Friday, February 04, 2011

This time for Africa!

The Dark Continent is no longer dark! Individual torch lights have now come together creating dazzling sun-like radiance. The continent is aglow with the light of hope and sweet smell of ‘jasmine’ has perfumed the hearts and minds of these people. It all started in Tunisia, a tiny African country which most people had never heard about until now.

I remember how I looked a little baffled when I first met a Tunisian who went on to become a great friend. I had never even heard of the country 6 years back when I met her, leave alone knowing where in the world it was located. She, on the other hand, seemed to know quite a bit about India making me look like a total fool! A politically aware and active individual, she told me about the situation in her country, about how there are little political rights available to the Tunisians which attracts a large number of European tourists for its beautiful beaches. It was through her that I first learned about Ben Ali and his corrupt, autocratic regime. I asked her a rather naïve question then, “So why don’t you people revolt against him?” Her answer was simple. People have now got used to being subjugated. Any dissent is nipped in its bud. And they hardly have any example to follow as their neighbours fair no better on the democracy index. Nonetheless, she thought that change was much needed and there was simmering discontent amongst the people which hopefully would get channelized in the right direction someday.

Her words were proved right just couple of years down the lane. Educated, unemployed youth formed the bulwark of the revolution. They were able to topple one of the most autocratic regimes of the world and the ripples were to be felt as far as Russia. A tiny North African country has caught the imagination of people world over living under dictatorial governments. The autocrats of middle-east, North Africa, parts of central Asia are feeling the heat now and some of them have already taken some steps to placate their people but the spirit of revolution is spreading like wild fire.

After Tunisia, it is now the Egyptian streets that are boiling with anger against the dictatorial regime of Hosni Mubarak. Initially there was a lot of skepticism regarding the success of the Egyptian uprising but the “Million Man March” of February 1st dispelled all the doubts. Egyptians are no longer ready to live under an autocrat. They want to send Mubarak away and establish a democratic regime and the world is with them.

Another African country that is seeing history being written is Sudan. Recently south Sudanese voted to secede from Sudan in a referendum in January 2011. Now, there are increased demands in Khartoum for democracy. High on revolutionary fervor transmitted to them by their fellow Africans, the Sudanese want to greater political and civil liberties.
Besides Africa, the Middle Eastern countries of Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan etc too are protesting against the autocrats ruling them. Yemen is the most conservative of all these countries. But here we have women protesting alongside men and no one is having any problem with that. The liberals, the conservatives, the feminists, the mullahs, all have forgotten their differences and are fighting for a greater cause. The facebook status of a Yemeni friend of mine sums the spirit of the people there. It says, “It's now or la revolution.”
It is worth noting that all these autocratic regimes have the support of western democracies. The West, particularly the US, has propped up these regimes to maintain its influence in this resource-rich region. But it has ended up losing goodwill amongst the common men who view the West with suspicion and in many cases, deep hatred.
When I learnt that the Tunisians had been able to remove their inefficient leader, the first thing I did was to send a congratulatory mail to my Tunisian friend. She sounded happy but also said that the greater challenge lay ahead in electing a good government. I again agree with her. The countries might very well succeed in ousting the inefficient leaders but the larger question is who would succeed them? These leaders have systematically killed every powerful voice of dissent. So it would be hard to find a suitable successor in these countries. The opposition is in shambles. In some of the countries the only united opposition is that of the Islamists who do not enjoy widespread support from people.
Africa has passed on the light of revolution to the rest of the world. Hopefully the jasmine which has started to blossom would turn into a beautiful flower retaining its fragrance for years to come.

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