“Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” Martin Luther King, Jr. These words sum up the events that have sent shock waves across North Africa first in Tunisia and currently Egypt. There is growing discontent and tension among the masses about the authoritarian regimes that have become a staple to this region. People are risking their lives to make their voices heard and demonstrating to the leadership hierarchy that it is high-time they remembered that these are nations of the people for the people by the people.
The demonstrations in Tunisia forced President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to finally step down on January 14th and dissolve his government and parliament following 23 years in power. Few weeks later the people of Egypt inspired by the events in Tunisia also woke up from their slumber to demand their civil liberties from President Hosni Mubarak who has been president for 29 years. The Egyptian police is fighting tooth and nail to contain the protesters—but the bird is already outside the cage. The question some are asking today is who is next? One has to wonder how comfortably Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi who has been in power for 41 years in Libya next door neighbor to Tunisia is sleeping. How about Mugabe, Museveni, Nguesso, Biya, Dos Santos?
I have written on several occasions about the unprecedented number of long-serving leaders on the continent of Africa. The term Afro-colonialism was coined to represent this quagmire. “Afro-colonialism is a phenomenon in which an African nation is held hostage by an African leadership establishment. It is an act of control, domination, exploitation and oppression of the masses.” There is no doubt that the people across Africa in many of these nations occupied by Afro-colonialists are getting tired of being colonized by their own. Civil liberties have been undermined, human rights have been violated, freedom of speech has been suppressed, free-media is a fore-gone conclusion, the economic situation in many of these nations is dire and hence the lid could no longer sit on the pot of boiling water. The request is simple, fix it or we will force your hand. The oppressed are demanding their freedom and will continue to knock on the door until their leaders open.
The big question is whether any of the regime changes will result in long lasting democracy—or will it be another cycle of authoritarian regimes coming to power. The concern of some of the western powers as far as the current situation in Egypt is instability in the Mediterranean region. This is a legitimate concern considering the role Egypt has been playing in the middle-eastern peace process. However, it is imperative that the west does not extinguish the will of people by standing in the corner with authoritarian regimes. The western world needs to recognize and respect the significance and symbolism of these demonstrations. The masses did not abruptly choose to protest at this juncture. It has been a gradual build up of discontent with legitimate causes. People want solutions from their government and not excuses or explanations. Many of these leaders have been in power for decades and have nothing to show for it.
It might be too early to tell the long-term implication of the wave of demonstrations in North-Africa, however it is an indication that people can rally as a nation and demand change. This also sends a strong signal to the rest of the long-serving African leadership establishment to get their act together otherwise they could be next in line. The people have spoken and demand their independence from Afro-colonialism. Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent. MLK, Jr.