DESPOTS ARE FALLING LIKE DOMINOES
Arusha, 24 February 2018 (EANA) – An African Spring of sorts has been happening, raising hopes across the continent that it is about to shed off the era of dictators, hopefully for good this time round.
First it was Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, who was eased out by the military in a bloodless coup that saw former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa installed as the new president. Then it was the turn of South African President Jacob Zuma, where the ruling party – the African National Congress – asked him to resign or face a motion of no-confidence in parliament. As expected, Zuma had little choice but to relinquish his position, leaving his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa to take power.
Closer home, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn resigned amid rising dissent and street protests in the capital Addis Ababa. Ethiopia borders Kenya to the north, which has faced protests over electoral fraud since last August. United States intelligence is said to have named both Kenya and Ethiopia as countries likely to face tough political challenges.
Whether that actually happens in Kenya – and whether the political fever spreads to other countries in the region – only time will tell. What is not in doubt is that there is great disaffection with the ruling cliques in many African countries; given the opportunity and proper organisation, millions of citizens across the continent will only be too glad to send their despots packing.
Plus, it won’t be the first time that this is actually happening. The first wind of change in Africa blew soon after the Cold War ended. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, reunification of Germany, and the collapse of the Soviet Union and countries such as Yugoslavia, Africa was also affected. With the United States no longer threatened by a mortal enemy on the world stage, there was little inclination to support dictators who had stood with it during the Cold War years.
As a result, agitation for multiparty democracy that had gained momentum in the 1980s finally yielded fruit. Single party regimes were forced to allow competition for power. Even though this did not sometimes result in the immediate fall of those regimes - as was the case in Kenya – the possibility for political change existed. In Kenya, for instance, this finally took place in 2002, when the opposition united to front Mwai Kibaki as its joint candidate.
In South Africa, Nelson Mandela was released from prison, with talks finally leading to the end of the apartheid regime and the country’s first multiparty elections in 1994, which the African National Congress easily won. Meanwhile, Namibia also gained its independence. It is unimaginable that such progress would have been made in the Cold War years, when the South African regime acted as a bulwark for the West against the spread of Communist influence in Southern Africa.
In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni had fought his way to power in 1986 after the years of instability that followed the toppling of President Milton Obote in 1971 and the Tanzanian invasion that eventually toppled the dictator Idi Amin Dada.
And as Uganda settled down, Rwanda exploded. The Rwanda Genocide of 1994, in which up to a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered, remains one of the greatest stains on the conscience of mankind in recent times. Fortunately, the fighters of the Rwanda Patriotic Front led by Paul Kagame quickly moved in and marched all the way to the capital.
But that wind of change in the late 1980s and early 1990s did not go far enough. It did not result in much by way of establishing lasting structures of good governance and democratic change. Neither did it address the issues of inequality in land distribution that have all along haunted African governments since independence, with Western countries keen on supporting regimes that will maintain the status quo and allow a tiny cabal of whites to maintain their privileged status in post-independent Africa.
The new wind of liberation threatens to upset this status quo. The population in many African countries has grown exponentially, the people are better educated, and communication is easier. It will be more difficult in the current circumstances to hold millions of people shackled to past circumstances. It will be unjustifiable to have a few people owning hundreds of thousands of acres of land apiece as the bulk of the people languish in slums. Inequality is quietly breeding a challenging spirit across the continent.