By Bornwell Chakaodza
WHAT a high price people pay for change! Looters running riot, political paralysis, destruction of people’s livelihoods and anarchy as police abandon their posts and their role as the custodians of law and order — in short, complete mayhem.
More than 200 people in Tunisia died in the uprising that toppled President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. In nine days of unprecedented protests that have rocked the Arab world and continued as I write, about 300 people have been killed in Egypt as it becomes increasingly apparent that it is a matter of days, perhaps weeks, before President Hosni Mubarak goes. Clearly, it’s over for Mubarak and his regime in Egypt.
Although there may be no close parallels with Zimbabwe, nevertheless we must examine and learn from the experiences of other countries in crisis and turmoil. It does no harm anyway. If anything, it could be a blessing in disguise in terms of avoiding a contagion and domino effect — remote though it is here, it is something that no Zimbabwean desires. However, what Zimbabweans want is for their country to return to normality and for the political leaders to be symbols of reconciliation, magnanimity and hope for the sake of Zimbabwe and not these unending GNU squabbles that are of no help.
The protests in Egypt and Tunisia against those countries’ veteran rulers do provide salutary lessons for us in this part of the world. So let us avoid streets determining the fate of our country.
The unrest that ended Ben Ali’s 23 years of iron-fisted rule in Tunisia and the massive demonstrations against Mubarak’s 30 years in power clearly show that poverty, hunger, unemployment and corruption are in the long run a major threat to peace and political stability. I want to point out that the capacity of ordinary people to inflict damage on the business and political elite of any country if they are driven to do so by frustration and hopelessness should not be underestimated.
For that capacity is a function not only of power measured in conventional terms, but of desperation and despair and a willingness to resort to extreme measures even at great cost to themselves. The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt — for that is what they are — clearly testify to this important fact. People whose voices had been silenced for decades are suddenly finding them all over the place. A cliché indeed but what a difference a week makes in people’s lives!
Edward Burke once warned that there are critical moments in the fortunes of all nations, when they who are unable to contribute to your prosperity maybe strong enough to complete your ruin. It is a warning worth pondering as we examine and reflect on the momentous events that are unfolding in the Arab World — Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Yemen and indeed in many other parts of the world.
The main message to political leaderships in this world is that you will never be secure politically as long as you line your pockets and enrich yourselves at the expense of your poverty — stricken people. Tunisians, Egyptians and the Jordanians were and are protesting against poverty, unemployment, rising food prices and corruption. This is what the revolutions are all about. They are settling accounts with their long-serving dictators, period.
When will politicians in this world grasp one quite simple fact that a corrupt and dictatorial regime will not last forever. Indeed, God in his own wisdom and in his own time will make sure that in the end tyrants fall. Alas, when the day of reckoning (January 14 2011) came, as it surely will come for all of us, Ben Ali of Tunisia fell. And the same fate awaits Mubarak of Egypt. Change is the only constant in this life.
One cannot fight against the tide of democracy and hope to win. With God’s help, you will be swept aside. This is the lesson of Tunisia and Egypt and of course the other dominos in the chain.
Let us take a false issue off the table. Dictators and autocratic rulers are by no means all powerful. There are limits to their power and wealth. What Mubarak is doing talking about not standing in elections scheduled for September this year is just shadow boxing and is really an act of sheer desperation when all else has failed. It is a case of too little too late. In a way, it is an act not of confidence but of defeat hence the non- stop calls by the protesters for Mubarak to call it a day, not in September, but now!
Let us not forget also that violence has a momentum of its own. In Egypt, we are now witnessing violence with its own dynamic. It becomes unstoppable. Most unfortunate indeed. All point, however, to the fact that Mubarak’s 30-year rule has been a wasteful and costly ambition. His regime has had its day.
I think that we should never forget the important fact that when discontent reaches a certain point, opposition will effectively assert itself. No African leader and indeed no political leader the world over should forget that in the end he would be swept aside by the change of opinion when the people reach a point of disaffection where the bad outweighs the good.
If public opinion ever reached the point where it was no longer willing to put up with the existing authority, no bullets or police could stop them. Witness what is taking place right now in Egypt and what took place in Tunisia three weeks ago. The nationwide protests in Tunisia that led to the fleeing of Ben Ali to Saudi Arabia were triggered by the suicide of a street vendor in the southern city of Sidi Bauzid who set himself on fire after his unlicensed fruit cart was confiscated by the police. Just a spark you might say.
I want to conclude by pointing out a self — evident truth. Whether you are in the Arab world, African, the West or indeed any other world there is no alternative to “rule by consent”. Truth is truth whether you are in Egypt, Yemen, the United States, Britain or Zimbabwe. There is nothing European about the values of freedom, democracy and dignity. These are universal values which must be upheld and respected everywhere
The real question for me is at what point that consent is withdrawn. For it must be said that at a certain moment, the people will decide they have had enough, and when they reach this point the groundswell of discontent will remove the political leadership. In mature Western democracies, that process is known as an “election landslide”. But in much of Africa it is not being done through democratic elections. It is coming as it is in Tunisia and Egypt because people would have become ungovernable. They resort therefore to voting with their feet and as a result the streets rather than the polling booths become the deciding factor. What a tragedy!
I hope for all our sakes that our political leaders on the African continent and elsewhere realise and convince themselves that the only real security they can ever have is more freedom for their people, more justice, more jobs and vast improvement in the welfare of all people not just the fat cats, and, of course, knowing when to let go — of power that is!
lBornwell Chakaodza is a veteran journalist and former Editor of the Herald and the Standard. email: firstname.lastname@example.org