Informal adviser to Saif Gaddafi tells the Beaver controversy was “a profound learning experience”
Professor David Held, a co-director of LSE Global Governance, spoke with the Beaver this week, appealing for more balanced reporting on links between the LSE and Libya.
Held has been widely criticised for his past associations with the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation (GICDF) .
Last month, the LSE halted a global governance programme funded by the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation (GICDF).
The GICDF is chaired by Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, a son of Libya’s longstanding dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, and alumnus of the School.
In 2009, the Foundation pledged £1.5 million, to be paid over the course of five years, to support the activities of LSE Global Governance, specifically the development of a “research programme on North Africa, focused on politics, economics and society”, according to a statement from School. To date, the School received £300,000 from the Foundation.
But last month, in light of “current difficult circumstances across the region”, the LSE released a statement saying it will “stop new activities” within the programme, pending further review from the LSE Council, the School’s highest decision-making body.
In 2009, when the School initially accepted the Foundation’s donation, Held, a pro-director of LSE Global Governance, maintained Saif was a reformer in his father’s oppressive regime.
The LSE Council, the School’s highest governing body, cited the opinions of Held when it approved the acceptance of the donation.
Held joined the GICDF’s Council of Trustees in a personal capacity, but resigned after members of the Council raised concerns about a perceived conflict of interest during a meeting held on 20th October 2009.
In a statement published last month, however, on the website of LSE Global Governance, Held retracted his support for Saif.
“My support for Saif al-Islam Gaddafi was always conditional on him resolving the dilemma that he faced in a progressive and democratic direction”, Held wrote, adding Saif’s “commitment to transforming his country has been overwhelmed by the crisis he finds himself in”.
“He tragically, but fatefully, made the wrong judgement”, Held wrote. “As a result, the LSE has stopped new work on the North Africa Programme”.
Even so, Held has continued to come under sharp public criticism for his mentoring and informal advising of Gaddafi during the years at LSE.
Held responded by stressing that his decision was “neither naive nor complicit”. Calling the termed the consociation “a risk worth taking”, given the potential benefits of what is now clearly a failing link.
Held told the Beaver the association was a “cautious form of engagement”, portrayed in an “utterly preposterous way”.
Held said he wants people to understand “the LSE doesn’t deal in arms, oil, construction, contracts in making money out of Libya”.
“We are engaged in the business of ideas”, Held told the Beaver.
“The aim was a democratic reform of the country”, he said, adding, “if only it was successful”.
Held has been quoted as saying the funding was used to “pursue research on changing governance patterns in North Africa, economic diversification, oil and sustainability, developing civil society, and the status of women”.
Commenting on implications of the media coverage on his personal academic reputation, Held said recent media criticisms have damaged his academic reputation.
“It has been very, very damaging”, Held said. “A bit like going through a car crash that allows two circumstances–to learn and move on, or give up and end it all”.
“There are lots of people who like to see someone fall”, he added.
Held said he now sees the controversy as “a profound learning experience”, “an opportunity to self-reflect”, and a chance to “take his academic work forward on a stronger, clearer basis”.
Held also said he felt the press was responsible for “pushing” Howard Davies toward his decision to resign as Director.
“[The] LSE has lost an excellent Director, one who grew into LSE as the LSE grew into him,” Held said.
Held reinforced the role of Global Governance, saying it would continue its “fantastic” research. On studying North Africa, he said “research on the area is more important than
Held said he was “sceptical of the Western military response sanctioned by the UN, because it is these very powers that colonised Africa, and supported these regimes”, adding favoured “limited military effort to degrade Gaddafi’s military capacity”.
Held quoted the Evening Standard’s Jenni Russell, who wrote in a column earlier this month that the “LSE is being punished for its failure to predict the future”.
“Who knows how many of the protesters on Libya’s streets were educated abroad”, she wrote, “adding selling education is not the same as selling arms”.
Held told the Beaver the press has “behaved shamefully, showing blatant disregard for the truth”.
Held called for “highly informed people to be more sceptical about the claims often made”.