08.02.2011 Feature Article

Can We Learn From Events In Tunisia And Egypt?

Can We Learn From Events In Tunisia And Egypt?
08.02.2011 LISTEN

In my youth it was easy to draw conclusions from events far and near. Life was simpler and people I held in esteem made learning easier.

William Gladstone, who was wise enough to grow out of conservatism and became a British Liberal Prime Minister, on several occasions, would, concerning present happenings in North Africa “back the masses against the classes”. The situation is, however, not so simple these days. The classes are either not there or not well defined. The masses and classes appear mixed.

Going to Charles Dickens for a less learned but not less incisive comment in Pickwick Papers, it is suggested that “It is always best on these occasions to do what the mob do”. “But suppose there are two mobs?” Mr Snodgrass would ask. And Mr Pickwick would reply “Shout with the largest”.

Unfortunately, it is a numbers game so far as democracy is concerned. These days we appear not to be very much concerned about fashioning and promoting ideas for a better society and a better world. We the politicians and leaders simply want the masses to support and follow us and once in four years or so to shout loudest with their thumbs to win us power to do what we can to stay top dogs.

We promise to give the masses all they want and when we get into power we keep them reasonably happy with a few projects and a lot of promises. We find it unwise to address fundamental problems.

Meanwhile the problems fester and desperation draws the masses together to join in mob action.

I am afraid the grim lesson of the Egyptian and Tunisian situation is not primarily about political freedoms and democracy but the consequences of the inability of authority to ensure the availability of fundamental requirements such as food and shelter as well as purpose in life.

We in Ghana cannot complain much about the democracy and freedoms we have. But events in Egypt and Tunisia warn us that joblessness and poverty in the midst of plenty will always threaten the good order of society.

It is not politics which is at fault. It is not that we are politicising everything. It is the absence of a political philosophy to determine and guide action which is our problem. Selecting people with different political party affiliations to discuss issues will not move thinking forward. We should address fundamental development issues resolutely and intelligently.

Wooing investors into the country and talking about big projects may please the masses. But that would not necessarily bring in the necessary investments and useful development. We should determine the country’s needs and supply them.

Talk about added value and exports, for example, is not enough. We should identify and invite investors to exploit specific agricultural products such as fruits (for canning and juice extraction) for the Libyan and similar markets where we have an edge in the form of agreements and other advantages. Industry also requires specific measures. For example we should refine some of the gold we produce so that we earn more and resuscitate the trinkets industry.

The trouble is that it often appears best for politicians in power to talk and talk and do nothing. This may not be unreasonable for if you do something you may do something wrong; if you do nothing, you do nothing wrong!

A British professor friend of mine has sent me a copy of E. M. Cornford’s “Microcosmographia Academica”, a guide for the young academic politician. It is amusing but pungent. My friend writes that it is “a different approach to a topic we know very well”. The approach is revealing. The young academic politician is informed or warned that “it will seem to you then that you grow wiser every day, as you learn more and more of the reasons why things should not be done”.

Many politicians and leaders find that life continues for 20 to 30 years without unwelcome hiccups if the really important “things are not done”.

Microcosmographia Academica reminds the politician of the “silent reasonable world” to which he or she may go back and “enjoy its calling the more for your excursion in the world of unreason”.

I feel sorry for President Mubarak. He has managed a major country for 30 years. There has been some economic progress but it has not been sufficient to satisfy all basic needs such as food and shelter for a great number of people. Law and order have been maintained but now and again at the expense of the curtailment of individual freedoms and repression.

What should surprise us in Ghana is that even those who benefited from his rule did not immediately rise to his defence when he was ruthlessly condemned. Only much later did a few speak for him. The same was true of the former President of Tunisia. Our leaders should be wary of the hangers on and courtiers. Ultimately, it is the masses who give the verdict and their legitimate demands should be satisfied before they turn law breakers.

We should also learn from the reaction of the foreign friends or partners of the Mubarak regime. They have shown us what we should have known: that foreign policy is determined by permanent interests and that friendships of however long duration cannot be allowed to impede the promotion of these interests.

President Mubarak was for 30 years a good ally of the United States which has been known to support friends like Mobutu of the Congo even when they grievously flouted human rights. American reaction to events in Egypt was that Mubarak should contain or deal with the situation in accordance with internationally accepted norms of freedom, human rights and democracy.

This is because today the United States cannot be seen to be supporting an ally who ignores accepted civilized norms of freedom and democracy. Such a posture is against American interests. If Mubarak has to be sacrificed to promote American policy and image so be it.

The lesson to be learnt is clear. It is good to have powerful friends. But we cannot rely on them when their interests are at variance with ours.

We should be self-reliant and not dependent on allies, however, strong and influential they are. Our policies should be formulated by patriotic leaders and knowledgeable Ghanaians to promote true independence, economic and social progress and other vital interests of Ghana.

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