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02.03.2012 Opinion

Is Sub Sahara Africa due for an 'Arab Spring '?

By The Statesman
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By: Nana Attobrah Quaicoe
What is now popularly termed the 'Arab Spring' is indeed an 'African Spring' in the sense that it started in Tunisia spreading through Egypt, Libya all in Africa and then also to parts of the Middle East. So far though, it's only in Africa that the revolts have brought about change in political leadership.  

Sub Saharan Africa can be said to have been spared this manner of revolt because it has gone through its own version though different from what happened in North Africa. While North Africa enjoyed what seemed as political stability albeit resulting in 'dynasties', Sub Saharan Africa has gone through military coups and dictatorships. The late 90's saw most of these military dictators yielding to political change through the ballot box. Although these ballot boxes based transitions cannot be said to be all free and fair, it is gradually and increasingly becoming the accepted norm for political change in most of Sub Sahara Africa.

While the demand for change in political leadership is always a consistent phenomenon in politics, the results of the change when they finally occur has not necessarily brought about the desired change in the quality of the lives of the people in most parts of Africa.

One thing common from the North to the South and everywhere in Africa today is thus; the people are constantly complaining about their deepening poverty, hardships and increasing struggles. A University or tertiary Education qualification alone is no longer enough to guarantee one a job. Hence graduate unemployment is at an all time high. With the privileged and educated few having their hopes in education declining, it throws the huge and growing uneducated youth into more despondency. The infrastructural and social conditions in North Africa that is thought to have provoked the uprisings there can be said to be even far worse in Sub Saharan Africa. There are currently huge challenges in access to quality health, lack of qualified personnel in all the critical sectors of the economies, poor road networks, absence of portable water and a huge growing brain drain among others. In the midst of all these poverty, the political leadership and their friends with their relatives are always seen and thought to live in vulgar opulence.

A case for immediate reference is Nigeria where it came out publicly that;

  President Jonathan earns N14 million annually with practically everything at his beck and call, including three new Presidential jets (which set Nigeria back by N21 billion).

In the 2012 budget, almost N1 billion is allocated to food for the President and his Vice. That is N900, 000 per meal (breakfast, lunch and dinner, and snacks in between), at a total of N2.7 million per day.

In the 2012 budget, the Presidency will be spending all of N90 million on pots and pans, plates and cutlery! N90 million!!

The Vice President's official residence is being constructed for about N90 million.

And providing power for Aso Rock Villa, Abuja (the office and abode of the President) will cost Nigeria an arm and a leg. The federal government is fueling generators with N1.3 billion in 2012 budget!

Lampooned and snickered at across the globe as the most expensive democracy known to mankind, recurrent expenditure is 72 per cent of the N4.749 trillion budgets of 2012.

With this background in the conditions of life for these Africans, it is not difficult to suggest or conclude that the 'Arab Spring 'can be replicated in sub Saharan Africa. But there are some other conditions that were present which easily spurred the situation in the circumstance of the North Africans that seem not to be easily present in sub Sahara Africa. Social media played a major role in the happenings in North Africa when it was easy for the government to strangle the print and electronic media. Recent anti petrol subsidy removal demonstrators in Nigeria were very active on facebook and twitter with their thoughts and expectations. It served as a source and voice for the masses on the happenings in the course of the mass demonstrations. Persons who were not directly involved felt their involvement through the social media. This peoples' involvement could however not be comparable to how it happened in Egypt and Tunisia where the internet and mobile penetration is very vast and its usage highly appreciated.

In Ghana, between 2008 and 2010, the World Bank estimates that about 500,000 more people fell below the poverty line of US$1.25 a day. This situation is further worsened by the rural-urban migration drift such that urban poverty is increasingly worsening. Graduate unemployment is at a steep increase and has defied resolution by any government and political party so far. Impunity is on the ascendance with supporters of parties in power seeming to be invisible as far as the law is concerned. A visit to Korle'bu, the nation's premier teaching hospital is enough to give one a graphic account of what the sick go through at the hospital, the near collapse of the national health insurance scheme and the complaint of wide spread corruption is a threat to social cohesion and political leadership. The perception is that the current situation where politicians make wide ranging promises and yet fail to fulfill them once voted into office can no longer be tolerated. Indeed, there are calls to suggest that no party or leader is guaranteed a two term rule. Re-election should be purely based on competence, performance or deliverables. This 2012 election might be a litmus test to that growing perception.   A popular cliché around is that politicians in Ghana will soon become an endangered species' as they increasingly lose credibility.

In North Africa, there was a feeling of neo-colonial imperialist support by the west for the government and the military. So a revolt is also in a sense a call for nationalism. This is because Sub Saharan Africa has not had the Islamic groups which have threatened the west. Instead of revolts or military takeover, Power sharing might have been the next popular option as was unfortunately and slowly becoming the trend until the opposition in Cote d'Ivoire with the support of ECOWAS and global powers literally ended such demands from the then incumbent by military intervention. It remains to be seen though if such demands would still be accommodated in Sub Sahara Africa in the future. It may perhaps be too soon to judge but it should be important to know if the Egyptian's, Libyan's, and the Tunisian's have achieved the much desired change they demanded through their revolts. Similar questions may rightly be asked     of the ballot box based transitions in Sub Saharan Africa if they have attained the desired change as they continuously effect political change through the ballot box. It may also be important to ask if the change was worth the deaths and injuries in the North African experience. While it might sound adventurous or exciting to revolt, it might not be necessary if elections or voting can bring about same change. What we should then be demanding for is a strengthening of governance institutions and the will of the people being respected.

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