Next, the African Awakening?

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AFRICANS who had come of age by 1957, when Ghana became independent, will be wondering if there will ever be an “African Awakening” in the mould of the so-called Arab Awakening of recent months.

 Even Saudi Arabia, the cradle of Islam, is having to prepare itself for an awakening of sorts. Its women, long confined to second-class citizenship — virtually — are agitating for drastic changes in their status.

It is suggested that the monarchy would be unwise not to respond positively to the calls for a loosening of the shackles that have bound the women to a status condemned by most civilised” societies as “uncivilised”.

No Arab nation is going to be the same after the events in Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen. The young people in those countries, for so long taken for granted in their servility to the rulers, took up the cudgels against the totalitarianism which denied them their rights to develop their potential.

In almost all instances, the response of the rulers was  brutal. In one country, the governments brought out tanks to fire at the demonstrators. The idea was to frighten then into inaction. It didn’t work.

The youth followed the example set by their kin in Tunisia and Egypt, who persisted until their leaders left office.

 Last week, Hosni Mubarak was charged with turning off the internet system to prevent the protesters from communicating with each other.

His wife gave up some of the wealth she had accumulated illicitly while her husband was in power for 30 years.  

 Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria or even Iraq are ever going to be the same: the Arab Awakening has set in motion an irresistible move towards democracy in that part of the world. There may be more bloodshed before that goal is finally reached. But we can be sure that the entire region is going to undergo a transformation not imagined by anyone, even five years ago.

Meanwhile, the young people of Africa have not ignored these momentous events.

 In little Swaziland, the king was shaken by a demonstration by the workers: they clamoured for more democracy. They were, in the end, calling for an end to the monarchy – at the least, that part of it which restricts the citizens’ right to free expression, free association and free assembly.

Swaziland, may never the same again. King Mswati would be wise not to ignore the young people’s agitation for change.

The young people of the continent are going to eventually adjust themselves to what has happened in the other countries. It is doubtful that they will shrug them off as being unrelated to their own situation. There are too many similarities: they too have been more or less marginalised.

Their governments, in most cases, have paid them scant attention. They too probably constitute the largest number among the jobless.  

Since 1957, “the wind of change” set off by Ghana swept through the continent and galvanised the people even before Harold Macmillan, then the prime minister of Britain, made his famous speech in South Africa.

The continent has more or less met some of its expectations. But what someone called “the crisis of expectations” has still pervaded all of independent Africa like a dark shroud of impending calamity.

There is much discontent, caused mostly by the greed of leaders such as the ones recently toppled from their positions and those being harassed by their people to provide them with the chance to enjoy the independence cake.

South Africa, 17 years since its full nationhood, has struggled to provide for its people the life they were promised at the end of apartheid. But even it cannot meet all the expectations and there is a crisis.

 As with other countries, the so-called empowerment programme is confined to a few. Empowerment all over Africa should, in reality, mean the end of the sub-standard housing built for the poor by the racist regimes. They should all be razed to the ground and new houses built for them.

It would be the clearest empowerment for the poor, not to live in the same squalor they endured under colonialism.

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