Pity the poor dictator whose quest to modernize ends up sowing the seeds of his destruction. There is the exquisitely decadent Ben Ali clan in Tunisia, which struck a bargain with the Third Estate, allowing it more freedom, prosperity, mobility than has any other state in the region, as long as it kept its head down in matters political. But educated people, middle class people, people who travel freely, who have access to modern communication technology, and, most importantly, who have a sense of personal empowerment, can be bought off or shut out for just so long. When the economy went bad due to the aftershocks of the global financial crisis, Ben Ali ran out of inducements, and when the army he kept small to avoid competition refused to fire on the people, and his much larger police force was cowed into inaction, he ran out of threats. Within days the modernizing but greedy Tunisian plutocracy was forced to flee this most European of Maghrebi states. This is a scenario that has been played out all too many times, and not only in this politically benighted corner of the world.
Muammar al-Gaddafi has been in power for over 40 years. He is likely to stay in power unless he is forcibly removed by his own people, which seems a remote possibility given the resources at his disposal, some say billions in cash, or by the international community, read the United States, which also appears improbable given “Afraq” war weariness reminiscent of the post-Somalia period when inaction led to the deaths of many thousands in Rwanda. And resources are the key to who wins and who loses in these protracted affairs. Witness the ability of another African Big Man, Jonas Savimbi of Angola, to wage a long battle with an oil-rich government even after he lost U.S. and South African backing and his lifeline through Zaire was cut. Savimbi armed and fed a sizeable force, UNITA (National Unity for the Total Independence of Angola), for eight years on proceeds from diamonds and ivory, which netted approximately $500 million annually. At one point 40 flights a week were taking off and landing at his two main airfields in the central highland towns of Luzamba and Andulo. While the internationals tried to broker a peace deal, Savimbi was using South African and other smugglers, based in Namibia and Botswana, to get diamonds out and to get supplies in, including large arms shipments from Bulgaria and Ukraine.