Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

The Rule-Breaking Conduct of Qaddafi's Libya *

Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

The Rule-Breaking Conduct of Qaddafi's Libya *

Article excerpt


Libya, under the Qaddafi dictatorship, has a history of rule-breaking behaviour both at home and abroad. It has violated major international rules of state conduct by engaging in terrorism, committing external aggression and threatening regional peace, exporting its domestic revolution, adopting a revisionist international orientation, pursuing weapons of mass destruction, and systematically violating human rights. Libya's extraordinarily ambitious foreign policy and its conventional military build-up contravened two further informal codes of conduct. For its wrongdoing Libya suffered both unilateral and collective sanctions. In recent years Libya has evidently been turning its back on its errant ways, except for the ongoing abuse of human rights.


The Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, to cite its full name, has long been one of Africa's most controversial states. It is a status directly attributable to the country's violation of commonly accepted norms of good state behaviour. Over decades Libya has flouted major formal and binding standards of conduct enshrined in international conventions and agreements, in addition to violating some informal rules of behaviour. There are at least eight norms that Libya has manifestly broken, with some of the transgressions leading to collective and unilateral punishment.

Running one of the world's oldest personal dictatorships, 'Brother Leader' Muammar Qaddafi has firmly placed his imprint on Libya's domestic politics and foreign relations alike He can justifiably be regarded as the principal architect of Libya's many misdeeds. Its contraventions are the subject of this article.


Twenty-seven year old Colonel Qaddafi was the leader of a bloodless military coup d'etat in September 1969 that not only deposed King Idris and abolished the monarchy, but heralded what the new self-appointed chief executive called a long, deep and broad revolution. Socialism with a supposedly Islamic bent replaced the capitalist oriented economic order and Libya's pro-Western international orientation gave way to a fiery, uncompromising brand of pan-Arabism. Qaddafi moreover entertained continental and even wider international ambitions, refusing to be constrained by the fact that he was the leader of a small and weak African state. (1))

In addition to his megalomania and radicalism--elaborated below--Qaddafi has from early in his rule acquired a reputation for unpredictability and eccentricity. A recent illustration of his views is Qaddafi's depiction of AIDS as "a peaceful virus, not an aggressive virus". Addressing an African Union summit in Maputo in July 2003, the Libyan leader offered a reassuring message to the startled dignitaries: "If you are straight you have nothing to fear from Aids". (2))

He also shared his peculiar insights into two other diseases plaguing the continent. Africans need have no fear of the tsetse fly and the mosquito, he lectured the distinguished audience, for they are "God's armies which will protect us against colonialists". Should these 'enemies' come to Africa, "they will get malaria and sleeping sickness". (3))

These attributes have not helped Qaddafi to portray himself abroad as a responsible and respectable statesman. "His erratic tactics, his conceit, his readiness to use every sort of violence to fulfil his dreams", The Economist commented in 1986, "are the stuff of madness". (4)) It was indeed speculated in the West that Qaddafi suffered from manic depression and schizophrenia and had since 1982 been visiting a clinic specialising in these illnesses. (5)) Egypt's President Anwar Sadat perhaps shared such views when he branded the Libyan leader "unbalanced and immature", a "vicious criminal, 100 per cent sick and possessed of the demon". (6)) President Gaafar Nimeiry of Sudan offered a comparable diagnosis: Qaddafi suffered from "a split personality--both evil". …

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