Opinion and Editorial

As the Arabs rise up and conquer fear, Black Africa looks on in gloomy envy

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Posted  Monday, February 14   2011 at  00:00

What is it about these Arabs?” The question came from an old friend.

He had spent the better part of his evenings since the uprising in Tunisia, glued to the television set, watching Tunisians, Egyptians, Yemenis and Jordanians rise up against oppressive governments, of which they had long been utterly terrified.

The question arose as a group of old buddies were talking politics over a wide assortment of drinks.

We all agreed that what was going on in the Maghreb was extraordinary. Soon enough, a debate ensued.

Would we or could we in Black Africa emulate the people of the Maghreb and the Middle East and frighten our own despots into promising not to seek more terms in office or, where applicable, try to pass on power to their sons or relatives?

There was agreement all round about how Arabs “so easily” take risks that often entail losing their own lives in the process.

From turning themselves into walking bombs to self-immolation in the style of the young fruit and vegetable seller who ignited the Tunisian revolution, they beat us hands down.

Is it that we are so in love with life, however miserable it is, that we are unwilling to risk losing it, or is it a cultural thing?

Soon enough, the debate became more narrowly focused on Uganda, where 25 years of Museveni’s regime, some as an “elected military dictatorship” is much more than growing numbers of his compatriots can stomach.

Strange as it may seem, even with regular elections through which he and his party could be dislodged from power, at least in theory, many Ugandans believe “the man” can never be removed through the ballot.

They cite vote-rigging, which courts of law have confirmed on two occasions, as the biggest impediment to peaceful change of government.

However, years of post-colonial political violence and instability have left large numbers war-fatigued, with few willing to countenance another “war of liberation.”

If experience under Museveni teaches them anything, they argue, it is that liberators quickly turn into the very despots they once toppled.

And so they are unwilling to trust other warmongers with their dreams of a democratic and equitable future.

The explosion of popular disaffection into rioting in the Maghreb, however, seemed to open up other possibilities.

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