PEOPLE’S POWER is increasingly gaining pre-eminence in Africa, judging
from recent events. Whether it is called Africa’s resurgence or African version of the Arab Spring, the past couple of months have been remarkable in Africa, a continent with the largest number of the world’s remaining dictatorial, high-handed and visionless national leaders. The new wave of civil unrests has unsettled many governments and led to the sudden removal of despots and sit-tight leaders in Zimbabwe, Algeria and Sudan.
The streets seem to be winning as the civil unrests and popular protests began to embolden the public, ushering in new pluralistic socio-political systems and opening a floodgate of activism among the ordinary people. These, so far, did not happen without a cost and enabling forces. The latter had been particularly remarkable as the information and communication technology (ICT) has empowered and enlightened the people, connecting them in unprecedented ways. The former had to do with the prices paid by some, in terms of lives or property.
That means the public hasn’t had it easy. But the success in one country has encouraged an enactment of the same in others. What
started like simple protests in Algeria and Sudan, for instance, consumed Bouteflika and Al Bashir respectively, while the autocratic Mugabe of Zimbabwe could no longer resist opposition to his continued rule that has impoverished a once promising and vibrant country to the point that its national currency no longer counted for any value as a legal tender.
The signals are thus becoming too obvious to ignore. This means the people expect more from those ruling them. They expect progress, prosperity, economic freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom from fear, human rights, good and growing economy, good education, good health, good jobs, social security, equity and justice, fulfilled family lives, good infrastructure, security of territorial integrity and inclusive governments. They have shown that they no longer want to remain passive, watching while their future gets eroded by parochially-minded mis-leaders. They want to be
involved in the process of choosing their leaders.
For the fact that old customs die hard, these attempts still encounter stiff opposition and resistance from the entrenched forces and incumbents in power in various African countries. While the Sudanese Army pretended to have saved the country from the deposed long-term totalitarian soldier-turned-civilian head of state, the group went to work, trying to play a fast one on the populace who refused to be fooled. Continued pressure through protests, sit-ins and civil disobedience became unbearable for the military that eventually turned the guns against the protesters, killing no fewer than one hundred protesters. This happened when the soldiers’ patience began to run out. But the protesters continued until the military agreed to power-sharing at the transitional level, preparatory to the full-blown civilian administration that the country has been clamouring for.
The Algerian protests have been particularly interesting. The protesters appear unimpressed by piecemeal concessions, from the stepping down of Bouteflika to the interim occupation of the vacuum by any military officer. Their demand was clear, and they keep pressing for it. These must be giving Yoweri Museveni, the Ugandan dictator, some sleepless nights as he clamps down on a celebrity that shows a semblance of public acceptance that may rock his static boat. His co-traveller, Paul Biya of Cameroon, or the ageing Gabonese leader may be having similar anxieties today. How these old men hope to now transform the countries they failed to put on the path of progress when they were much younger is a big question that needs an urgent answer.
One of the misfortunes that befell Africa was that so much of various countries’ resources have been frittered away in protecting just one single individuals and perpetuating them in offices. Their unspoken dictums ring true to the old-time Western country dictator that said “l’etat, c’est moi,” meaning “I am the state.” In other words, single individuals have been accorded equality with whole countries. The Democratic Republic of Congo went through that gruelling and painful experience with Joseph Mobutu who later transformed to Mobutu Sese Seko and brought the country into years of bitter war arising in part from power vacuum after his exit.
Africa is replete with similar stories. Cote d’Ivoire could have avoided the hostilities that followed Houphet Boigny if he had voluntarily ceded power to a popularly chosen successor after his hold on the country for nearly four decades. Libya is still reeling from the aftermath of the exit of a totalitarian ruler that didn’t seem to think he would once die. The power vacuum created is a major cause of the bitter war that has taken a different dimension in the past couple of weeks. Although Liberia and Sierra Leone – two neighbouring countries – may be putting their years of wars, carnage and waste behind them, the past still haunts them as poverty, squalour and depressed economies tend to shackle them, preventing them from making any major breakthroughs.
The Rwandan experience may have be properly turned into an advantage after no less than a third of a million people have perished. A neighbouring Burundi and the Central African Republic cannot boast of the same experience, at least for now. Same goes for the DRC where bitter inter-tribal fights are on-going because of mineral deposits. Nigeria, a country that – on the face of it – is not at war on a national scale, is currently reeling from the impact of insurgency that has paralysed the economy of the north-eastern flank, with lives in jeopardy. Record numbers of people are reportedly killed in the Boko Haram-infested areas on monthly basis and the population of the internally displaced people is running into millions.
A troubled continent therefore remains deprived of chances to aspire to greatness. It continues to miss opportunities to innovate.
Economies in some countries either shrink or remain stagnant, while population growth continues unabated. Existing infrastructure are either deteriorating over time or are destroyed by war. Displacement of people has paralysed economic activities and turned able-bodied men, women and children to humanitarian aid-dependants. Productive economic activities have suffered serious setback while homes and families are undergoing fractures. Children and youth are deprived of education or even opportunities to learn some technical skills.
While other countries in Asia, Europe and the Americas are innovating, Africa is yet to have a roadmap for catching up with contemporary advancements in science, technology and economies. How despotic leaders hope to bring in new ideas remain to be seen. And while bad
leadership, wars and hostilities continue to ravage many countries, some smart foreign direct investors are quietly carting away Africa’s wealth of commodities, be it agricultural or minerals. At the same time, bright minds are leaving in droves for greener pastures.
Youthful population, the pride of Africa, is migrating in large numbers, embarking on desperate and dangerous journeys in search of better life in Europe and the US. What practical steps are countries taking to stem this tide? What measures are being put in place to discourage emigration?
Only wishful thinking can guarantee an imaginary future of greatness for a continent where the right things are left undone and the best outcomes are being anticipated. Africa is ripe for participatory governments in all the countries. It is time the wars and hostilities ceased. Natural and human endowments within the continent, properly utilised, will make Africa the envy of the world. Leaders should get to work and tap into these. As African leaders promote African Continental Free Trade Area, they need to realise that this idea will not be implemented in the imaginary world, nor will it exist in a vacuum. Every necessary bureaucratic, administrative, governmental, intellectual and diplomatic structures that need to be in place to ensure its success must create room for good governance, transparency, futuristic thinking, cooperation, innovativeness, inclusiveness and pluralistic systems.
Africa can be truly great if the right pegs are fixed in the right holes and the leadership of each country operates under – not above – the law, working only for – and not against – the good of the people.
We can have an Africa of our dream if the leaders would allow other leaders to emerge to succeed them, and if they would allow them to flourish and do even better than they are presently doing. But one thing that cannot be denied now is that the changes taking place now are so rapid, so different, so strong and so widespread in reach and influence that only the blind and deaf leaders would still hope to stand in the way, holding on to status quo. The best expected of African leaders is to be part of the positive changes today for a better tomorrow.