Friday, 27 January 2012

African Spring Not the Best Way Forward

Picture Credit: Project Syndicate
The Arab Spring: pro-democracy uprisings currently sweeping the Middle East and North Africa. 
This wave of "revolutions" was said to be sparked by the self-immolation of now famed Mohammed Bouazizi,  who was crashed by the seizure of his fruit cart and ill-treatment by a municipal official in his native Sidi Bouzid, after his computer science degree could not bring his many dreams to life in Tunisia. According to experts, his sad story angered many, fuelling protests on the streets of Sidi Bouzid, Tunis and elsewhere in the North African country. Almost suddenly, Tunisians' eyes were opened to the prevailing ambiance of corruption, social stagnation and dictatorship, which pushed Mohammed to end his young life. The protests boiled on and persisted, against hardline measures by security officials, until the erstwhile president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, a man who has been at the summit of power for 23 years, stepped down. The heroics of the Tunisian people were told, replayed and propagated by the powerful Western media, Al-Jazeera and social media. Soon citizens of countries in the region: Egypt, Libya, Jordan, Syria, Morrocco, among others started their own protests, giving birth to what academics and journalists called the Arab Spring.
Granted that conditions similar to what precipitated the Arab spring persist in Africa, south of the Sahara, the question has been posed by the BBC in its Africa Debate "is an African spring necessary?" Is an "African spring" looming on the 2012 horizon?
My honest answer is no. The violence, deaths and destructions resulting from protests are not what Africa needs at this moment. In fact, Africa has had its fair share of coups and realignments in its social order, some of which it has not recovered from yet. Malawian academic Jimmy Kainja expresses this thought better:

African Spring in the exact fashion of the Arab Spring would signify a step backwards - not a step forward.
In fact, it would make a mockery of all that the majority of African countries achieved in the late 1980s and the early 1990s - when they did away with dictators and presidents-for-life in favour of multiparty democracies.
It is commonly held that "a problem, once identified is half solved." What needs to be done in Africa is refinement of our democratic systems so as to get them to work in the way we want. In many African countries, government goes and government comes, but still the people see no change. Protests and wars, resulting in deaths, injuries and destruction of valuable national assets will not bring immediate solutions to our socio-economic problems. I don't see the change whatever government any uprising raises will bring. However, if we continue setting up governance structures, going after corrupt officials, voting out incompetent governments, cutting down on discrimination in its many forms, building patriotic consciousness and collaborating meaningfully with the larger world, we stand a better chance at progress.

And while angry citizens are calming down, looking for alternate paths towards socio-economic development and fulfillment, those in authority should be reminded that whatever offices they occupy should be in the service of the people. It will take only time for pent-up feelings and frustrations of deprived souls to reach that critical mass to explode Arab spring style. Institutional renewal should be catalysed immediately through governance reforms that would bring efficiency and results to the people. 

Youth development, starting with our educational systems, should be at the centre of any strategy to pave the way forward. The youth themselves are taking many initiatives to bring change to their communities and beyond. Their efforts must be supported through the creation of jobs, scholarship opportunities, skills training, funding among others. The youth are our future, they hold the key to the Africa we want to see. The blood of the likes of Mohammed should not be on our heads.

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