Thursday, July 25, 2013

My Life and Times in the Presidency: When I met Colonel Ghadafi

My Life and Times in the Presidency: When I met Colonel Ghadafi in 2009

January Makamba

July 25, 2013

During my time working for President Kikwete as an aide, I met Colonel Gadhafi aka Brother Leader three times.  One particular occasion was interesting.

It was the beginning of 2009 and President Kikwete was Chair of the African Union. We were heading to Davos for the World Economic Forum and the Colonel asked us to pass by Tripoli (the previous time we saw him at his home town of Sirte – in that trip I managed to buy my Dad three Kanzus which he proudly wear until today and tells everyone that they are from Libya! LOL!).

We landed in Tripoli at about 8pm and were scheduled to see Brother Leader next day at 9am and then depart straight to Davos after our meeting. After checking at the State villas that were organized for us, we got a word that Ghadafi wants to see us that same evening (mostly he works at night, and I am told it is typical of Arab leaders).  So, we went to see him at one of his magnificent houses. I attended the meeting a note-taker. For the most part I failed in the task because of the amazement about the stuff he had to say.

In the meeting, he was consulting President Kikwete in preparation for the next African Union Summit which would take place immediately after Davos. In that Summit, Ghadafi was to take over from President Kikwete as Chair of AU. He wanted President Kikwete, who was to Chair his final Summit, to support the idea of immediately announcing the United States of Africa and the formation of African government. So, he had a list of 54 African Ministers (that is, his fellow Presidents) that were to be announced at the Summit. Mali was to have the Ministry of Culture, Congo Ministry of Forestry, Egypt Ministry of Water and so on. Clearly he had put some thoughts into the idea. And Libya? Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs! The President proved to be a skillful diplomat in patiently listening to all this and disagreeing with his host without seeming so.

After the meeting, which lasted until after midnight, the Colonel offered the President to stay at his residence, saying that he will go stay somewhere else, as he wanted to show respect. Unfortunately we had already checked in the President (and had set up all the necessary support) at another place and it would prove very inconvenient to accept the offer.  We ended up not taking up the offer in a way that did not offend the Colonel.

So, we went back to our place thinking that the next morning is just going to be departure. Not to be. The Colonel wanted to meet again. He asked us to see him at his residence, which was bombed by the Americans in 1980s.  He had pitched a tent in the yard. So, we had a meeting – to carry on with the nights chat – at the tent. Tea was served. He suggested we stay for lunch. We had to stay no, again, without seeming offensive.

Lesson: diplomacy is tough and as President you have to be on top of the game.  In my time working for President Kikwete I was amazed everyday at how good a diplomat he is. 

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