Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Will these Revolutions Lead to Democracy?

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.

17 comments:

  1. You always have ways of writing your essays as you bring some of the most salient points to the table. But do think Gadaffi would actually step down?

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  2. @Geosi, CNN reported last two days that he is cutting a deal. Yesterday, I heard he's not leaving. Now US and Europe would not step in. Why? The protesters are now labelled as rebels. Once they have become rebels, it would be difficult for the world to be seen openly supporting rebels. The problem with these protests is that they took arms with them and decided to fight the government, unlike in Egypt. Had they been more peaceful, they would have succeeded as no government would be supported for killing innocent and unarmed peaceful protesters.

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  3. Great post and some really important questions that need to be asked. It is easy for those who led a revolution to simply assume power themselves, or some rich family or group with power to do so. We can hope and I do hope that the people get their voices heard in their new governments, but it seems there has to be a better way!

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  4. Here is hoping that it is The People that are toppling the autocracies.

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  5. @GHS... that's all we can do, because we aren't sure. We can be somehow sure in Egypt and Tunisia, but Libya, where the people want to create Emirates? I doubt? Yet, if you make yourself 'god' this what you get.

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  6. Revolutions are good but all we hope is to see the countries concerned get better and take a new start that will lead them to prosperity. Let these revolutions not hide the evil intentions of strong lobbies with sole interest to put in power those they can easily manipulate and thus control countries.

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    1. Once there is a revolution, the revolutionaries must have in place a government in waiting. If not the lobbyists and opportunists will take over; or even the same gov't they're fighting against will morph itself into another form and take over, changing nothing.

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  7. Sylvain Tankagou1 February 2013 at 08:18

    The wish of all countries in chaos is to see better days after the revolutions

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    1. Yes, that's the wish... the reality is that these revolutions hardly change a thing, because it's the same people who get into the positions because usually the revolutionaries don't prepare themselves to rule. Even in countries where they do, they soon become the people they fought.

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  8. The question I ask myself is who actually leads these revolutions? Who is really behind them? Who are the real instigators and what is their interest? Is Iraq better now than before? Is Libya better after Gaddafi’s de death?

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    1. Exactly. I ask the same. Has Iraq been ridden of terror or have the terrorists taken over; however, we can say that Iraq was not a consequence of revolution, or better still an internal insurrection. It was heaved upon them by the Americans.

      However, we can ask if Egypt is better off now or that Libya is better off. Again, we can ask who really are behind these revolutions. Who gave the Libyans the guns? Were they peaceful protesters... Who is sponsoring the insurrection in Syria... what are the forces behind them? And assuming that Assad goes will he be replaced by a puppet or a hardliner? Sad.

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  9. Domtcheu Christian1 February 2013 at 08:59

    There is no assurance that those who come after the decried leaders will do better. Africa still has a long way to go in the maturation of her democracy.

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    1. There is really no guarantee. Examples abound. Mobutu took over from Lumumba... or better still America imposed Mobutu on DR Congo after they killed Lumumba.

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  10. The wind of revolutions blew accross some African and Arab countries but some left a devastating effect. Egypt today is nowhere to be found.

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    1. Egypt is a classic case. They can still fight on and demonstrate. If they want change, they should get involved in governance, that's where really change comes from.

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  11. Revolutions have left several countries in desolation. Several vountries have not regained stability like Egypt and the question is to know what the objective of these revolutions was.

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