Gadhafi Ugandan newspaper
Samson Halieyesus/AP

After Reports of Affair, Gadhafi Latest Head of State to Defend Image

February 19, 2009 01:06 PM
by Josh Katz
Gadhafi is suing a Ugandan newspaper that claims he is having an affair. The episode recalls other world leaders who have struggled to protect their image.

Gadhafi Sues Newspaper for Reporting Affair

A Ugandan newspaper called Red Pepper is facing legal action because it reported that Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi is having an affair with Best Kemigisha, the Queen Mother of Uganda’s Tooro kingdom. The Ugandan government says it will take “tough measures” against the newspaper that Gadhafi is suing for $1 billion in damages, according to Bloomberg. says that Red Pepper editor-in-chief Richard Tumusiime and senior editor Francis Mutazindwa could each face two years in prison for their actions. They are “accused of defaming a foreign dignitary with intent to disturb peace and friendship between Uganda and Libya.” Red Pepper is defending its story, however.

The last time anyone was charged with such a crime was in the late 1980s, when “three journalists asked the then Zambian president, Kenneth Kaunda, an ‘embarrassing question’ at a State House press conference,” according to

On Feb. 17, at least 30 Muslim shieks and imams protested Red Pepper and set fire to copies of the publication in the Ugandan capital of Kampala, where the newspaper is based. According to Bloomberg, “Qaddafi sponsored the construction of the Qaddafi National Mosque in the city, the biggest mosque in the east African region.”

Tooro is located in western Uganda and “is one of numerous Ugandan kingdoms revived by President Yoweri Museveni over 15 years ago after their abolition in the 1960s,” according to

Queen Mother Best Kemigisha is a widow in her early 40s. Her son is the youngest monarch in the world, the 16-year old king Oyo Nyimba Iguru. King Oyo was crowned when he was about three years old., which refers to Red Pepper as a “tabloid,” also says that Gadhafi and Kemigisha are often seen together whenever the Libyan leader visits the country.

Related Topic: Heads of state image problems

Newspaper Shuts Down After Suggesting Putin Relationship

The Moskovsky Korrespondent newspaper closed its offices in April 2008 after writing that the Russian president was engaged to the gymnast-turned-politician Alina Kabaeva, who was in her early 20s. The controversial story reported on plans for a June wedding for the Russian head of state.

Putin promptly denied the allegations. His personal life is considered an “untouchable” subject by the Russian press.

Obamas Try to Protect Their Image

Toymaker Ty Warner recently renamed the “Marvelous Malia” and “Sweet Sasha” plush dolls after complaints by the family of President Barack Obama.

Obama’s name and campaign slogans have been adopted to sell a range of products, including Ben and Jerry’s “Yes Pecan” ice cream flavor and Ikea’s “Embrace Change” marketing campaign. In addition, J. Crew stock prices and Web page views went up after the company announced that it had provided several key aspects of Inauguration Day wear: the Obama girls’ coats, the first lady’s gloves and the president’s white bow tie.

But in the United States, the president may ultimately be powerless to legally protect their images because of their status as public personas.

Sarkozy and Bruni Fight for Image Rights

In December 2008, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, wife of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, filed a lawsuit against the clothing company Pardon, which manufactured and produced 10,000 shopping bags adorned with her nude image. The image used was a photo taken in 1993, when Bruni was still working as a model.

Both the Sarkozys had been involved with previous suits to protect their images from public use. Earlier in 2008, Sarkozy and Bruni won a lawsuit against the Irish airline Ryanair, which used their photograph in an advertisement. Nicolas Sarkozy also won a symbolic euro in a case he brought against company K&B, which manufactured voodoo dolls of the French President.

Key Player: Moammar Gadhafi

Moammar Gadhafi, who became the new chairman of the African Union in early February, was born in the Libyan desert to a Bedouin family in 1942. The man who President Ronald Reagan called “mad dog of the Middle-East” is also famous for his “flamboyant dress-sense,” and his team of “gun-toting female body guards,” according to the BBC. He is currently the longest-serving Arab head of state, leading for about 40 years.

Gadhafi graduated from the University of Libya with honors and then went on to complete a British military education. He drew inspiration from Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser and his pan-Arab ideals. At the age of 27, Gadhafi overthrew Libyan King Idris I in a bloodless coup in 1969. He then began his “cultural revolution,” expunging the country’s colonial and foreign roots and installing "Jamahiriya,” or "state of the masses,” in which the people allegedly govern through local councils. However, international observers generally consider Libya a military dictatorship, according to Time magazine.

He has backed revolutions in Chad, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Morocco, the Philippines and Iran, and has helped fund the activities of the Irish Republican Army and the Palestinian “Black September” movement, infamous for the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre, Time writes.

The U.S. bombed the Libyan cities of Tripoli and Benghazi in 1986 after Libya was implicated in the killing of American soldiers in a German disco. Gadhafi’s adopted daughter died in the American attacks.

Libya was also involved in the terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people. The UN hit Libya with heavy sanctions when Gadhafi chose not to extradite suspects, according to Time.

With his country suffering from international economic sanctions, he pulled Libya out of isolation in 2003 when he took responsibility for the Pan Am terrorist attack, paying more than $2.7 billion to the families of the victims. Months later, Gadhafi halted efforts to produce weapons of mass destruction, according to the BBC. His ascendance to the leadership of the African Union is also evidence of his international turnaround.

Although it is not clear who will succeed the aging Gadhafi, observers surmise that one of his sons, the reformist Sayf al-Islam Gadhafi, is the probable choice, the BBC reported.

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