-the ingredients of civil anarchy.
Although Gaddafi's was labelled a 'village tyrant' and was chided for playing tribe against tribe, his genius in tribal manoeuvrings is about to be appreciated by the NTC. How do you successfully govern an ethnically diverse and heterogeneous country such as Libya?
The irony is that electoral democracy in the developing world may be an enemy of peace and stability as research by Paul Collier,an Oxford professor have found. The things you deplore in a dictatorship may be the things that precisely hold a culturally-fragmented country together. Pre-colonial societies were rarely homogeneous and an artificial creation put together by band-aid.
Gaddafi and Saddam, who clearly were not beacons of democracy, in crafting a repressive system in their countries, secured stable and peaceful countries and at their ouster, the 'band aid' that holds their countries together tends to unravel.
But dictators such as Saddam and Gaddafi were not being terribly original in the 'dark arts' of statecraft. Colonial Britain in Uganda used the same tactics of 'divide and rule'(Buganda vs Bunyoro), indirect rule(Kakungulu in Bugisu), repressive laws(preventive arrest,sedition) brutal crackdown on political opponents (Mau Mau in Kenya).
So, before you label me a Gaddafi apologist, a tutor of tyrants,an enemy of democracy.. review a brief history of 'regime change' in Iraq and Afghanistan.