One cannot help but admire the courage of the youth and the disaffected in the Arab world. First Tunisia succumbed to the demands of its people and now Egypt is in the grip of revolutionary fever too. Popular protest was also recorded in Algeria, Jordan, Lebanon and Yemen.
The region comprising of North Africa and the Middle East, often referred to as the ‘Arab’ world, has for years been collectively referred to as the most undemocratic on Earth. Now that’s saying a lot especially when one considers the several sham democracies in Sub-Saharan Africa.
A combination of rising food prices, a huge underemployed/unemployed youth [the regional median age averages at about 25 years], autocratic rule and frustration with widespread corruption has come together to drive the people onto the street and aggressively demand for change in an Arabian version of the “Autumn of Nations” of 1989. The television images of protestors taking on riot vans in Cairo have been as riveting as they have been surprising. Who would have guessed that the ordinary people of Egypt would be taking on the formidable machinery of state of the Arab world’s most populous nation a few months after the ruling party had staged a flawed election to perfection? Anything seems to be possible after all.
With the exception of Yemen, the regimes in the protest convulsed countries are not the worst of the Arab world’s crop, as they were fairly prosperous nations with moderate governments that had the stated intention of modernity eschewing the appeal of creating hard-line theocracy. It would be interesting to find out what is going through the minds of the rulers in North Africa and the Middle East. Do they feel vindicated for keeping a tight rein on their people or are they going sick with worry as to the reaction of their people? My feeling is that we shall soon find out.
Further south, African nations were taking advantage of popular protest in Tunisia and Egypt. No one has benefitted from the spotlight of international attention being focused elsewhere than a certain Mr. Laurent Gbagbo. He looks ever more confident in clinging onto power now that the pressure on him is easing a little, now that the threat of military intervention is fading and some African leaders are urging a compromise. The continent’s response to the blatant refusal to heed to the will of the people as expressed by the ballot should be unequivocal, notwithstanding the situation in North Africa.
Election results will be respected and no one who usurps power will be recognised. Without a firm voice on this, the progress of democratisation will be slowed all over Africa as undemocratic and powerful leaders will only have to outwait the cries of protest of their people, their victorious opponents and the outraged representatives of fellow African nations.