ONUMBA.COM – When on December 17 in Tunisia, Mohamed Bouazizi decided he’s had enough of his economic despair, he did the unthinkable by setting himself on fire. That was his masochist response to what he decried as the unwarranted confiscation of his ‘vegetable cart’ by corrupt police officers.
Sadly, Bouazizi died a few days later.
But that little flame he lit quickly fanned into a seismic inferno that’s still smoldering, devouring a pair of tyrannical leaders, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali who ruled Tunisia for 23 years, Hosni Mubarak who was ‘Egypt’s modern Pharoah’ for nearly 30 years, and now taking aim at Libyan Leader Moummar Gaddafi who after a mind-boggling 42 years ruling his fiefdom is clinging on to power against a tide of mutinous protest determined to take him down. The Tunisian flame has touched off a tidal wave of popular uprising across North Africa and the Middle-East, targeting regimes that for the most part were totally caught flat-footed by the explosive pro-democracy street fury that’s still raging.
The ongoing onslaught on tyranny and corruption is playing out only in the Arab world – for now. But the rest of Africa is probably keenly watching, and perhaps taking notes.
Could this happen in the sub-Saharan region of Africa?
Could this epic inferno spread south to engulf that region, which is a seething gehenna where the restless masses could be quietly swooning for a similar uprising to erupt and flush out a pack of truculent, corrupt and crummy regimes similarly presiding over squalid economic and glum social conditions that have deteriorated to apocalyptic heights.
Obviously, anything is possible. But Ohio State University Professor of African-American and African studies Dr. Kelechi Kalu, who is originally from Nigeria, said it won’t happen in the sub-Saharan region of Africa, in an exclusive interview with the Call & Post last week.
Because Arab countries are fundamentally different, he said.
Though Kalu conceded there are lessons to be learned from the metastasizing revolution in North Africa and in the Arab world, they are “very limited for the entire continent. If there are lessons, they are largely regional.”
“What makes Egypt and other Arab countries different,” explained Kalu, “is they speak the same language, they are unified by one religion, and they have a long history of nation building.”
“Not in sub-Saharan Africa,” he argued. He noted that it is a region where “almost all the countries have multiple ethnic groups and religions, with the exception of Botswana and Lesotho,” and nearly all of them are mired in colic and deepening economic morose.
Then there’s the critical matter of whether the sub-Saharan region of Africa, where he noted “poverty level is atrocious,” is really equipped with the kind of infrastructure required to mobilize and sustain a similar mass revolt.
“You don’t have the platform for galvanizing ideas in many sub-Saharan African countries as you have in Egypt,” certainly not developed enough to “challenge autocracy.” He cited the crumbling educational system in many of these countries as a major shortcoming.
Part of the needed infrastructure, noted Kalu, is the “information technology” which he called “the greatest revolution” – “a borderless infrastructure where kids in Ohio would hold meetings with kids in other countries.”
Kalu attributed the success of the Arab uprising largely to the “information technology” revolution, and wondered if sub-Saharan region of Africa is capable of unleashing all of the advantages of that phenomenon to similarly bring down autocratic and stubbornly corrupt regimes.
But aside from these reasons, Kalu also saw the revolution in the Arab world as a “continuation of the coming down of the Berlin Wall,” which he noted would not have happened during the ‘Cold War’ largely because the United States propped up and counted on some of these regimes, despite their brutal nature and tyrannical leaders, to maintain its strategic interest in the Middle-East.
Since the coming down of the “Berlin Wall,” the U.S. foreign policy has focused more on pitching the values of democracy around the world.
In general, the collapse of Mubarak was probably a collateral casualty of that, but his final doom, though, noted Kalu, was fueled by a blend of a more recent, potent pitch for democracy, helped immensely by access to all forms of communication technology, such as the internet, Facebook, cell phone and others.
Kalu gives a generous dose of the credit to former President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama for most of that, Bush for his “doctrine of Preemptive Strike and a dogged policy of exporting democracy around the world. And Obama, for the historic speech he delivered in Egypt titled “A New Beginning” on June 4, 2009, which focused on democracy and improving relationship with Arab and Islamic countries.
Kalu expressed the view that Bush and Obama laid out a “broad vision of Democracy for all,” by articulating a framework of governance that effectively countered the weight of terrorism in nations where leaders practically owned the state, amidst bone-crushing poverty he said created all kinds of incubators for Islamist fundamentalists.
Mgbatogu is a freelance writer and editor of Onumba.com based in Columbus. He can be reached by email at: Onumbamedia@yahoo.com
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