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Colonel Gaddafi warns Europe over “turning black”

But there’s method in his madness.

The Libyan ruler, Colonel Gaddafi, has used a summit in Tripoli to warn that Europe risks "turning black" unless Libya is given £4bn a year by the EU to keep out illegal immigrants from Africa. "We should stop this illegal immigration. If we don't, Europe will become black, it will be overcome by people with different religions, it will change," he said.

He made the threat before in the summer, during a three-day visit to Italy. "We don't know what will happen, what will be the reaction of the white and Christian Europeans faced with this influx of starving and ignorant Africans," he said. "We don't know if Europe will remain an advanced and united continent or if it will be destroyed, as happened with the barbarian invasions."

Both of which sit rather oddly with his comments two years ago when, during his election campaign, Barack Obama declared his support for Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel. Then Gaddafi chided him thus:

The statements of our Kenyan brother of American nationality Obama on Jerusalem . . . show that he either ignores international politics and did not study the Middle East conflict or that it is a campaign lie. We fear that Obama will feel that because he is black with an inferiority complex, this will make him behave worse than the whites.

Instead, urged the colonel: "We tell him to be proud of himself as a black and feel that all Africa is behind him."

In the first comment, Gaddafi seems to take a rather dim view of his fellows from the African continent. In the second, Obama is hailed as a "brother" precisely because of their continental connection. So just what does the Libyan leader think?

It all depends, I fear, on who he believes is paying him sufficient attention. He has always longed to be taken seriously as a regional leader, although he hasn't necessarily been choosy about which region in particular. He never achieved the influence and dominance in the Arab world for which he hoped, so has turned his attention in recent years to Africa, which he continues to maintain can become a "country" like the United States of America.

As there is no danger of either crown being offered to him – his proposal that African states share sovereignty has had a lukewarm response – he sometimes hedges his bets by claiming both, as when he stormed out of an Arab summit in Qatar last year, declaring himself "the dean of the Arab rulers, the king of kings of Africa and the imam of all Muslims".

When I profiled Gaddafi in the NS shortly afterwards, I wrote that he was "never the irrational maverick some liked to say he was", and the former Foreign Office minister Mike O'Brien told me the colonel was "an intelligent guy . . . he recognises that the world has changed and he has to change with it".

I stand by what I said. But that doesn't mean that Gaddafi is not prone to strange outbursts (see Samira Shackle's list of his top five), nor that he is averse to playing to the populist gallery, however unlikely his supporters may be. The sad aspect of this case is that those who probably agree with him (even if they would baulk at handing over several billions to Libya) may be on the fringe in this country – but in Europe, as Gaddafi well knows, there are parties across the continent whose fears are exactly those he expressed, and which participate in government in several countries.

Mad Dog? Maybe. But canny dog, in this case, too.