People’s Revolt

I’ve been fascinated by the spread of popular revolt throughout the Middle East. Who would have guessed that such passion and courage could be generated among what appeared to be distracted and cowed populations?

No doubt the social media have helped fuel the fire, by enabling quick, alternative communication, but I wouldn’t overestimate that contribution. After all, we’ve seen the idea of popular sovereignty spread like wildfire before: in Europe and Latin America in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, in Africa and Asia after WWII, and in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Soviet Empire.

I’ve been surprised that sub-Saharan Africa has not joined in. After all, there’s some sense of kinship between North Africa and the rest of the continent; and nowhere do you find more corrupt and out-of-touch government than in Africa. Why have we seen stirrings in Libya and Oman, but not in Zimbabwe, Congo and Uganda, to name a few places?

I wrote my friend Haron Wachira, and here is what he responded in regard to Kenya:

One explanation why Kenyans do not seem unduly greatly influenced by what is happening in North Africa is the passing of the new constitution, particularly the clauses regarding the county governments. People see in the counties the opportunity of realising self-government at a ‘home’ level. County governments will have a substantial budget, a senator, a governor (a local president) with appointed, ‘ministers’

Another reason seems to surround the potential alternative to the Kibaki regime. Kibaki is not a great president by any measure. He has protected crooks, allowed corruption to thrive and otherwise short-changed the Kenyan public that gave him the president on a mandate to rid Kenya of corruption. But look at ODM (the Raila side). There have been more of their ministers from their side of the squeaky coalition that have been implicated in corruption. Raila presided over the road construction works for two years and not a single project took off. When Kibaki gave the job to another minister, Kenya has experienced the largest road construction drive the country has ever seen.  It was under Raila that we ran out maize, and in the wake of the shortage, also reckoned with a corrupt maize import scandal of horrible magnitude….

So, I guess, people ask themselves, Kibaki or ??? and their anger subsides….

My third thought has to do with (I observe) how corruption has been mainstreamed into every aspect of Kenyan life – in every transaction one has to do with the government at any level (water permits, taxation, traffic rules, building permits). The average matatu [minibus taxi] tout gives a bribe several times a day. Without doing it, he cannot operate his matatu. But because about every policeman demands bribes the unit price for corruption has dropped to an affordable level. With 50/- you get past the policeman with a matatu that would otherwise have required  (or may require in future) 10,000 to fix. So both policeman and matatu tout are content with the status quo. That reality is now so pervasive in the society that there isn’t much frustration with corruption. It is only the likes of (the few) Wachiras and company that are inconvenienced by government when they try to do business. The majority are happy for things to stay as they are.

So … a measure of local control, and a system that is corrupt on all sides. But as I wrote Wachira, “I think the sense of popular sovereignty is growing around the world. Though the expressions of it will vary greatly, I think the Saudis and the Chinese and the Mugabes have more reason to worry today than they did a month ago. And some of that feeling will probably continue to find its way into Kenya, which means the Kibakis and the Railas had better figure out how to make some genuine appearance of concern for the country, or they may find it bites them. I guess that’s an optimistic construction but who can believe what has been happening in the Middle East, of all places?”

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3 Responses to “People’s Revolt”

  1. Richard Nash Says:

    Another factor, for your consideration (I’m certainly no expert on this), is Islam. Certainly some of the revolt in the Middle East is due to the imams and others pointing out the lack of obedience and non-compliance to Sharia on the part of nominal Muslim rulers such as Mubarak and Qaddafi. This would anger more devout Muslims and also give them courage to rise up believing that Allah is on their side. Although Islam is present in sub-saharan Africa, it is much less of a force. This might be the “dark side” of these “freedom movements”. I well remember the “freedom movement” in Iran bringing down the Shah and ending up under the more oppressive thumb of the ayatollahs.

  2. Vernon Peterson Says:

    I have a hard time believing what is happening in the U.S.!

  3. People’s Revolt in Uganda « Timstafford's Blog Says:

    […] may recall that a few weeks ago I wrote wondering why the People’s Revolts of Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere in North Africa and the […]

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