As I see images of large celebrations throughout Libya of jubilant people, mostly adult men but some women and children as well, waving a red, black, and green Libyan flag from its pre-Gaddafi day, I can’t help but think back to a black nationalist protest I saw in downtown St. Louis in March when NATO began its involvement in Libyan affairs. I was puzzled that, in contrast to supporting a revolution in an African nation against a repressive dictator, these protesters held signs reading “Hands Off Libya and Africa” and publicly defended “brother Gaddafi” against what it believed was simply another imperialist plot by the United States to steal Libya’s oil. I remember one of the members of the political hip-hop group Dead Prez, who I previously wrote about, also denounced NATO’s involvement in Libya, though they were not as naive as to actually defend Gaddafi.
The U.S.’s involvement in Libya creates a dilemma for black nationalists whose traditional narrative is now being challenged. Based on the long history of European and American imperialism in Africa, it is convenient to dismiss any military action taken by the United States and Europe in Africa as simply another attempt rob the African people. However, when the Libyan people demand an end to the 42 year old rule of a ruthless dictator, while he is slaughtering the protesters, it seems logical that any black nationalist or Pan-African movement would show solidarity with the Libyan people. How can one support believe in Pan-Africanism without siding with the wishes of the people of an African nation? After all, not coincidentally, the Libyan rebel flag is red, black, and green — the same colors that Marcus Garvey chose for his black nationalist flag. While some may argue that black nationalists support the Libyan rebels, but not the U.S., Britain, and France’s involvement in the revolution, remember that the rebels called on and requested support from NATO. The simplistic narrative that any American or European intervention in an African nation can be dismissed as imperialism does not fit in this case. If Pan-Africanists and black nationalists want what is truly best for Africa, they must respect the wishes of the people in an African nation who overwhelmingly supported a revolution and fought to see their long-time dictator fall, even if it required foreign assistance.