Africa’s news of the week has been the sudden vanishing of Tunisia’s long serving autocrat, the mighty Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. President Ben Ali who had been Tunisia’s Strong man since Nov.7th 1987 threw in the towel and fled into exile after failing to satisfy the political aspirations of his people.
Prior to ascending to the Presidency on Nov. 7th 1987 through what in popularly referred to in Tunis as the ‘Palace Coup’, Ben Ali had served as Prime Minister and in senior government positions including the army. He was sworn in after doctors declared President Habib Bourguiba unfit to govern because of senility.
Though for the past 23 years, Ben Ali’s leadership has been characterized by an authoritarian arm and a high appetite for tax payer’s money, it has equally scored well in the area of education and general economic transformation.
But leaving his legacy aside, I want to particularly hail this North African strong-man for being a true gentleman! And he deserves accolades.
Otherwise which other Africa President would simply run to the bank vaults, withdraw his Gold, relinquish power and simply run into exile at the mere sight of a batch of youthful chaps demonstrating over bread and butter?
What we are used to in Africa and generally in the developing world is that such a threat to power would be crushed like a bug. The madness in reaction would go to the extent that no individual is left to tell the story.
In such circumstances, the army will parade its arsenal and embark on a killing rampage. Bare chest and machete wielding militiamen allied to the ruling party or President will man roadblocks and commit all sorts of human rights violations. If the uprising is in a particular region, that entire region will be torched or wiped out. If it’s a particular tribe, even the baby born that day will not be spared.
The constitution will be suspended and the sitting President will declare a state of emergency, doing whatever pleases himself. The death toll will be huge and at the end of it all, the incumbent will remain in power under the guise of promising more democratic reforms or power sharing.
This is why I salute Tunisia’s defunct strongman. He used all his senses and made a right judgment after clearly accepting that the revolution was inevitable. He chose to be saved by his two pairs of legs instead of coiling in a cave and probably suffer the humiliation of being smoked out like his late cousin across the sea.
This definately does not make him a coward. He’s a true patriot who has saved his nation from a political abyss. We can only hope that while in Saudi Arabia, Ben Ali will keep his head low and accept that the 23 years he served his people are well over.
His flight again reminded me of a chat I had recently with a senior Army officer. This decorated officer was giving me a few tips on the doctrines that define the army. The striking one, was that a decorated General never flees his nation. When it gets to the General’s senses that his contribution is becoming insignificant, he simply salutes his Commander-in-Chief and begs to be retired.
In other words, it’s more less a curse in the Army, for a General to run into exile and survive at the mercy of hand-outs from UNHCR or worse still, to stoop so low and engage in cheap discourse. But did Ben Ali have an option? The only option was to salute himself and honorably take a French leave. The best he can do now is to forever shut-up!
Passions unleashed by the revolution continued to resonate across the region and North Africa’s Big Men, locked in governance chokeholds must be shivering in their robes or rather feeling the heat!
This week alone, an Egyptian, a Mauritanian and an Algerian burnt themselves seemingly under circumstances inspired by events in Tunisia.
What happens next is that these old Big Men that have sucked all the political oxygen of their people might be thinking otherwise. For them to survive, they must re-visit their policies.
With Tunisia, the message has been sent across. That leadership should not take people for granted. There’s always a limit. Deliver on their expectations or face their wrath.
Is this something that can spread across the continent? Biensur! Rwandans should be proud that their leadership is forward looking.