Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Do we have a revolutionary temperament?

I've listened and read with growing amusement the articles, interviews, tweets and blog posts about the uprisings in the Middle East and how they are a portend for what was to come in Africa, in particular. It was only until I happened upon this article - that I said "finally, someone who understands the differences between black Africa and North Africa.

Now, before you crucify me, let me state without equivocation that I am a full believer in the need for a true revolution to remove the retrogressive and corrupt elements in African governments. Akin to what Jerry J. Rawlings did in Ghana in 1979, the benefits of which that country is now reaping. Also akin to Jehu in ancient Israel, as recounted in the 1st Book of Kings for those who know their Bible. Good? Great.

That being said, I am of the belief that African people - and by extension, our leaders - do not have the stomach for, nor an inclination towards a true revolution. It is somewhat antithetical to our nature and to the way the colonists divvied up our lands and assigned us to "countries". Naturally, they knew what they were doing and our leaders were their willing pawns. To make my point though, I will emphasize some points from the article and make others.

First, 'Arab' countries tend to be more homogeneous and have more unity of religion than sub-Saharan African countries do. This alone means that during a revolution, they are less likely to be concerned with being top dog, or ensuring that their peoples' "portion" or "slice of the cake" is bigger; but are wholly and completely devoted to the cause. It also ensures that when the leaders are speaking to the people, you don't have one tribe hearing one message and the next tribe hearing a different message. That unity of language and religion makes them alike and makes them a powerful bloc, even if there is some internal dissent. Look at Biafra or Katanga - although there was some opposition within the majority tribe, their downfall was in not bringing in the minority tribes into their ambit of influence, allowing said minority groups to be turned by the central government. Yes, there are Coptic sects in Egypt, but they form less than 2 or 3% of the population. As much as they were "in support" of the Muslim majority, their opposition wouldn't have counted for much had that been the case.

Secondly, the black African opposition is extremely selfish. Even within the same political organization, there are often fights about who should lead, which tribe or religion a position be "zoned" to, who is "enjoying the fruits" while others are out in the cold, and other such petty concerns. This means that the opposition can be bought or compromised - as has been seen in Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya - and that even when the opposition get into power, their focus is on "getting their own share" or "payback". People with that temperament, going into office for altruistic reasons, are unlikely to die for the ordinary (I use that word lightly) citizen, a desire or will often required for a successful revolution.

Finally, there is a rather "romantic" and passionate fervor that the ordinary 'Arab' can be whipped to. Their leaders - especially religious leaders - have a way with words, to incite and to energize. Black Africans tend to be a bit more pragmatic, especially when it comes to religion. We know most of our pastors and priests are corrupt and speak out of both sides of their mouth, we know many of the mallams are collecting from the government so they don't speak out against them. We also know that in times of danger, they will be the first to flee to whatever exotic mansion they own in the south of France or in Dubai. As such, we tend to treat such fervor with a degree of suspicion and we ask ourselves questions like "this pastor who is asking us to protest or to vote for someone, what's in it for him/her?"
The labor organizations and media would ordinarily have been the ones to pick up the dropped standard, but again, many of them have been compromised or find themselves firmly planted in one political ground or the other, and in many cases, become the stumbling block to progression and transparency of our governments.

To conclude, I'm not saying we won't ever see an African revolution, but whatever we see has to be so powerful so that even the market woman who earns $2 a day and is offered $5 to sell her vote resists. It has to be so powerful that a labor leader who is offered an ambassadorial post in return for delivering his constituents to a corrupt party or platform resists. So powerful that the police guarding the polling booths risk their lives in order to prevent thugs from making off with ballot boxes. I proffer that we are not there yet - it requires a change in mentality, it requires a selflessness that our various tribes and religions actively discourage, it requires a willingness to go out alone even if there's no one beside you.
When that happens, we won't have to wonder why we have such corrupt and inept governments - we'll march out and sweep them out.

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