In the lists of the world’s 20 longest-serving leaders who are still in power, Africa has 10. (Robert Mugabe – Zimbabwe 34 years, Paul Biya – Cameroon 32 years, Yoweri Museveni – Uganda 28 years, Omar al-Bashir – Sudan 25 years, Idriss Déby – Chad 23 years, Isaias Afwerki – Eritrea 23 years, Yahya Jammeh – The Gambia 20 years, Denis Sassou Nguesso – Republic of Congo 17 years Masie Nguema Biyongo Ndong- Equatorial Guinea since 1982 and finally President Dos Santos- Angola since 1979.) Power is addictive. The fear of losing power has prompted many of these leaders to surround themselves with morally bankrupt elites. While those close to the presidency enjoy tremendous economic benefits, the masses live in impoverished conditions. Poverty and unemployment increase exponentially while the political élite grows wealthy and coercive.
It is not a surprise that the “Lwili Revolution” (named after a bird native to the region) in Burkina Faso that has led to the removal of Blaise Compaore after 27 years of tenure has become a source of optimism in many of these countries. Since the death of Thomas Sankara, known as ‘the Upright Man’, neo-colonialists and defeatists controlled Burkina headed by Blaise Compaore. Since his overthrow, other African states where dictators have obliterated the opposition and amassed fortunes while crushing human rights and press freedoms are closely monitoring the situation. Many pundits have suggested the potential spillover effect of the Lwili revolution in Sub-Sahara Africa. All over the news and social media sites, terms like “sub-Saharan Spring,” “Burkinabe Spring,” and “Black Spring” are debated and promoted. In the midst of this ongoing discussion about the potential domino effect of the Lwili Revolution in the continent, one important yet fundamental question remains unanswered: Will a potential spillover of the Lwili Revolution in Sub-Sahara really lead to progress?
Enough is enough
Back in 2011, the rising unemployment and the ever-ending political stagnation in the Middle East led to a series of popular uprisings known as the Arab Spring. The desire for greater autonomy and better economics and social conditions steered many to fight against the old systems. Hundreds of thousands of people died. Moral and political victories gained. However, more than three years later, it is obvious that popular drive did not necessarily lead to the collapse of the old system or to social and economic progress.
In Egypt, President Mubarak was overthrown but the country is still under military control again. In Libya, the removal of Gaddafi has only given sectarians and fundamentalists a way to promote their dumbfounded ideologies. In Syria, a bloody civil war is raging and Bashir Assad is still in power while the country is slowly disintegrating and fundamentalist groups are rising. In Jordan and Lebanon, changes occurred but the same regime remains in power. In Tunisia, the old regime figures have come back to power. And finally, sectarianism has destroyed Iraq.
More than three years after the Arab Spring, not a single country is yet plainly on course to become a stable, peaceful democracy. It is not a surprise that many pundits have suggested that there was no Arab spring or it has turned into a nightmare. This stance is a disservice and insult to the millions of people who died during the popular uprising. As stated by Mustapha Nabli, a former governor of the Central Bank of Tunisia, “thanks to the mass protests that took place in many countries, there is now a credible threat of future uprisings against corrupt and incompetent governments and in many Arab countries, a long-overdue debate between secularists and Islamists is taking place.” In Saudi Arabia, a bit of progress has been made in the area of gender equality. Finally, Arab monarchies, such as in Morocco, Jordan and Kuwait, are moving towards constitutional systems that give their subjects a bigger voice.
The never-ending journey toward development is long and messy. The Arab Spring is a reminder that a revolution is only the beginning. It can lead to economic or social development or simply to political chaos and sectarianism. But, more often than not, a revolution is a necessity to combat the status quo in those despotic regimes dominated by political stagnation and economic regression. The potential spillover or contagion of the Lwili revolution in Sub-Sahara Africa is highly unlikely, but probable. However, it would be naïve to ignore the realities on the ground. The problem in the Middle East or Sub-Sahara Africa is a systemic problem. It is a system that is based on the exploitation of ordinary folks while morally bankrupt leaders and elites sit idle or compliant. In Burkina, Blaise Compaore was the strongman of the system but he did not last nearly three decades simply by satisfying himself or his family. He was also the face of a system that has benefited a small minority of the population that will be unwilling to give-up their current position of power. In reality, a revolution only changes the face of the system. Hence, a revolution is not going to solve the current problems in those strongman countries. Additionally, we should not forget as seen in Tunisia that politicians never leave politics. They always find a way to get back to power.
Burkinabe won a battle with the resignation of a Blaise Compaore, but the war is far from over. Being naïve and getting complacent by believing that the popular uprising or free will lead to progress will be a disservice to the thousands who died for a better life. As stated by Leela Jacinto, “if the opposition does not get its act together soon, the military will feel compelled to fill the power vacuüm created by Compaoré’s exit. And that would be a colossal waste of the extraordinary mobilization of this sub-Saharan African nation that rose up to proclaim, enough is enough.” In too many of these strongman countries or even Sub-Sahara Africa in general, there is a complete lack of accountability and the rule of law and democratic institutions are nonexistent. These factors only makes the journey toward progress much more intricate and complex. A simple revolution will not remedy the current systemic problem faced by these countries. The journey toward progress will require focus, perseverance, faith, the awakening and self-reliance of the masses…