By Handel Mlilo, January17,2011

A  few things happening in Africa lately are all very encouraging and they bode well for the continent. Let me start with what has taken place in Tunisia. A dictator, President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, has fled. The people in their masses deposed him. And that is as it should be. For 23 years he ruled ruthlessly, his authoritarian ways manifested by imprisonment, censorship, “economic deprivation, official corruption and political frustration,” according to the Washington Post. His wife and her family, again according to the Washington Post, “were reputed to have used the influence associated with the presidency to build private fortunes in real estate and other business deals.”
The good news about this is that the people rose up in several parts of the country and declared that enough was enough. And apparently those in the ruling elite were sensible enough not to continue to coddle a dictator who could only drag them down with him. Actually, the Prime Minster seemed to distance himself from the fleeing President. The BBC says that he declared: “We are at the service of the Tunisian people. Our country does not deserve everything that is happening. We must regain the trust of citizens in the government.” And the security services seem to be interested in maintaining peace and security than worry about the fate of the fallen president.

Implications for Africa?
Analysts say that events in Tunisia could have implications in the rest of the Arab world where citizens will be emboldened to throw their own repressive regimes out of power. Tunisia is also an African country and events there could have consequences in that continent, as well. What is most pleasing about Tunisia is the reaction of the African Union. In a statement after the dictator fled, the AU did not instinctively support the ousted leader but instead condemned the “excessive use of force against the demonstrators” and “called for no efforts to be spared to avoid any further loss of life.”
The AU is known for its caution in such matters but lately, they have been very assertive in defending what is right. The instinct to support dictatorial and repressive rulers seems to be dissipating. Witness their very strong stance on the Ivory Coast. In 2008, they looked the other way when Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe stole an election by forbidding the country’s electoral commission from announcing the correct results. But in the Ivory Coast they have teamed up with West Africa’s regional association, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), to threaten use of force to remove Laurent Gbagbo if he continues to refuse to vacate the Presidency after he lost an election. Every credible institution in the world says that Gbagbo lost fair and square to his long time rival Alassane Ouattara and should go. It’s just a matter of time before Gbagbo is gone from the scene.

A Clear Warning to Another Dictator

Tunisia and soon the Ivory Coast should be a clear warning to another African dictator, Robert Mugabe. South of the Sahara, he and his ruling ZANU-PF party remain one of the very, very few hold outs in the inexorable march toward democracy on that continent. There is an election coming up in Zimbabwe and indications are that Mugabe and his party will cheat their way back to power, again. They openly talk about not giving up power even if they lose the next election. And political violence is on the increase around that country as the election draws near.
A trademark of Mugabe is that he and his party do exactly what they say they are going to do. And what they are saying about the coming elections should be a warning to the AU, especially the Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries. To avoid the death and destruction that has befallen Tunisia and Ivory Coast as a result of leaders who refuse to give up illegitimate power, the AU needs contingency plans for what may happen in Zimbabwe shortly. At least 300 people died violently when Mugabe stole the last election. I have this feeling that Zimbabweans, like their Tunisian and Ivorian brethren will not put up with it this time. But Mugabe’s response will be predictable. The question is what will Africa do about it this time? Will African leaders take the kind of stand that will send a clear message to Zimbabwe’s ruling and security elite that they cannot keep hiding behind a dictator?

One Response to “Democracy Will Not Be Stopped”

  1. Carol says:

    This is a well written article Handel, I agree with the analysts about Tunisia. They couldn’t have nailed it more with the current political unrest in Egypt. This should be a clear warning to all dictators that there is no stopping social media.

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