The son of Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi is not only good at creating an image of himself as a westernised prince but has also helped to brush up the image of his country.
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of Libya’s leader, has never had an official position in his father’s government. But the dashing 36-year-old, whose name means “Sword of Islam”, is credited with pushing for economic reform and helping Libya normalise relations with the West. He has brokered settlements with the families of the Lockerbie victims and negotiated the release of the Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor from jail in Libya.
Last August though, he declared he was through with politics and would not succeed his father. But many believe this young leader, so instrumental in shaking off Libya’s image as a pariah state, is only temporarily withdrawing. “The most political thing a politician could do is say he is leaving politics,” says Middle East expert Fred Halliday. “Look at Richard Nixon, or Charles de Gaulle.” Rumour has it that Gaddafi worked behind the scenes to facilitate Condoleezza Rice’s visit to Libya last September and his father’s trip to Russia in October.
With a PhD from London School of Economics & Political Science, Gaddafi, who speaks English, German and French, seems more a modern European than a desert prince. Slick and unfussy – unlike his brothers who have a reputation for reckless behaviour – his style lacks the theatrical aspect that has characterised his father’s 40 years as leader of Libya. Although he has been spotted in get-ups that reflect his father’s love of a good safari suit but which have clearly been nipped in for a faster, sharper silhouette.
His western suits are a far cry from the “brash showiness typical of other regional players”, comments the editor of a Middle Eastern fashion website. “Gaddafi is too cool for double-breasted suits, tie clips and silk pochettes.”
For all his efforts at rapprochement with the West, Gaddafi has not forgotten the US bomb raid on his father’s compound in 1986, which killed his four-year-old sister, or the Swiss government’s refusal to renew his student visa. His resentment he channels into his art, which was exhibited in Paris and Montréal, in a show that was tellingly entitled “The desert is not silent”.
01 Keffiyeh – Made famous by Yasser Arafat, and the ultimate symbol of resistance for Palestinians. 02 Facial hair – Unlike his father, Gaddafi seems to have his facial hair under control. A clean shaved head and trimmed stubble convey a manly look. 03 Suit – The short-sleeved safari suit was made popular in the 1960s by African and Arab leaders such as Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo). 04 Sandals – Gaddafi’s sandals are the staple footwear of the Arab world. This pair is more Milan than Medina.
Somaliland, the de facto independent territory in northern Somalia, is planning to hold Africa’s most sophisticated elections in March – the first on the continent to use state-of-the-art technology to prevent voter fraud.
During a registration drive at the end of 2008, every voter (about one million) had an electronic copy of their fingerprint taken along with a digital photo. On polling day a fingerprint scanner will check the identity of each person. Authorities are also considering the use of electronic voting machines. “Somaliland’s achievement in developing its ‘homegrown’ democracy from scratch is remarkable,” says Richard Hands of the European Commission, which is funding the €9m electoral clean-up.
Recent elections in Africa have been notoriously flawed. Voter rolls in Kenya included hundreds of thousands of dead people. In Nigeria armed gangs stole ballot boxes and stuffed them with marked ballots. Somaliland’s leaders hope a fair election will bolster the region’s chances of becoming a fully recognised independent state.
Tens of thousands of flip-flops wash up on Kenya’s pristine, white sand beaches every year. For marine conservationists they are a menace because they litter the beaches and prevent turtles from nesting.
But for some, the forgotten footwear has become a reliable, if unlikely, source of income. Over 200 people – mainly women – in the Kiunga region on Kenya’s coast, work for a company called UniquEco, which turns the colourful beach debris into jewellery, toys and hanging mobiles.
Flip-flop collectors can make €0.20 a kilo. The sculptors who then mould them into beads or toy giraffes, earn a bit more. The company was set up by two Kenyan women four years ago and it has now opened a shop in Nairobi. UniquEco has begun to receive orders from Europe and the US.
If you are a teacher in Saudi Arabia, one of the richest countries in the world, chances are your salary is miserably low. This is why the kingdom’s labour minister, Ghazi al-Gosaibi (pictured above), has announced a set of minimum-wage guidelines that are being prepared for jobs such as cashiers and teachers – but he hasn’t revealed any numbers yet. According to the International Labour Organisation, the minimum wage in the private sector is roughly 1,500 riyals, (€280) a month. The minister faces a few problems enforcing any new code because despite a government programme requiring companies to favour Saudi nationals, many firms hire foreign workers who are willing to accept lower pay. Saudi Arabia has a population of 26 million and employs seven million foreign workers, for whom there is no plan to set up a similar scheme.
Employment in Saudi Arabia
01 Migrants make up roughly a quarter of the total population of Saudi Arabia. 02 An estimated 40 per cent of the Saudi population are under 15 years old. Migrants make up about one third of the population of working age (15-64). 03 Up to 25 per cent of Saudi men are thought to be unemployed.
Lebanon has announced that it will give the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s (PLO) offices in Beirut embassy status. That’s good news for PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas (pictured below). Ever since the Arab League recognised the PLO as the sole representative of Palestine in 1974, a string of embassies has opened in the Arab world.
The Palestinian embassy in Lebanon, however, was closed after Yasser Arafat left the country in 1982, in the midst of the Lebanese civil war. According to a Palestinian diplomat, ever since the closure of the embassy the Palestinian camps in Lebanon (which house 400,000 refugees in dismal conditions) have been manipulated by various forces working against Lebanon.
“The reopening of the embassy will guarantee security in the camps and make sure Lebanon’s sovereignty is respected,” explains Leila Shahid, the Palestinian Authority’s ambassador to the European Commission in Brussels. With talks of a Syrian embassy also opening soon, Lebanon is finally putting its diplomatic house in order.
The world’s first camel-milk chocolate has been launched in Dubai. Al Nassma (Arabic for a cool desert breeze) comes in date and arabia (local spices) flavours, and is available as a bar or in a box as a “caravan” of camel-shaped chocolates.
Camel milk, drunk by desert bedouins, is being promoted by the UN for its health benefits. The salty, smoky taste has until now put townies off, but the chocolates are proving popular at home and abroad.
Doctors on the go
On average, at least one in five African doctors leaves the continent to work in a richer part of the world. In the most extreme cases, such as Kenya, Tanzania and Zimbabwe, there are now more doctors practising abroad than at home.
The pursuit of education