In the first two weeks of September more than 500 journalists
visited Libya to attend an international investment conference, followed
by the celebrations of the 30th anniversary of leader Muammar Gadaffi’s
rise to power, and a meeting of 20 African heads of state.
Libya has turned away from its long-standing alliance with the rest of
the Arab world in favour of a closer relationship with sub-Saharan
It is also keen to attract investors and, ultimately, tourists. To this
end, Gadaffi has been rebuilding bridges between Libya and the West.
As PR exercises go, the two-week schedule was costly. The Libyan
government bought many journalists’ airline tickets, and provided
accommodation for the African leaders, their entourages, and troupes of
performers from across the continent.
A better planned and targeted schedule could have achieved more with
fewer resources. Despite the armies of officials from the ministry of
information and the ministry for the advancement of the Green Book,
Gadaffi’s manifesto, Tripoli was not able to cope with the
The group I arrived with was left to fester for a day waiting to be
found rooms, and the press centre in the hotel where most journalists
were housed was often paralysed by the absence of outside telephone
The African heads of state, and reporters who chose to attend, were
subjected to a five hour military parade, which achieved little except
The unveiling of a ’rocket’ car, described by the Guardian as a
’Batmobile’, which Gadaffi and his son helped to design, was greeted
with ridicule by the UK press.
And when Gadaffi made an impromptu appearance at the investment
conference, he compared capitalism to ’stealing the family jewels’.
These mishaps aside, the message of Libya’s realignment with Africa came
across loud and clear. Gadaffi’s call for a ’United States of Africa’
could have been alarming, but none of the African leaders publicly took
offence and he was widely welcomed by his new allies.
The pictures of Gadaffi embracing a visiting Nelson Mandela during the
summer did more for his image than anything that has happened since, but
this month’s celebrations underlined that Libya is on a gradual course
of rehabilitation into the international community.
Although Gadaffi’s image has a way to go - the Sunday Times profiled him
on 9 September under the headline ’Tyrant in a comic opera disguise’ -
Libya succeeded in portrayng itself as a peaceful and prosperous country
- music to any investor’s ears.