Friday, February 18, 2011

Revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt: Lessons for African Autocrats and Revolutionaries

Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei

A wave is blowing across the Middle East and North Africa, and there are prospects for other oppressed people in sub-Sahara Africa to gain inspirations from this wind of change blowing upward. Interestingly the people’s power is challenging and bringing down – in matter of days – regimes that have maltreated them and mismanaged their resources. What is doubtful is that whether sub-Saharan Africa, a region whose history is replete with violence and civil crises, can succeed in toppling kleptocrats and autocrats without arms? Two of Liberia’s respected young intellectuals (Ali Sylla and Ali Kaba) argue that such revolutions are mainly possible in ‘highly conscious societies’, they therefore doubt the capacity and ability of the people of sub-Saharan Africa to imitate their northern counterparts in self-organizing and liberating themselves. A reflection of what took place before toppling Mobutu in Zaire, Doe and Taylor in Liberia, Momoh in Sierra Leone, and the numerous past and current civil wars in the region led me to accepting their postulation. I concur that if Liberia had a conscious civil society in 1979, the True Whig Party oligarchy would have come to an end without going through a high scale violent struggle, or if indeed the people were weary of the dictatorships of Doe and Taylor the long bush path to destruction would have been averted and a mass nonviolent citizen protest against the harsh excesses of said regimes would have installed a democratic order.

The Middle-east and North Africa have proven to be different in expressing grievances at autocrats. The people’s power in this region has made significant changes like the Iranian revolution of 1979 and other past civil disobedient actions in that region. Egypt and Tunisia have demonstrated real people’s power in the 21st century, and this is snowballing across the region. What are the lessons now?

Revolutionary successes in Tunisia and Egypt have taught new lessons to African autocrats that they cannot perpetually marginalize and oppress their people, and the people of Africa have been reminded that the real power is in their hands, and where socio-economic conditions become unbearable, political processes repressive, mass mobilization for non-violent revolutions can make the necessary change popularly demanded. Egypt and Tunisia have indeed taught good lessons in 21st century Africa. Interestingly, the developments took place in a continent where processes of regime change and even electoral processes have been very violent. In some instances, military coups hijack constitutional processes, or for the ‘better’ put end to resented dictatorships. In 2010 alone Africa was experiencing civil wars largely necessitated by bad governance and dictatorship in Somalia, Darfur Region of Sudan and DR Congo. Countries like Guinea and Niger were under military leaderships while Madagascar was under a pariah civilian regime that came to power through a putsch.

Unlike the cases of unconstitutional regime changes or military putsches across the continent, no international group or nation has announced any form of sanction or suspension of membership or diplomatic ties against the popular people’s action in either Tunisia or Egypt. Powerful nations and organizations have praised the resilience and determination of the people in their attempts to liberate themselves without armed struggle. This must also teach us that no force is powerful enough to condemn a popular success of regime change planned and executed by the people. Liberia, Sierra Leone, DR Congo, and some other conflict-affected countries in Africa became pariahs because their revolutions were led by greedy and power-drunk politicians whose only motivations were to ascend to power and get access to state resources. Those were not revolutions popularly supported from the grassroots.

What African leaders need to learn now is that they can leave power just in days when their people grow weary of their excesses. This lesson must be a motivation for immediate reforms across the continent. Reforms in constitutions that promote popular democratic participation and accountability are critical to addressing present day governance challenges in Africa. The people’s power in Tunisia and Egypt were expressed against regimes that spanned more than two decades, and resentment has begun to grow in Cameroon and Libya against strongmen rules. This means that Africans are getting increasingly angry with old fashioned leadership, and want to experiment with new ideas of the 21st century deposited in the marginalized young population. Constitutional reform processes must therefore be clear on term-limit for elected offices, and be specific on age range for political offices. Young people are the engine of political development and economic growth across the world. They have shown it in Egypt and Tunisia, and they are mobilizing in Algeria, Libya and Bahrain. They must therefore wake up for national leadership.

In some regions, like in the West, young leaders are progressively ending the poverty of their people through contemporary innovations. Africa is still led by politicians from the 1960s. In Liberia for example, it is most likely that emerging young politicians and technocrats will not easily succeed in transforming the country to a 21st century nation-state with its attendant opportunities while politicians from the 1970s are still struggling for space in the process. Leading oppositions and the key figures in the ruling party in Liberia are politicians from the 1970s - with the least age being 67 - who are still mounting efforts for another six-year political challenge. These people are also succeeding by machinations, co-optations and manipulations of the young people. How then can the young generation lead a progressive and nonviolent revolution in sub-Saharan Africa?

The young people of Africa need to stand up for their rights and demand from their governments accountability in the use of resources and the exercise of power. More to that, the young people need to work and build mass consciousness among their people and begin to take political challenges for higher offices. They must motivate and inspire their people into revolutions that will positively transform their societies and make socio-economic opportunities equitable. These revolutions must be accompanied by strong desires and passions for ending the suffering of the people of Africa. Honest and sincere revolutions in the name of the people can only be executed by young men and women who have high moral character and high sense of political and social responsibility to their people and community.

As for Mohammed Bouazizi of Tunisia, he believed that by committing suicide would have ended his suffering as a young university graduate without a job under a regime that have oppressed him for decades. The self-immolation of this young vegetable seller in December 2010 was the sacrifice for the redemption of his people and his country from an unbearable autocracy. The end of Bouazizi’s life and the liberation of the people of Tunisia has become an inspiration for the self-emancipation of oppressed people worldwide. Bouazizi’s self-immolation did not only expelled Ben Ali and his cronies from Tunisia, but has cost Mubarak his job of 30 years, and is threatening the foundations of other autocrats in Africa. May the souls of Mohammed Bouazizi rest in peace, and may the arches of his soul from the self-immolation be a fertilizer for democracy around the world. Bouazizi has gone to join ranks with other martyrs of African liberation. The ways to commemorate Bouazizi and to ensure that his sacrifice does not go in vain are to ensure that democracy flourish in his native Tunisia and Africa at large; that socio-economic opportunities in employment, heath care and education be available and affordable for the people of Tunisia and Africa at large; and that young Africans continuously challenge autocracies and begin to work towards transforming their countries for the better.

1 comment:

mohammed said...

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