The year 2011 will go down in history as a year when the North Africans emphatically said ‘enough is enough’ to a crop of long-serving leaders who had mastered the art of deception and instilling fear, both at home and beyond, to cling to power despite documented excesses.
Perhaps seeing no hope of ever successfully using elections to bring about democratic and people-centred leadership, ordinary Africans have refused to despair, risking their own lives by daring to rise against decades-old authoritarian regimes. Through popular uprisings and, in some cases, armed revolts, the people of Africa took everyone by surprise, including their own leaders, the African Union (AU), as well as other regional groupings.
In Libya, for instance, civilians who had no prior military training volunteered to pick up arms to topple Col. Muammar Gaddafi, who, despite losing Tripoli over a week ago and could be hiding in a bunker possibly in his home town of Sirte, continues to describe as “rats” those who rose against his 42-year old regime.
Sadly, while the Libyan revolution won the all-important support from the UN Security Council, resulting in the controversial deployment of NATO in the oil producing country’s airspace, the AU did not only fail to break with its history of inaction, but also denounced any foreign support for the National Transitional Council (the face of Libya’s revolution). It was even more irritating to see South Africa, which, like all the other African members of the Security Council voted for Resolution 1973, turned around to condemn NATO’s involvement, preferring a typical AU position of non-interference.
It’s a shame that the AU could not understand that it was a little too late for it to start calling for dialogue in a situation where a popular uprising was gaining momentum by the day, pulling the carpet from under the feet of a crumbling despot, whose rule was characterised by lavish spending on personal initiatives designed to depict him as the continent’s supreme leader.
In truth, Gaddafi may have spent billions of dollars on constructing mosques and schools in several sub-Saharan countries but he spent every penny in pursuit of self-aggrandisement and selfish ambitions, and not in the interest of winning true friends for Libya and the Libyan people. Yet, in some countries such as Liberia and Sierra Leone, he will be remembered as a ruthless autocrat who showed no sympathy with the ordinary people of the two West African states, by financing a reign of terror under the now ICC-held Charles Taylor.
It is clear that a small club of African leaders, who are possibly themselves worried of losing power at the hands of increasingly frustrated yet enlightened citizens, is holding the African Union at ransom. This group is evidently using the AU as a political tool to help ward off anything that might result in their own downfall, and to send a strong warning to the African masses, against actions that might prove that power after all rests with them, and not with their leaders. Indeed, if Gaddafi can succumb to the popular will of his people, which African dictator wouldn’t?
African leaders are failing to learn a lesson or two from their ousted counterparts in Tunisia, Egypt and, lately, Libya. They fail to realise that there’s no amount of repression that can forever silence a determined people, and by increasingly seeking to consolidate their grip on power through intimidation and violence, they are actually helping create sufficient reasons for people to finally overcome fear and boldly show them the exit.
Today, it’s quite fashionable for African leaders to blame the West whenever they are faced with demands for accountability and openness at home. Many seek to rally unsuspecting citizens behind them by whipping up nationalistic sentiments against what they call western aggression and neo-colonialism, or turning communities against each other, instead of addressing the real issues affecting their people.
Rather than unconsciously digging their own graves by sustaining violence and corruption, African leaders can best secure their own future and that of their families by embracing good governance and serving their people genuinely. They should stop playing the victim and shifting the blame whenever their own actions catch up with them.
Times have changed; the African people now do not only know what’s good for them, they are willing to fight for it, no matter how long it takes, and regardless of the supposed might of the oppressor.
Gone are the days when power came from the barrel of a gun. Today it’s about whether or not citizens have food on the table. It’s about whether children are able to acquire quality education, graduates able to find jobs or to create them, and whether people are free to associate and organise in civic movements.
African leaders should understand that the terrain has since changed and so the game must change too. Most importantly, they must understand that when their people finally tell them that ‘enough is enough’, not even the AU’s inaction or support will keep them around a day longer