Libyan leader Moammar  Gadhafi is marking the 40th anniversary of his revolutionary rule (September 1) with lavish celebrations, a special African Union meeting and visits from other heads of state.   The event caps years of effort to bring his once-isolated nation back into the international fold.  

The self-styled philosopher-in-chief bears little resemblance these days to the brash young army officer who seized power in the 1969 coup.    

But Colonel Gadhafi makes it easy to track key moments of his rule.   Portraits of the leader, from his youth to the present, are everywhere in the capitol.   

On a wall near the old city,  there is a poster showing him as he was in the 1970's,  when he was promoting his Third Universal Theory, a mix of Islam and socialism meant to unite Arabs and counter capitalism and communism.

Nearby, on massive balloons, one can see the Colonel of a decade later, the man who backed  extremists and terrorists,  a pariah dubbed by the United States the "Mad Dog of the Middle East".

There are also images of him as he approached middle age -  in the 1990's - a time he gained the blessing of no less a moral authority than Nobel laureate Nelson Mandela.

And always on display, throughout the years, the clothes - the parade of flamboyant costumes set off by the austere attire of his striking female bodyguards.

The work that has gone into these anniversary celebrations is enormous and, like the leader himself, filled with contradictions.   While many are working hard to build the tents and stages for the event, few want to speak about the man at the center of the occasion.

Libyans have had 40 years of their Brother-Leader,an autocrat with no official title.  Mr. Gadhafi has ruthlessly crushed any opposition, while claiming his government is run directly by the people - a  people who have so far seen little of the nation's massive oil wealth.`
That's beginning to change.

One young man, an oil worker from Benghazi, is on his first visit to the capital.  He says it's good to see such progress, all the construction, and other new things.

It seems this benchdmark in Libya's modern history is coinciding with hope at home that the country can start to reap the benefits of a rehabilitated and redirected Colonel Gadhafi.

In 2003, he renounced weapons of mass destruction, a shrewd move in the year the United States invaded Iraq in pursuit of such arms.

His calls for Arab nationalism largely ignored, he turned his attention south, leading a call for a United States of Africa, and being named "king of kings" by tribal leaders on the continent.

Libya also took responsibility for acts of terrorism, including the 1988 bombing of a PanAm jet over Lockerbie, and paid compensation to victims' relatives.

Other nations have been paying money to Libya, including the United States, compensation for its attacks on the nation, and Italy, to atone for its brutal colonial rule.   

All this making up has paid off, and in recent years, Colonel Gadhafi has been pitching his trademark Bedouin tent from Paris to Rome to Moscow.   He is Africa's longest-ruling leader, but he has been making the rounds of international society like a newcomer.

He still raises the ire of many, welcoming home the Libyan intelligence agent who was the only person convicted of the Lockerbie bombing.  But that apparently will not stop the culmination of his debut, in coming weeks, at the biggest party of them all, the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

For although Gadhafi's Libya has a troubled past, the country,  with one of the world's largest oil reserves, holds out the promise of a lucrative future.