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The signs of time and the democratic alternation in Africa

14.06.2019
Article from AFRIC Editorial
When Mikhail Gorbachev declared on the evening of the fall of the Berlin Wall; on November 9 1989 that “he who does not know how to read the signs of time will fall over time”, he was far from imagining that certain State leaders will want to continue to exercise an absolute monopoly in the day-to-day administrative management of their country. This monopoly that was the prerogative of many leaders during the 20th century has not disappeared today. He even forged multiple dictatorships in the old continent of Africa, where, despite the signs of changes sent by time, some leaders have preferred to be confined to their position, sometimes giving their leadership to a “divine power”.

For a decade now, there has been a new phenomenon in African countries, which consists of the people taking back the power they gave their leader. Once the great principles of democracy – civic equality, the separation of powers and political pluralism are not respected, the signs of time begin to blink and even the biggest dictatorships suffer from them. Despite the failure of the restoration of political transitions, the fire of the signs of the time first consumed the dictatorships of the Arab countries before contaminating those of the sub-Saharan countries.

The Arab spring wave

The great upheaval observed in the Arab countries in the early 2010s was the most revealing element of these national revolutions. They came around as a result of several deprivations suffered by the peoples of the Maghreb. So to protest against all these abuses, the young Mohamed Bouazizi, a simple vendor of 26-year-old traveling vegetables, set himself on fire in the governorate of Sidi Bouzid on December 17, 2010. This act was not enough then for the train of the revolution to start. The two major protests which sparked the crisis were in related to the confiscation of power by elites and the deprivation of freedoms of various forms.

  • The confiscation of power: whether in Tunisia with Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, president in office for 23 years or in Egypt with Hosni Mubarak, the great commander of the country for more than 29 years, the heads of state in place are for the most part very old and have been in post for decades. Power became a family legacy, as family members are placed in strategic positions. Under these conditions, the alternation in power is a utopia and all attempts by the population to denounce are repressed. For Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, it would have been enough for 18 days of challenges for him to be forced to resign on February 11, 2011, dubbed “day of the march of a million”. In Tunisia, the protest lasted a little longer, 28 days before reaching its peak and the flight of the president in office to Saudi Arabia.

  • Deprivation of freedoms: in these countries of the Maghreb zone, the regimes in place are very authoritarian and oligarchic. To stay in power, they use all the stratagems to their position to muzzle the population by depriving it of all forms of freedom. Very often, the police and the army, whose main mission is to protect the people before serving the administration, are involved. In Tunisia, for example, the army fired repeatedly at the population, with 338 dead and 2174 wounded. So, in such an atmosphere, phenomena such as clientelism, corruption, misappropriation of public funds or kleptocracy become legions.

The hordes of protests against neighboring countries were not enough on their own to discourage some Maghreb presidents who, despite all the warning signs, have continued to administer their country according to the logic of the  “I don’t give a shit”. The most recent episode is that of Algeria, where President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, in office since April 27, 1999, exactly 19 years, 11 months and 6 days, was forced to release power by popular uprisings, as of April 2, 2019. Unlike his two counterparts in the Maghreb, the Algerian president, he could have avoided the affront and bequeath power by promoting a democratic alternation because the signs were close to him. But his greed and the excessive thirst for power of the system surrounding him must have been reasons for him and some of his notoriety chipped forever.

The domino effect observed in sub-Saharan African countries

Some presidents of sub-Saharan Africa had surely appreciated the exit of the President of Cameroon, his Excellency Paul Biya, during a joint press conference with the then French President François Hollande, on the evening of July 3, 2015, when the he answered a question from a journalist from France 2 who questioned him about his longevity in power by saying: “does not last in power who wants, but lasts who can.” The echo of the Cameroonian president walking out of a press conference had not stopped on the old continent when the Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe, who thought himself as a great master and powerful interpreter of time, began to fight with his people and the army who demanded his departure. Despite all his will to stay, this departure will finally be recorded on November 21, 2017 after 37 years in power, following a release under house arrest by the army which will result in his resignation.

The wind of the Arab Spring continued to blow as far as Sudan, where the people now knew that the signs of time no longer belong to anyone. Following protests that lasted just over three months, President Omar al-Bashir was forced to leave power and it was the defense minister who announced his dismissal on public television, the Thursday, April 11, 2019.

African revolutions: the failure of democratic transitions

The revolutions observed in Africa, which began with the Arab Spring, rarely gave complete satisfaction. While the primary purpose of removing the incumbent president from office has almost always been achieved, there have been many difficulties in implementing the desired transition. In Egypt, for example, after the seizure of power by the often contested Islamic brothers, in which Marshal Abdel Fattah Al Sissi found himself in power, seen by some opponents as well-orchestrated coup. In Sudan, it was the army that said it was on the side of the people but after the overthrow of Omar al-Bashir, the same military decimate the people by systematically repressing the demonstrations.

Article from AFRIC Editorial

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