NATO smashed 'Jamahiriya' ... Gaddafi’s Libya , Africa’s Most Prosperous Democracy

Tony Gosling tony at
Wed Aug 27 01:03:38 BST 2014

Gaddafi’s Libya Was Africa’s Most Prosperous Democracy
By Garikai Chengu

January 14, 2013 "Information Clearing House" - 
Contrary to popular belief, Libya , which western 
media described as “Gaddafi’s military 
dictatorship” was in actual fact one of the world’s most democratic States.

In 1977 the people of Libya proclaimed the 
Jamahiriya or “government of the popular masses 
by themselves and for themselves.” The Jamahiriya 
was a higher form of direct democracy with ‘the 
People as President.’ Traditional institutions of 
government were disbanded and abolished, and 
power belonged to the people directly through 
various committees and congresses.

The nation State of Libya was divided into 
several small communities that were essentially 
“mini-autonomous States” within a State. These 
autonomous States had control over their 
districts and could make a range of decisions 
including how to allocate oil revenue and 
budgetary funds. Within these mini autonomous 
States, the three main bodies of Libya ‘s 
democracy were Local Committees, People’s 
Congresses and Executive Revolutionary Councils.

In 2009, Mr. Gaddafi invited the New York Times 
to Libya to spend two weeks observing the 
nation’s direct democracy. Even the New York 
Times, that was always highly critical of Colonel 
Gaddafi, conceded that in Libya, the intention 
was that “everyone is involved in every 
Tens of thousands of people take part in 
local committee meetings to discuss issues and 
vote on everything from foreign treaties to 
building schools.” The purpose of these committee 
meetings was to build a broad based national consensus.

One step up from the Local Committees were the 
People’s Congresses. Representatives from all 800 
local committees around the country would meet 
several times a year at People’s Congresses, in 
Mr. Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte, to pass laws 
based on what the people said in their local 
meetings. These congresses had legislative power 
to write new laws, formulate economic and public 
policy as well as ratify treaties and agreements.

All Libyans were allowed to take part in local 
committees meetings and at times Colonel Gaddafi 
was criticised. In fact, there were numerous 
occasions when his proposals were rejected by 
popular vote and the opposite was approved and put forward for legislation.

For instance, on many occasions Mr. Gaddafi 
proposed the abolition of capital punishment and 
he pushed for home schooling over traditional 
schools. However, the People’s Congresses wanted 
to maintain the death penalty and classic 
schools, and ultimately the will of the People’s 
Congresses prevailed. Similarly, in 2009, Colonel 
Gaddafi put forward a proposal to essentially 
abolish the central government altogether and 
give all the oil proceeds directly to each 
family. The People’s Congresses rejected this idea too.

One step up from the People’s Congresses were the 
Executive Revolutionary Councils. These 
Revolutionary Councils were elected by the 
People’s Congresses and were in charge of 
implementing policies put forward by the people. 
Revolutionary Councils were accountable only to 
ordinary citizens and may have been changed or 
recalled by them at any time. Consequently, 
decisions taken by the People’s Congresses and 
implemented by the Executive Revolutionary 
Councils reflected the sovereign will of the 
whole people, and not merely that of any 
particular class, faction, tribe or individual.

The Libyan direct democracy system utilized the 
word ‘elevation’ rather than ‘election’, and 
avoided the political campaigning that is a 
feature of traditional political parties and 
benefits only the bourgeoisie’s well-heeled and well-to-do.

Unlike in the West, Libyans did not vote once 
every four years for a President and local 
parliamentarian who would then make all decisions 
for them. Ordinary Libyans made decisions 
regarding foreign, domestic and economic policy themselves.

  Several western commentators have rightfully 
pointed out that the unique Jamahiriya system had 
certain drawbacks,  inter alia, regarding 
attendance, initiative to speak up, and 
sufficient supervision. Nevertheless, it is clear 
that Libya conceptualized sovereignty and 
democracy in a different and progressive way.

  Democracy is not just about elections or 
political parties. True democracy is also about 
human rights. During the NATO bombardment of 
Libya , western media conveniently forgot to 
mention that the United Nations had just prepared 
a lengthy dossier praising Mr. Gaddafi’s human 
rights achievements. The UN report commended 
Libya for bettering its “legal protections” for 
citizens, making human rights a “priority,” 
improving women’s rights, educational 
opportunities and access to housing. During Mr. 
Gaddafi’s era housing was considered a human 
right. Consequently, there was virtually no 
homelessness or Libyans living under bridges. How 
many Libyan homes and bridges did NATO destroy?

One area where the United Nations Human Rights 
Council praised Mr. Gaddafi profusely is women’s 
rights. Unlike many other nations in the Arab 
world, women in Libya had the right to education, 
hold jobs, divorce, hold property and have an 
income. When Colonel Gaddafi seized power in 
1969, few women went to university. Today more 
than half of Libya ‘s university students are 
women. One of the first laws Mr. Gaddafi passed 
in 1970 was an equal pay for equal work law, only 
a few years after a similar law was passed in the 
U.S. In fact, Libyan working mothers enjoyed a 
range of benefits including cash bonuses for 
children, free day care, free health care centres and retirement at 55.

  Democracy is not merely about holding elections 
simply to choose which particular representatives 
of the elite class should rule over the masses. 
True democracy is about democratising the economy 
and giving economic power to the majority.

Fact is, the west has shown that unfettered free 
markets and genuinely free elections simply 
cannot co-exist. Organized greed always defeats 
disorganized democracy. How can capitalism and 
democracy co-exist if one concentrates wealth and 
power in the hands of few, and the other seeks to 
spread power and wealth among many? Mr. Gaddafi’s 
Jamahiriya however, sought to spread economic 
power amongst the downtrodden many rather than just the privileged few.

Prior to Colonel Gaddafi, King Idris let Standard 
Oil essentially write Libya ‘s petroleum laws. 
Mr. Gaddafi put an end to all of that. Money from 
oil proceeds was deposited directly into every 
Libyan citizen’s bank account. One wonders if 
Exxon Mobil and British Petroleum will continue 
this practice under the new democratic Libya ?

  Democracy is not merely about elections or 
political parties. True democracy is also about 
equal opportunity through education and the right 
to life through access to health care. Therefore, 
isn’t it ironic that America supposedly bombarded 
Libya to spread democracy, but increasingly 
education in America is becoming a privilege not 
a right and ultimately a debt sentence. If a 
bright and talented child in the richest nation 
on earth cannot afford to go to the best schools, 
society has failed that child. In fact, for young 
people the world over, education is a passport to 
freedom. Any nation that makes one pay for such a 
passport is only free for the rich but not the poor.

Under Mr. Gaddafi, education was a human right 
and it was free for all Libyans. If a Libyan was 
unable to find employment after graduation the 
State would pay that person the average salary of their profession.

For millions of Americans health care is also 
increasingly becoming a privilege not a right. A 
recent study by Harvard Medical School estimates 
that lack of health insurance causes 44,789 
excess deaths annually in America. Under Mr. 
Gaddafi, health care was a human right and it was 
free for all Libyans. Thus, with regards to 
health care, education and economic justice, is 
America in any position to export democracy to 
Libya or should America have taken a leaf out of Libya’s book?

  Muammar Gaddafi inherited one of the poorest 
nations in Africa . However, by the time he was 
assassinated, Libya was unquestionably Africa ‘s 
most prosperous nation. Libya had the highest GDP 
per capita and life expectancy in Africa and less 
people lived below the poverty line than in the 
Netherlands . Libyans did not only enjoy free 
health care and free education, they also enjoyed 
free electricity and interest free loans. The 
price of petrol was around $0.14 per liter and 40 
loaves of bread cost just $0.15. Consequently, 
the UN designated Libya the 53rd highest in the world in human development.

The fundamental difference between western 
democratic systems and the Jamahiriya’s direct 
democracy is that in Libya citizens were given 
the chance to contribute directly to the 
decision-making process, not merely through 
elected representatives. Hence, all Libyans were 
allowed to voice their views directly – not in 
one parliament of only a few hundred elite 
politicians – but in hundreds of committees 
attended by tens of thousands of ordinary 
citizens. Far from being a military dictatorship, 
Libya under Mr. Gaddafi was Africa’s most prosperous democracy.

Garikai Chengu is a fellow of the Du Bois 
Institute for African Research at Harvard University

- This article was originally posted at Brave New World.
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