One hesitates to speak of "Africa's craziest leader," for much the same reason that one does of "America's craziest Congressional representative." The competition for such a title is simply too stiff. Still, one must at least give a nod toward Muammar al-Gaddafi, he of the unspellable name and the gradual transformation into Mickey Rourke.
Since taking power in a 1969 coup, Gaddaffi has said and done any number of implausible and eccentric things. Also some evil ones. He sleeps in a tent when he travels abroad, which is eccentric. In the same category are his wardrobe, chesty Ukrainian "nurse," and crack security team made up entirely of luscious virgins, an idea clearly lifted from Ian Fleming.
He has labored, with no particular success, to fuse Maoism, Islam and pan-Arabism. This qualifies as implausible. So much so, in fact, that he has even tweaked Islam itself, in ways that are widely regarded (at least in Islamic circles) as heretical. For a long time, he offered a spiritual home -- as well as guns and money -- to anybody with a "liberation movement" of any kind, so long as they hated the West. This is where the evil starts, and it continues through some other ugly bits, including -- in the late 80s and early 90s -- blowing up passenger jets over Scotland, Chad and Niger. (In fairness, he got roughed up pretty badly during those years, but you can't say he didn't have it coming.)
In recent years, Brother Leader has taken a softer line toward the wicked West: offering up his apparently irrelevant WMD program for inspection, signing an agreement with Berlusconi (the West at its most comically wicked) and -- of signal importance to Americans -- extraditing the Lockerbie bombers.
Where most leaders of military juntas promote themselves to general, Gaddafi has modestly remained a colonel, adding as an additional title "Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution." (Okay, he has also styled himself the "King of Kings of Africa," which is a bit showy for our taste). He has declared that "Libya is ruled by its people," while himself ruling it longer than anybody since the 16th century.
It seems that the Libyan people now want to exercise some of that as-yet-notional rule. And -- surprise! -- Big Brother doesn't like it. Of the protest movements now setting fire to North Africa and the Middle East, the one in Libya seems to have been the deadliest so far. Although the details are scanty, hundreds are reported dead in Benghazi, as the armed forces have fought back with comparative ruthlessness. Despite this, Benghazi is now controlled by the protesters, whose movement has spread to Tripoli.
Two Air Force colonels have defected to Malta.
Libya's UN reps have called their supposed boss "a genocidal war criminal."
Al Quaeda has established an "emirate in the northeastern part of the country.
Venezuela denies the rumor that Gaddafi is on a plane, seeking refuge with Latin America's craziest leader.
And meanwhile, Gaddafi's son swears that he and his loyal troops "will fight to the last bullet." Sadly, this is probably true. As both America and Britain know all too well, civil wars are often the bloodiest and most hate-filled wars of all. Their effects linger for generations and even centuries. We would not wish such a thing upon any country in the world.
But neither would we wish a Gaddafi government on any country in the world. Our hearts and prayers are with the protesters. We wish them success in driving out their crazy old leader; we pray for their safety, and the safety of those who oppose them; and we pray that they will not replace Gaddafi's bloodthirsty madness with the still more bloodthirsty madness of Al Qaeda.