Tunisia’s Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali had been a dictator for 23 years and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak for 31 when they were both ousted recently by the rebellious masses.
The Tunisian and Egyptian revolts caught the world by (delightful) surprise, but the by time protests broke out in Libya, we were growing accustomed to the revolutionary ways of the Arab masses.
But nothing prepared us for the messy, bloody, and disastrous affair that is unfolding in Libya.
Colonel Muammar Gaddafi has been in power for 41 years, so the world knows he is a little mad. However, no one imagined he had so much more madness inside him.
Besieged, and having lost control of a large part of his country to protestors, Gaddafi entered a very dark place.
He became the first modern dictator anywhere to order his air force jets and navy ships to attack protestors in the street.
His faced distorted by botox, raving like a deranged man, Gaddafi has been a scary sight to watch on TV.
Today it is next to impossible to find any person who will loudly defend Ben Ali, Mubarak, or Gaddafi before a right-thinking audience.
However, in their moments of disgrace and humiliation, these dictators have still taught Africa a few key political lessons that needed good examples to illustrate them.
The first lesson is on the vexing matter of presidential term limits.
In the past 10 years, many African leaders have scrapped term limits so they can rig elections and continue in office. No region has been spared.
In the East African Community, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni did away with term limits in 2005.
What Ben Ali and Mubarak’s fates, and now Gaddafi’s troubles, tell us is that the people want term limits.
That if a leader resists having the term limits written into law, the people will eventually impose them from the street.
Secondly, that 20 years and beyond is a danger zone for any ruler. More often than not, it ends badly.
So it is that, despite their attempts to immortalise themselves, none of the three leaders got the opportunity to have a dignified death in a State House bed.
Ben Ali and Mubarak, as a Ugandan put it, were chased away like chicken thieves. No one can be sure how Gaddafi will end.
If the dissidents caught him, they would almost certainly impale him on a stake.
Therefore, we must thank these dictators for being laboratory rats in an extreme political experiment.
Of the North Africa Dictator’s Club, Ben Ali was the least sinful. We thank him.
Mubarak was next, so we thank Hosni for hanging in for 31 years; for his folly; and for being there to end the disgraceful way he did.
But the most love must go to Gaddafi. His excesses might end in Libya splitting as a country.
However, the sight of him looking like the psychotic mass murderer in the movies, swinging an axe, with blood all over his shirt, must have convinced even the most undemocratic souls in Africa that no country deserves a leader like what Gaddafi has turned into.
Only Gaddafi, by being Gaddafi, could make that point as well as he has by his actions.
Charles Onyango-Obbo is Nation Media Group’s executive editor for Africa & Digital Media. E-mail: [email protected]