Revolutions are inevitable; moreso when the ruled feel that the rulers are appropriating to themselves and their cronies the resources meant for the nation. There is no way one can subjugate a group of people forever. It is as impossible as squeezing water from stones. A proverb in my local language translates as if you submerge a frog in water for long, it would definitely croak. Consequently, the croaking of a large portion of people have been heard across North Africa and the Middle East. A unique feature of these affected governments is the number of years they people have ruled. A cursory glance at Africa's Top 10 Long-Serving Head of States, which I compiled in 2009 shows that all the 'croaking' countries in Africa - Tunisia, Egypt, Libya - are on this list and the average number of years they have ruled is 32 years.
Ever since Tunisia erupted in demonstrations, which led to the flight of Ben Ali, the flame has raged across autocratic states, lighting one country after the other. Following the heels of Ben Ali was Hosni Mubarak, whose tight fist was unwound from power by the persistent protesters finger by finger, finally falling on February 11. Now, we are hearing of Libya's Muammar Al-Qaddafi's impending exit, after almost 42 years in power. Whether this is true or false, his hold on power is loosening and he might be on his way out pretty soon. Africa is thus toppling all of its autocracies through demonstrations from the grassroots; though some countries have not yet been affected like Cameroon where Paul Biya (27 years in power) still hangs on, Zimbabwe where Robert Mugabe (31 years) is taking preemptive measures, Museveni (25 years) who has won another five-year term and from all indications would rule for a long time (since the opposition are not ready to join forces to oust him), Teodoro Obiang Nguema (32years in August) of Equatorial Guinea, dos Santos of Angola (32 years in September) and others.
While the toppling of autocracies is a sign that the people are fed-up with their governments and would want to live in a freer society where resources are equitably distributed and rights fairly expressed, it would be better if we do not take these quests as constants in the outcomes but to question their attainment. Tunisia erupted not because Ben Ali had been in power for long but because of the rising prices of food, increase in inflation and unemployment and wikileaks. Egypt flared up because the citizenry were fed-up with a police-state. They needed a change in constitution and a change in government. Libya? Basically, the man whose name is spelt in a thousand different way must leave: so the people engaged in armed battle with the government and their aim is on the verge of being achieved.
But has revolutions always led to democratic dispensations? Or any other dispensation for that matter for which the people fought and died? Has it always bettered their lives? One can easily quote the Iranian revolution that ousted the Shahs and brought in the current form of governance under the Ayatollahs, which is today being fought again by the people. Another example is the red-shirts and yellow shirts of Thailand, where red shirts would demonstrate and bring down a yellow-shirt government and yellow shirts would do same if it is in opposition.
In Africa, one can easily cite Yoweri Museveni who is alleged to have said he respects not presidents who rule for more than ten years. After toppling Basilio Okello, who himself had toppled Milton Obote six months earlier, Museveni in 1986 he put a restriction on all political activities which was only recently lifted after 19 years and not without controversy. He also worked through his 'allies' to change the constitution that restricted him to two terms. Museveni is currently in his fourth term as president.
Many opposition political parties are headed by autocrats whose sights rest not on the suffering populace for whom they pretend to represent but on how to wrench power from the current rulers and make a dynasty out of it. Thus, though currently we may be happy these demonstrations and on-going topplings, let's not be over-enthusiastic for they are creating spaces for the autocrats-in-waiting, those who are envious of the way these people are amassing wealth. The likes of Dennis Sassou Nguesso of Congo (Brazzaville) who was president for 12 years, from 1979 to 1992. Defeated in 1992, he fought the president for five years until he ousted him in 1997 and has been president ever since.In this article in 2009 I made mention of this gradual dynasty-sation of Africa's autocracies.
Yet, there are always positives to every event. Some revolutions have led to deep constitutional changes that has benefitted the masses like the Ukraine's Orange Revolution. Yet, which group are likely to replace Qaddafi if he leaves? Is it a democratic one? A religious group? A dynastic family? or what? Currently, all is quiet in Tunisia, but have things returned to normalcy? We would have to explore these and debate amongst ourselves and be vigilant so that those whose blood were shed would not die in vain.