Now, that's one hell of a headline!
Can 'Fellow African' Barack Obama tempt Libya's Colonel Gaddafi in from the cold?
For a team entrusted with the formidable task of shedding their country's police-state image, the minders from the Libyan foreign ministry did not seem very well prepared.
Nick Meo in Tripoli
Last Updated: 2:47PM GMT 28 Feb 2009
Nick Meo visits Libya ; http://link.brightcove.com/services/link/bcpid1488655367/bctid14415247001 http://www.brightcove.com/channel.jsp?channel=1139053637
For a start, their dark glasses, smart suits and slicked-back hair made them somewhat hard to distinguish from the secret police loitering at the airport. And despite their boasts of a new official policy of "openness", some things remained clearly off-limits to prying eyes.
"Stop filming!" barked a minder, as the heavily-guarded residence of their boss, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, loomed into view during an official drive around town. "OK you can start again," he said, as it retreated into the distance.
Welcome to Libya in 2009, where, nearly four decades after he first seized power, Col Gaddafi is yet again re-inventing himself. Having variously donned the roles of revolutionary leader, state sponsor of terrorism and saviour of Africa over the years, the man once dubbed "Mad Dog" by Ronald Reagan is now eager to don a new guise: friend and ally of US president Barack Obama, whose half-Kenyan ancestry marks him out - in the colonel's view, anyway - as a fellow African leader.
Col Gaddafi took over as the chairman of the African Union a month ago.
In theory, the colonel's good intentions are a chance for Libya to end its international isolation for good, bringing in much-needed human rights reform and foreign investment, and providing an example for other pariah states, like Syria, Iran and North Korea. And last month, as the foreign ministry issued The Sunday Telegraph with a rare press visa, officials insisted that the era of secrecy was over. "You can go where you like and report anything," a Libyan diplomat promised.
Old habits die hard, however. The foreign ministry minders were unfailingly polite and cheerful, but straying from their official itinerary proved all but impossible. And while portraits of Col Gaddafi - known simply as The Leader, or sometimes as Brother Gaddafi – are everywhere, asking questions about the Leader still produced a nervous reaction - even from seemingly loyal citizens. "He brought us freedom," said Osama Sharif, an English-speaking civil servant, who boasted that Libya had a "better form of democracy than you do in the West." But asked to translate the opinions of passers-by to see if they agreed, his confidence vanished. "Do you have permission?" he asked, before quickly disappearing. Likewise, a bank employee abruptly ended his otherwise cheerful account of life when the colonel's name came up. It was, he muttered, a "dangerous" subject for discussion. As Western diplomat based in Tripoli later put it: "There are still serious limits to freedom of speech and political activism here, and threats to the regime are dealt with severely."
Libya's latest faltering overtures to the outside world are part of a long, slow diplomatic thaw that started back in 2003, when Col Gaddafi, having seen the fate of Iraq's Saddam Hussein, gave up his secret nuclear programme and handed information to the West about al-Qaeda, which likewise opposed his dictatorial regime. Having previously devoted himself to supporting armed revolutionary movements - including the IRA and the PLO - he also shifted to the more peaceful cause of African development, channelling money for aid projects for Libya's poorer neighbours. Today, billboards in Tripoli depict adoring groups of black children looking up at him gratefully.
Last year, in another major gesture of goodwill, Libya paid $1.5 billion in compensation to the families of the 270 people who died in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, which led to the reopening of the US Embassy three months ago. It had been shut since the mid 1980s, when America bombed Tripoli and killed Col Gaddafi's adopted daughter.
"The fact that they have returned to the family of nations is good," said Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was among the British victims of the bombing. "It is good for the people of Libya, and it reduces the chance of their government ever going back to supporting terrorism."
The showpiece of last week's visit, however, was the annual "people's congresses", Col Gaddafi's own version of democracy. In hundreds of committees across the country, thousands of citizens gather to debate the future of the country, although the Leader always sets the topics and terms for debate, giving them little real power. This year they are talking about his latest big idea – a bizarre plan to virtually abolish all government ministries and instead distribute the proceeds of Libya's £24 billion oil revenues direct to its six million people.
Many congress-goers back the move, which would, in theory, simply hand thousands of dollars directly to families to pay for their own healthcare and education. At a meeting in the dusty town of Zuara, on the Tunisian border, congresswoman Aysha Muftar's only question was why it hadn't been done already.
"There are people becoming richer and richer today, but I am a simple woman and I am not getting my share of the wealth," she declared. "This project should not be delayed."
Whether the Leader will definitely implement the plan, however, nobody knows. Much as Libya has been stifled by centralised bureaucracy over the decades, removing it at a stroke would cause chaos. Many suspect that the plan is simply a way of frightening corrupt and incompetent officials, who are blamed for squandering much of the nation's oil wealth. Although literacy rates are high and there is a good health service by African standards, much of Tripoli consists of shabby, hulking apartment blocks, with potholed streets where groups of jobless young men loiter. The efficiency of Col Gaddafi's intelligence services means that public opposition to his regime has been virtually non-existent for the last few decades, but there is satellite television, on which younger Libyans see the success of other Arab capitals, such as Dubai, with its smart office blocks and skyscrapers. In private at least, they are starting to ask why they do not enjoy the same kind of wealth.
Among those who might one day be expected to provide the answer is the Leader's son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, who was educated at the London School of Economics and has been seen as the heir-apparent among Col Gaddafi's six sons. He has carved out a reputation as an environmentalist and political moderniser, raising hopes that he could guide Libya to full normality should his father, now 66, ever retire. In recent months, however, he has disappeared from public view, raising fears that Col Gaddafi has decided to slow down on reform, or changed his mind on it altogether.
It is similarly unclear just whether the Libyan leader will remain keen on Mr Obama. One reason that Col Gaddafi's hopes are so high for the new US leader is that in the 1988 version of his famous Green Book - his answer to Chairman Mao's Little Red Book - he predicted that "Black people will prevail in the world." But when Israel attacked Hamas in January, Col Gaddafi rounded on the then President-elect for failing to intervene, declaring in typically eccentric style: "We fear that Obama will feel that, because he is black with an inferiority complex, this will make him behave worse than the whites."
The uncertainty is reciprocated by Washington. Mr Obama, for all his enthusiasm for improving relations with the Muslim world after the Bush years, is believed to be wary about cosying up too closely to the Libyan regime, given its continued poor record on human rights and torture. And with the strategic threat from nuclear programmes and terrorism now largely gone, there is also little pressing need to. "Human rights issues will always be at the forefront of our foreign policy," said a US government spokesman, asked about policy towards Libya.
On the streets of Tripoli, though, there is predictably little room for the idea of anyone - even Barack Obama - turning down an offer from the Leader. "Our religion tells us to forgive and forget," said Said Abu Saufan, 62, whose backstreet shop is lined from floor to ceiling with Col Gaddafi portraits. "We are just glad those days are over. We want to be friends with the American people."