An Egyptian woman shows her ink-stained finger after voting in Cairo, Egypt on Monday, November 28, 2011.
Last Wednesday, Egypt’s security forces unleashed a bloody crackdown on supporters of ousted president Mohamad Morsi. According to some reports, nearly 600 people were killed and thousands injured. It was Egypt’s single bloodiest day since the dictator Hosni Mubarak was ousted in the February 2011 revolution. Some of the “democrats” who were in the thick of the protests that ousted Mubarak, supported the military coup against Morsi. Morsi himself, though popularly elected, was becoming a thug and rolling back freedoms that had been won in 2011. As TIME Magazine puts it, Egyptians are the word’s best protestors, but also its worst democrats. But it is not alone.
In Africa, there is almost no single liberation movement, guerrilla army, or opposition party that has taken power after battling an oppressive regime, and then gone on to establish an unblemished, free political order. Groups that fought vote-cheating governments, also maintain power by rigging elections, as has happened in Uganda. Democrats or revolutionaries become power hogs when they enter State House, as we can see in South Africa and Ethiopia.
And we don’t learn any lessons from tragic events. Nearly one million people were killed in the 1994 Rwanda genocide. Africa and the rest of the world were horrified, and many leaders said “Never again!” Oh yeah? The horrors of Rwanda did change us, but not for the better. Recently on a visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted that the long conflict there had left more than 3.5 million dead. In Darfur, according to human-rights groups, in the first year of the conflict alone, between August 2003 and March 2004, as many as 400,000 people were killed by the Sudan government-backed militia known as the Janjaweed and government security forces. The violence continues today.
This happens, first, because in Africa the economic and social rewards of power are still tremendous for the victors, and the penalty very high for the losers. Politics still plays too large a role in allocating the groceries, frequently in a partisan way, because it is still largely organised around region, religion, and ethnic groups. If the president is not from your region, you are totally out. And if you are in and your man loses power, you are out again. Organising free elections in which you could lose power, or even stepping down from office when your presidential terms are up, thus becomes a collective act of group suicide. So you rig the rules and elections, scrap term limits, and turn the security services into a clan or ethnic guard. Transitions of power from one party or president to another, except in about three African countries, therefore become messy, nasty, and violent. And the longer the dictatorship has been in power, as in Libya and Egypt, the higher the level of violence.
Yet none of this is reason for despair. The good thing about all the madness is that it shall eventually exhaust us… almost like it did Somalia. Eventually, we shall accept the need to share power and the national cake, and therefore to hold free elections. The only hope is that that happens when there are still some Africans left standing.
Photo credit: Pictures Of The Day/Ashraf Amra Apaimages