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Unloved in the West, Gaddafi still has fans

world Updated: Mar 19, 2011 09:00 IST

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi may be facing one of his most dangerous hours, threatened with Western air strikes, but south of the Sahara his quest for continental unity and his country's vast investments have won him many friends.

"Gaddafi has the magical gift of making himself loved and making himself hated," said Nigerian sociologist Gagara Nassamou, summarising Libyan government policy: racism with regard to sub-Saharan Africans on Libyan soil and economic and political interventionism in their countries of origin.

Since arriving in power in 1969, in the name of the anti-imperialist struggle he has backed leaders loathed by the West, such as Uganda's Idi Amin Dada and Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe.

He has financed rebellions, such as those of the Tuareg in Mali and Niger in the 1990s.

But he has also poured hundreds of millions of dollars (euros) into a range of sectors -- hotels, banks, telecommunications, media, fuel distribution and farming -- through the Libya Arab Africa Investment Company (LAAICO).

In the Comoros Islands in the Indian Ocean, where Libyan troops sent to reinforce the guard of outgoing president Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi are still present, the governmnent said a year ago that Tripoli would pick up the wage bill for the army for 12 months.

The combination of Gaddafi's anti-imperialist and Panafricanist rhetoric and his participation in the development of countries that are often poverty- stricken have had their effect.

They have won him the backing and sympathy not only of the continent's leaders but also of its intellectuals and powerful traditional chiefs.

"Gaddafi is the friend and builder of Africa," said the celebrated Malian writer Seydou Kouyate.

"We have a duty to give him clear support during the trials he is going through at the moment. We need to go and see him, talk to him, advise him against a disproportionate use of force, but also tell him we back him against the West which wants his brutal departure."

Proclaimed "king of kings of Africa" Gaddafi also enjoys the backing of the queen mother of Toro, one of Uganda's historic kingdoms, who is also secretary general of the "Forum of traditional African chiefs" to which 200 from all over the continent belong.

Young Africans, who overwhelmingly have neither jobs nor a future, are among Gaddafi's most ardent defenders.

Thanks to him, said Christian Gaillard Obame of Gabon, president of the Panafrican Council of Young People, "his people get 90 percent of Libya's oil income and the companies that exploit the oil get 10 percent. All the oil-exploiting countries such as Gabon should follow his example."

"For us he is an example of courage and self-denial in the face of western neocolonialism and imperialism, " according to Armand Setondji, president of the United Youth for a United States of Africa (JUPEUA), an idea dear to Gaddafi's heart but one that has got nowhere.

Hundreds of JUPEUA activists gathered in Cotonou this week in a show of solidarity with the Libyan regime, ignoring the insurrection that Gaddafi is in the process of suppressing.

In Bissau some 2,000 people took to the streets to show support while in Abidjan Kadhhafi-backers were the same people who have accused the West, and in particular France, of "plotting" against outgoing president Laurent Gbagbo.

Nevertheless the speeches and interfering of "Africa's king of kings" in their internal affairs has angered the heads of some states.

Last year Nigeria recalled its ambassdor to Tripoli in protest against Gaddafi's suggestion that Nigeria should be partitioned to avoid a civil war between the Muslim north and Christian south.