Oct 04 2011

How a political “spring” might spring come to Africa, again

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 2:34 PM

The election of a new president, Michael Sata, to Zambia has renewed attention on the prospects for democratic renewal in the sub-Saharan. In an essay last week in the Atlantic, I argued that absent an Arab-style “spring” in black Africa, Zambia’s emergence as a beacon for democratic change in the region is a shift of great significance. The perspicacious observer of African affairs, George Ayittey, took issue with my central characterization: that radical political change has eluded the polities of the sub-Saharan and that, furthermore, civil-society activists in the Arab world had learned much from their sub-Saharan counterparts. Drawing on important historical context, Ayittey writes:

“You have the chronology and timeline incorrect. The African village revolutions occurred before the Arab Spring. Africa’s village revolutions occurred soon after the collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1989. After the fall of the former Soviet Union, winds of change swept across toppling long-standing dictators, such as Mattieu Kerekou of Benin, Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia. It started out in Benin in 1991 and ended with the dismantling of apartheid in South in 1994.

“In 1990, only 4 African countries were democratic: Botswana, Gambia, Mauritius and Senegal. By 1994, the village revolutions had added the following: Benin, Cape Verde Islands, Congo (Brazzaville), Namibia, Sao Tome &Principe, South Africa and Zambia. There was a reversal in Gambia when a coup was staged in 1994. But by and large, Africa’s village revolutions produced more democracies in the early 1990s. Black Africa was ahead of the Arab world. There was no such thing as the Arab spring in the early 1990s.

Second, what occurred in Zambia was a second revolution. The first occurred when Frederick Chiluba, a trade union leader, won the country’s multi-party presidential election in 1991 as the candidate of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), defeating long-time President Kenneth Kaunda. He was re-elected in 1996. Chiluba was a hopeless failure and corrupt and the MMD started to look more like Kaunda’s UNIP party. The election of Michael Sata was a rejection of the MMD.

“Sata’s election is not emulating the Arab Spring. If anything, the Arab Spring has much more to learn from Black Africa because what occurred in Zambia was a reversal of a revolution. The liberation and democratic hero elected in 1991, Frederick Chiluba,  turned out to be no different from the dictator he ousted. As Africans are wont of saying: “We struggle very hard to remove a cockroach from power and the next rat comes to do the same thing. Haba!”

“It could happen in the Arab world, just as it  happened in black Africa.”

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