Africa 2011 – the people shall govern


The fact the birth of the Arab Spring Uprising was on the African continent is significant, not only because the cry for a better life has regrettably not produced the desired outcomes in the post-colonial era, but because it exposed a fundamental faultline in the construction and performance of the post-colonial dispensation.

It is therefore, fitting that I add my voice in this last article for 2011 to the extraordinary events that started unfolding from December 17 2010 when a young vendor named Mohammed Bouazizi in Tunisia came to the conclusion his life was less important than the change that needed to take place in his country so the dignity of citizens could be restored.

Although Tunisia and its fellow Arab states that have given in to the power of the masses are distant from the borders of many sub-saharan African states, we all know that the wind of change cannot be stopped at border posts that divide our states.

As we look back at the events of the last year, we are compelled to pause and reflect on how best our nation states can respond to the forces of history, faith, security and economics that have caused others to rise up to demand a better deal.

History has a tendency to repeat itself. In August 1953, Professor ZK Mathews at the annual congress of the African National Congress suggested the convening of a Congress of the People (COP) to draw what is now known as the Freedom Charter.

History will record that when a broad coalition of about 2 844 South Africans met on June 25 and 26 1955 in Kliptown, near Johannesburg, they resolved to link the new order with the will of the people in proclaiming that “South African belongs to all who live in it” and “no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of the people”.

From Sudan to South Sudan in 2011, the African post-colonial narrative has produced its own absurdities no different from the objective conditions obtaining in many Arab states.

The longing for freedom that spurred many Africans to be the authors of the kind of change that they wanted to see through struggles endures to this day.

Independence brought with it a promise that a better life was possible underpinned by freedom, justice and equality.

However, the experience of independence has failed to deliver the promise.

The story of the Arab Uprising and the ones that have followed in many nation states was as inevitable as it was predictable.

African states won their independence starting with Sudan in 1956, but the post-colonial experience has denied people the independence that they sought and deserved.

Instead of power being vested with the people, all too often power has been concentrated in the hands of few who believe democracy has the capacity to elevate them to some super beings possessed with superior wisdom and power of indispensability.

The office bearers of a people’s project, ie the state, in many African states believe that they alone have the obligation to preside over the affairs of the state.

In many African states, ordinary citizens have no access to state organs and more significantly their voices are crowded out by the voices of state actors who see in the media a convenient platform for propaganda.

Through the manipulation of the media, judiciary and the various organs of the state, including parliament, elections have been reduced to ritual events whose outcomes have little to do with the aspirations of the people.

The process of stealing power vested in the people is ordinarily legitimised through elections. What we do know from human experience is that no person is capable of ignoring his needs in preference for other people’s needs.

Even the head of state always pulls his/her wagon full of friendly and family passengers.

The promise of independence that citizens would be given an opportunity to make their lives what they will has been eroded by actions of the people who have seen in the state a convenient mechanism of enriching themselves.

Economic democracy has been an illusion in many developing states.

It not unusual for state actors in resource-endowed nations to play God in the allocation of resources to only those who can afford the tollgates fees.

Although it is common cause that no living human being has played a part in the creation of natural resources, pockets of prosperity that arise as a result of the abuse of state power are artificially generated in a manner that crowds out financially any contender for state office operating outside the four corners of the state.

History and contemporary experience has taught us that knowledge and innovation are more powerful instruments for wealth generation to suggest that development strategies primarily based on what God has created ie land and minerals are counter productive.

People cannot reach the potential that independence promised when there is no rule of law and more importantly when the rights of persons and their property are not respected.

We have seen many African leaders in the face of their nations failing to deliver the promise try to direct the grievances of the people elsewhere.

Imperialism, race and capitalism are often targeted as the source of poverty forgetting that many former colonies have risen up and are asserting their rightful places in the Commonwealth of Nations.