"‘I would say he is an introspective person, reflective, thinking about the problems of his country. Certainly an astute person" - SM Goh Chok Tong on Gaddafi, May 2008[Link]
A few weeks ago when the uprising started in Libya. Colonel Gaddafi said that the Al Qaeda was behind the uprising and the rebels were under the influence of drugs. Listen to what he said a few weeks ago:
After coming under attack by allied forces (France, US, UK) implementing a no fly zone, he now says he will fight Christian crusaders[Link]. Whether you believe western powers are going all out to save civilian lives or have other political motives, they are dealing with a volatile aggressive dictator likely to be delusional and violent.
What surprised me is Gaddafi's ability to fight back against the rebels and the thousands of loyalists willing to die for him. After watching the last few of his speeches (unedited, translated), many people from other parts of would have come the conclusion that he may not have a sound mind. Yet he command the loyalty of a significant segment of his population.
"....." - Report on SM Goh's Libya visit]Link]
Gaddafi's 41 year rule benefited many Libyans in particular members of his elite forces, security forces and his own tribe. Despite his questionable mental state and authoritarian rule, he has a large group of loyalists behind him and many whose future depends on keeping him in power. The Libyans fighting him come from impoverished parts of the country - people he deliberately neglected because they belonged to other tribes. If Gaddafi had not given those 3 room flats to his supporters, generous subsidies for everything from education, medicare to electricity he would have fallen very quickly because his support base would have been very small. If he kept the oil wealth concentrated in a small number of elites, say his ministers, he wouldn't be able to hang on to power for so long. Despite his weird volatile and irrational leadership style, his understanding of the need to distribute wealth is what is preventing him from losing power quickly. If he had distributed oil wealth to his "enemies" and treated them with greater equality, they, perhaps, would not be rebelling so strongly against him.
Gaddafi is an extreme example and Libya has oil but at the end of the day, there is a lesson here on of the distribution wealth in a country. You cannot have one part of the country living in wealth & comfort and large segment of the populace struggling in poverty. You can maintain such large inequalities with authoritarian rule only for so long and at some point cracks will appear and a large number will turn against you.
I hope for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Libya. However, I'm not too optimistic. Libya is a country divided and polarized by the way wealth was distributed. There are people who love Gaddafi and people who hate him. These groups looks like they will fight to the bitter end.
I did a quick back of the envelop calculation on Libya's wealth. Libya produces about 1 million barrels of sweet crude per day (before the uprising) At today oil price of about US$100 per barrel, this translates to US$100M per day coming from the ground. Libya has 6.4M people which means the people get US$15 a day without doing much work - enough for food and lodging. If he distribute this money more equally, he could have maintained his socialist authoritarian state for much longer. Not that this is an ideal way to rule and govern a group of people but he could have avoided the rebellion he is facing today.