By Nadia Ahmadou, MA African Studies at University of Basel
Tunisia surprised the continent and the world, by shaking up its current political spectrum through a wave of civilian disobedience and unrest. This movement is born from a host of socio-political and economic factors that plague the majority of the African nations, ranging from poor health, education, unemployment to limited access to political and economic prosperous ventures. This movement shortly thereafter produced significant results as it led to the departure of the president and a new government being set up. In addition, the mandate of this new government has been widened to include the development of hitherto poor regions of the country that suffered most from the lack of dedication of their political leaders. The movement didn’t stop there, but also influenced the birth of a similar movement in neighboring Egypt, suffering a similar predicament and clamoring high for positive change. The political movements in Egypt have been able to put to use the activities of the ordinary citizen, to what we hope will benefit them all.
As we recognize and applaud the courage of Tunisian citizens in addressing their problems directly and also for the positive influence they have had in nearby Egypt, it is important to recognize that sub-Saharan Africa suffers from the same malaises of poverty and insecurity. Are there any lessons that sub-Saharan Africa can garner from the actions of our brothers and sisters of the Maghreb to assist us equally? Of course one must always acknowledge context and I am in no way calling for revolutions to spring up across the continent. God knows, we have enough conflicts to deal with as is; one only has to look at recent happenings in Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and Sudan as testament. However, the hope and passion witnessed in Tunisia and Egypt must not go to waste as time goes by and other current events replace them in the headlines. It is important to examine this question so that it does not take 30 years or 21 years as in the case of Egypt and Tunisia respectively for the people of sub-Saharan African to air out their grievances. Indeed, as Africa looks to 18 presidential elections this year, Egypt included what should African people maximize their roles in the democratic exercise?
This should be a reminder to us all that real power lies within the ordinary citizen. It is the ordinary person who votes, the ordinary person who has rights, the ordinary person who has duties. Independence and the advent of democracy has clouded this and most people have forgotten that it is not the elite who own and control the rest, but rather the elite who should support and assist the rest. If those at the top who we trust to make our lives better are not doing so, then they should be replaced by people who will deliver. This replacement should not be dependent on the whims of the profiteering elite, but simply on the ordinary person who deserves adequate access to food, healthcare, education and economic opportunities. This is a key lesson for what sets to be the new nation of Southern Sudan. The citizens of this nation who decisively declared this historic division of Africa’s biggest nation need to hold these principles about leadership and democratic participation as the holy ground to which their new state shall exist. Citizens of Southern Sudan now have the opportunity to be part and parcel of the establishment and entrenchment of democratic institutions within their countries. Following the Tunisian example, they should actively participate in all levels of the process to ensure that their needs and rights are met every single step of the way. This would go a long way to prevent a descent into the civil conflicts we are currently witnessing. It would also allow for the development of a new leadership in Africa, leadership that is accountable from the onset and stays so based on guidance from those it is at the service of. On the other hand, Nigeria one of Africa’s powerhouses needs to look closer at how fast a powerhouse can fall as few of us believed that Egypt, the second biggest economy in Africa, could be today at its knees because the people are tired of a power that only serves the elites as the patronage of Mubarak exhibits. If anything, the downfall of neighboring Ivory Coast, once economic powerhouse for the continent is an additional example of how disenchantment can plunge a country into civil war. As always, the example is clear, one must prevent the worst case scenario by putting into place the right mechanisms to ensure a protection of basic citizen rights. Prevention is always better than cure.
Thomas Sankara taught us “…we could dare to have confidence in ourselves, confidence in our abilities. He instilled in us the conviction that struggle is our only recourse. He was a citizen of the free world that together we are in the process of building.” (Thomas Sankara, October 1984) As we cheer on our brothers and sisters of the Maghreb, and watch the mess being made by our very own political elite with the unfolding of recent events , it would do us good to remember this and attempt to harness this power for the better. The era of the revolutionary has not come to an end just yet.