LEX Files, Series

LEX Files: When they are Presidents, they think they are Kings

By Adebayo Okeowo, Nigeria:

It all started with the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia. On December 17th, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi – a street vendor – set himself on fire outside the governor's office in a Tunisian town Sidi Bouzid in order to protest the inhumane treatment he suffered in the hands of Tunisian government officials. In a most unprecedented fashion, Mohamed's action became the catalyst for a public outrage executed on the wheels of protests and demonstrations which eventually culminated in the stepping down of President Ben Ali from power after a 23 year rule. The Tunisian revolution is what inspired similar protests and revolutions amongst Arab nations and became what we now refer to as the Arab Spring.

But have you ever thought to yourself why the Arab spring didn't translate to a sub-Saharan spring? Are we saying it's only our North African brothers (for example Tunisia and Egypt) that have been burdened with bad governments? It is quite curious that all the uprisings did not cross over into sub Saharan Africa where there are still long standing dictators in power – the likes of Jose Eduardo dos Santos of Angola (35 years), Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe (26. years), Paul Biya of Cameroon (31years), Yoweri Museveni of Uganda (28 years) etcetera. Ironically, these countries claim to operate democracies and yet the leaders have perpetuated themselves in office as though they were monarchs! Need we remind them that Presidents don't do the from-generation-to-generation kind of rule?! That's the 'honour' of kings and queens.

Critically assessing the situation, maybe the reason why sub-Saharan Africa hasn't witnessed a shift in governments is because of the multi-ethnicity and religious pluralism of the States within this geographic belt. As a result, it may be difficult to orchestrate a typical Tahrir Square show down. It is very hard to get different religions and cultures to agree to fight for a cause. There will either be a disagreement as to approach, method or even necessity.

Secondly, the predominance of democracy within the Sub Saharan Africa region almost makes the populace not see a need to protest and seek to topple their governments. They go to the polls to cast their votes at certain intervals and even if the incumbent is returned to office, there is the expectation that a few things will still change, even though the expectations have been consistently shattered.

Furthermore, some have adduced other reasons for why uprisings have been slow in coming to Sub Saharan Africa. A good example is the technological advancement for which Sub Saharan Africa is still behind in comparison with North Africa. For instance, the rate of internet use in Tunisia is 34 percent, compared to 6 percent in Gabon and 10 percent in Uganda. These days, a lot of rallying and coordination is done using social networks such as twitter and facebook, so when the vast majority of a country's population hardly has access to the internet, it becomes difficult to organize a massive protest.

So am I calling for a sub-Saharan spring? No I am not! But I am calling for good governance! Africa needs it and Africans definitely deserve it! I won't opt for an uprising because it has the tendency of generating diverse human rights violations. The Arab spring for instance resulted in grave human rights violations as seen in the series of arbitrary arrests, unlawful detentions, torture, extra-judicial killings, and forced disappearances. Unfortunately, these violations were perpetrated not just by the government but also by the opposition and those who support them. Civilians have lost their lives, there have been heavy scale looting, as well as a mass exodus from the troubled spots thereby increasing the levels of refugee situation with its attendant problems too. Change will always have its cost but one wonders if it must be this high and intense.

Every part of the world may eventually witness its share of the Arab Spring. We have already seen it happening in the United Kingdom with the looting and street riots. One thing is undisputable however; the Arab uprisings have left an indelible mark not just on the sands of the Sahara, but all over the African continent and they are bound to shape Africa's politics in the years to come. What we know today as the Arab Spring, may someday become what we shall call the “African Renaissance” for no matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow.

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