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Age of Revolution – African Continent and the Arab world

Malama Katulwende

The age of revolution has finally struck the continent of Africa. Discontented by poverty, unemployment, bad laws, corruption, political repression and the status quo whose only desire is to perpetuate their hold on power forever, the citizens, once thought to be crippled by docility and the fear of their despotic rulers, have now taken politics into the streets of their capitals and other cities to demand immediate radical reforms.

In Tunisia anti-government protestors recently toppled the dictator,  Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali who ‘s now believed to be in hiding in Saudi Arabia.  They have demanded, among other things, a complete break with the past. In Egypt the demonstrators, in their millions, have been clashing with pro-Mubarak thugs in the streets of Alexandria, Cairo and other cities. In spite of police brutality and intimidation by pro-government factions tens of thousands of protestors have vowed to remain in Tahrir Square and other places until Hosni Mubarak, whose despotic regime has presided over Egypt for nearly thirty years, resigns.

The marchers have said: “ We demand that Mubarak and his regime quit immediately.”

Curiously, the wave of change and the rise of the protest movement are fast spreading across the African continent and the Arab world. Algeria, Yemen and Jordan are affected. Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia might be next.

In Sub-Saharan Africa the protest movements  in Algeria, Gabon, Ivory Coast,  Uganda, Zimbabwe, Angola, Malawi and even here in Zambia are looking up to Tunisia and Egypt for inspiration.  Already, political commentators and critics are reminding their leaders that the reins of power ultimately derive from the people.

In terms of what lessons could be learnt from these civil unrests, the most important one, perhaps, is that all states should exist for the sake of the citizens, and not the citizens for the sake of the states.  This proposition can be philosophically demonstrated. When the citizens, for whom all governments exist, feel that their leaders are not responsive to their needs, the citizens have a right to withdrawal the legitimacy and authority of their leaders and institute another government. The right to bestow legitimacy and authority upon political leaders is ultimately a preserve of the people – and not dictators and a few members of their inner circle.

Secondly, although political space may be geographically confined to a particular country, it is no longer possible to arrest events and stop them from spilling over into another country. This, of course,  has been the case in the past. However, more than ever before social networks such as Facebook, Twitter , Skype and the Internet in general have become important rallying platforms for political agitation, mobilization and discourse. In a virtual world there are no limits. The protestors have used the IT platform to champion their causes beyond their political and geographical confines.

In point of fact, agitators themselves have assumed dual roles. They  are participants in initiating change and, secondly,  the social  media  – sending photos and other types of news to news outlets  such as the BBC, Al jazeera, CNN and some social networks around the world. This explosion of information about the unrests from all directions has stunned and moved the world.

Thirdly, most African leaders, in particular, have taken their people for granted too long. In most cases, these charlatans have become so intoxicated with authority and power that they have ended up forgetting who their real masters are.  To take a few examples, the Ivory Coast is on the edge of sliding into another civil war simply because Laurent Gbagbo had stolen an election from the opposition leader, Quattarra. Zimbabwe, once the breadbasket of Southern Africa, is partly in a mess because the dictator, Robert Mugabe stole the election. The situation is the same in Kenya where the unity government of Raila Odinga and Emilio Mwai Kibaki has failed to hold. Again – all because the incumbent leader, Kibaki, had refused to recognize the results of the 1998 presidential elections.

Yoweri Musoveni of Uganda, Jose dos Santos of Angola  and other despots in West Africa who have held the reins of power for decades, have resisted demands for constitutional reforms and political change. Instead, they have destroyed the media, slowed their economies, persecuted critics and reformers and stashed public funds in billions of U.S dollars into overseas personal accounts.  Unfortunately, poverty and underdevelopment dog the African continent.  More than anyone else Africans, despite being blessed with abundant resources such as oil, water, land, minerals and a vibrant people, are a laughing stock amongst all the races of the world.

What should be done when the demands for constitutional changes by ordinary citizens have been rebuffed for decades by their leaders?  What should people do when those who reside over their affairs fail to resolve unemployment, poverty, poor infrastructure and implement popular constitutional changes  which guarantee equal opportunities, rights and privileges for all?

The upheavals in Tunisia and Egypt have, indeed, given hope, courage and inspiration to the oppressed people around the world. The age of revolution has come to Africa.

Category : Columnists, Malama Katulwende.
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Comment:

3 responses to “Age of Revolution – African Continent and the Arab world”

  1. Kaela says:

    Good analysis. You are bang on!

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