Opinion and Editorial

Welcome winds of change across the dark continent

Bashir Goth (Inside Africa)
Filed on April 28, 2008

FROM Darfur to Zimbabwe and from Somalia to the Great Lakes, there is a new wind of change blowing over Africa. Looking at the map of the continent, one may conclude that Africa is destined to bleed.

If not by foreign powers pillaging its wealth and robbing its future workforce, it is home grown tyrants that suck its blood and derive pleasure in teasing the hungry populace with the bare bones. If not by natural disasters, it is by inter-clan fratricides stoked by power thirsty sycophants and clans fighting over meagre resources.

Yes, it is a continent whose own leaders turn into its tormentors. Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe is one of a long line of African dictators who refused to leave power until they saw their countries turn to ashes. Among them were Siyad Barre of Somalia, Mubuto Sese Seko of Zaire, Idi Amin Dada of Uganda, and Jean-Bédel Bokassa of the Central African, Mengistu Haile Mariam of Ethiopia and others.

These dictators have been removed in violent revolutions. Not revolutions based on noble ideologies and mesmerising slogans, but revolutions built on years of hunger, dashed dreams, prolonged frustrations and people deprived of every shred of a decent life.

As soon as the euphoria of independence ended, the African masses realised how they traded a foreign occupier with a less urbane and more ruthless native occupier. But most of the continent’s people had to wait another generation to find the right atmosphere to stage another struggle of liberation; this time not against a white coloniser but a brutal local squatter cloaked in a hero’s uniform.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall, African dictators have lost their benefactors of the Cold War and the continent was destined for a new wind of change. Inspired by the people’s revolt against the communist tyrants in Eastern Europe and empowered by the freedom ushered in by globalisation and the Internet, the African people moved to reclaim their due rights for a decent living.

Like all dictators in history, it was only through force that African dictators who drew their staying power from the Cold War and ran their countries through repressive regimes based on a policy of divide and rule, favouritism and massive corruption could have been removed from power.

It is therefore by viewing through this perspective that one can realise that the present bloodsheds; chaos and genocidal civil wars taking place in Africa are nothing short of storming the many Bastilles of Africa at the dawn of an African revolution.

If it took Europe almost a millennium to emerge from the dark ages to the age of enlightenment and go through a number of other revolutions and devastating world wars to build a society based on freedom, democracy and economic prosperity, Africa may be doing a fair effort to come to terms with its reality in less than fifty years of its independence.

The world needs to remember that what Zimbabweans face today is no less than what the Iraqis faced under Saddam Hussein or the Romanians experienced under Ceausescu.

Although the extent of suffering and devastation on the ground may dampen any argument for seeing positive signs in the continent’s turmoil, the acute reader of history may however conclude Africa’s bread and butter revolutions bear the hallmarks of many similar popular uprisings that took place in many parts of the world.

The fact that we can see today more African countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Senegal, Tanzania, South Africa, Namibia, Kenya and even unrecognised Somaliland adhering to democratic principles and striving to achieve political stability, multiparty system and economic growth, may be a guide for the political maturity of the African people.

Having said that we should keep in mind that with its ethnic diversity and bitter clan rivalry over meager resources accentuated by political opportunism, over population and a grinding poverty; the new generation of African leaders may not be able to maintain the momentum without a Marshall plan from the developed world. It is only through a massive investment in the growing democracies in Africa that the world can afford to prevent future ethnic cleansing and failed states. It is not only enough that the West sheds crocodile tears over Darfur, while allowing another mini African democratic revolution in Zimbabwe to be stillborn.

Robert Mugabe may not be the last African dictator to face the new African wind of change as there are other autocratic icons who stand in queue for the people’s judgment; but he would definitely leave another African tragedy if there is no resolute international will and support for that African country’s desire for democratic change and future prosperity.

Bashir Goth is a writer based in Abu Dhabi

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