Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi

The collapse of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's regime has made the headlines for the last six months. An enemy of the West that went through a short rehabilitation period was seen in Africa as a Pan-Africanist. While Gaddafi had instated a real cult of personality in Libya, with statues and images of him adorning the streets, his attitude also made him a well-known figure throughout the continent.

Despite the media repeatedly insisting on the impact of the fall of Gaddafi on Pan-Arab nationalism, the colonel gave up on that long ago and turned instead to Afrocentric ideas, which explains his notoriety throughout Africa.

As a new chapter starts in the history of Libya and Africa, the continent is still divided over tis opinion on the dictator.

For many, the king of kings of Africa, was reminiscent of Pan-African figures such as Ghanaian leader Kwame Nkrumah. Gaddafi championed African unity, calling for a common passport and a common currency. Forming a more cohesive African continent was important for Gaddafi and in the last few years he insisted on pushing for his dearest project: creating the U.S.A.: The United States of Africa, one continent, one government, one army.

Gaddafi, one must not forget, was also the single-largest contributor to the budget of the African Union and a generous aid donor for poor African countries and his collapse will be felt among the fragile nations of the African Sahel region.

"For now, the immediate impact of Gaddafi's departure, on the financial and political side, will be felt in Chad and Sudan," says Comfort Ero, director of the Nairobi office of the International Crisis Group. "Gaddafi's support of the AU is one of the reasons why the AU has been reticent on the Libyan crisis, and cagey about how to resolve it."

The problem however with this approach is that it exclusively focus on Gaddafi's distribution of wealth, acting as a master of patrimonialism, paying his "clients" in return for support. While this strategy is widely used, at a national level throughout the continent, Gaddafi successfully managed to put the money originating from Libyan oil to spread his influence outside of the Libyan frontiers, just like many other notorious dictators before him.

In addition to the highlighting the endemic level of patrimonialism on the continent, the collapse of Gaddafi also outline another important problems: the lack of efficient transition mechanisms and implementation of those.

Despite protests from civilians, Gaddafi refused to organise a transition phase and start planning for elections, this however is also a common problem at the continental level. A few months before the protests in Libya started, Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbabgo, refused to let his elected successor, Allassane Ouatarra take power, dividing the country between pro and anti- Gagbo forces reigniting a bloody conflict that still threatens the stability of the country.

The collapse of Gaddafi is also important for Africa as it once again highlighted the ineptitude of the African union to deal with its continental problems. While the West is often demonised, not much is done, at least efficiently when it comes to violent conflicts, or political transition despite the setting up of an AU Early Warning System.

A final lesson can also be learned from the Libyan conflict and it is the problem of fragmentation of the continent, or the lack of cohesion at an inter-state level.

While the original meaning of the word "Africa" is not clear, in ancient times, it was used to refer to the north of the continent and replaced the Greek word "Libya," which was used to describe only the land occupied by the Berbers and did not come to be used to refer to the whole continent, before the first century BC.

Slowly however it seems that the word has come to refer to the sub-Saharan part of the continent and divorced form North Africa.

Egypt is now seen by many as part of the Middle East and North African countries, including now Libya are referred to as Arab states.

Arab or not, those countries are part of the African continent and should stop being in denial of it. Separating the continent will not help solve its problems but will only create more.

As Paul Tiyambe Zeleza, professor of African American Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, explained the conflation of Africa with sub-Saharan Africa "ultimately offer[ed]a racialised view of Africa as the 'black' continent... from which North Africa and especially Egypt [was] excised and attached to Europe.

"'Africa' no longer described a geographical entity, but was imbued with ideas of blackness and a mystical cultural unity. The transatlantic slave trade and the consequent forced immigration of millions of 'black' Africans served to spread and cement this association abroad."

While Gaddafi was among one of the few non-sub Saharan leader to hold Afrocentrist aspirations, calling him a Pan-Afrocanist is misplaced. Despite his proclaimed love for Africa, Gaddafi did not do much for Libyans, apart from using repression as a way to control them. Maybe his demise also highlights the decline of Pan-Africanism as putting Gaddafi on the same level as African heroes such as Franz Fanon, a real advocate of the people and of their rights is upsetting.