THOMAS Jefferson (1743-1826), the United States’ third president and renowned as the father of that country’s democracy as well as an influential figure in the crafting of the constitution, recognised the corrosive effect of time, not only on the viability of revolutions, but also on their meaning and appeal.
As he observed, revolutions have a life span which is not infinite and not only do they lose meaning with time, but they are also mortal. The passage of time renders them moribund thus requiring every generation to have its own revolution.
In his own words: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants … It is its natural manure” and “every generation needs a new revolution”.
Central to Jefferson’s philosophy is the notion that every generation is obliged not only to renew itself, but also to re-invent, re-establish, re-create structures and redefine realities for itself if ever it is to survive and prosper.
Each generation has to forge ahead with a new revolution as the old patterns get worn out and are rendered expired not only by time, but also by circumstances which militate against the aspirations of that society.
Indeed, revolutions are rarely completed by a single generation for they are inherited by successive generations. It therefore implies that no nation can forge ahead successfully without re-inventing, re-establishing and re-creating itself to adapt to new challenges it confronts with the passage of time.
As Jefferson observed, revolutions are “a medicine necessary for the sound health of government, hence an integral part of survival for society”. Can Africa in general and, in our case, Zimbabwe in particular, benefit from these words of wisdom from one of America’s most revered icons?
The US today certainly doesn’t need a revolution after every 20 years as Jefferson recommended, taking into consideration the great strides it has made politically and economically, but Africa certainly does.
Part of Africa’s dilemma emanates from the fact that her people have failed to renew, let alone re-invent and re-establish themselves as they face new challenges in the course of their history, thereby rendering the continent the dustbin of history.
The ordinary people, the worst affected by neo-colonial machinations, have failed to realise, acknowledge, let alone re-establish themselves as a recognised force to reckon with in the face of post-colonial challenges.
Not only are they naïve to be of the opinion that the revolution to unseat colonial rule reached its final phase with the advent of black rule, but at worst, the majority can’t realise the genesis of their plight which has reduced them to paupers years after attaining Independence.
Trapped in this mindset, there is a failure to acknowledge the need to re-define, re-invent and re-establish themselves in the face of black dictatorship. The ballot box is seen by the electorate as the last and viable avenue through which to rescue themselves from bondage, but this is to no avail as dictators tamper with it to rig elections.
Faced with this brick wall, there is paralysis not only among the ordinary people, but the opposition as well. There has been a failure to realise the urgent need to re-ignite the dying flames of the revolution that unseated colonial rule as old patterns get worn.
The ordinary people need to realise that African leaders like President Robert Mugabe, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Yoweri Museveni (Uganda), Isaias Afewerki (Eritrea) and others, some now labelled as dictators, played their part in the revolution to dislodge white colonial rule, but can’t be custodians of new revolutions in post-colonial Africa.
They belong to the past and not the present. How can the continent redefine and renew herself when the mindset required to do so is stuck in the past? Never at any point will Africa’s problems be solved by this generation of leaders who have outlived their welcome.
How then can these leaders be removed from power for the present generation to be able to recreate, redefine and re-establish itself for the good of the continent and her people? There is no simple answer, but for every problem there is a solution.
First, it is the mindset of the ordinary people that needs re-awakening as they need to realise that the struggle to dislodge colonial rule was one among a series of revolutions to be waged in order to liberate themselves.
Oppression should not be seen in terms of black versus white, but the ordinary people should remain alive to the fact blacks can also oppress blacks or whites. The fight for liberation should not be seen in terms of skin colour, but as against the system that rewards a few at the expense of the majority.
Second, once the mindset is awakened, revolutions as those taking place in Egypt, Tunisia, Ukraine, Bangladesh, Thailand, Brazil and Cambodia could be the answer to Africa’s bid to renew and redefine herself. It is the mental awakening that energises the people of Ukraine to spend months sleeping in the open demonstrating for a cause that they believe in.
Until ordinary Africans reach that stage, dictatorship will find a fertile ground to thrive on the continent and its people will never be able to recreate let alone redefine themselves.
As Jefferson said: “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to … remain silent.”
Dictators will not leave power through democratic means, however unpopular they might be.
Third, civil disobedience is an option on the table. Why not paralyse despotic regimes through the power of strikes and boycotts?
These are tried and tested methods of fighting entrenched dictatorship. Where is the student, church and trade union activism in Africa today which helped in fighting colonialism? Again, it is the mental awakening that is needed first before the ordinary people can make such informed decisions in their bid to liberate themselves.
Fourth, the opposition should not be naïve to participate in elections which are not internationally monitored. Participation of the African Union, Ecowas, Sadc or any other body in Africa is not enough as some of these institutions are dysfunctional and serve the interests of sitting heads of state.
The opposition should not give ordinary people a false sense of the effectiveness of democratic apparatuses in fighting entrenched dictatorship. Instead, it is the duty of the opposition to spread this gospel of awakening among the oppressed so that they make informed decisions.
That said, it has to be acknowledged that poverty among the oppressed nurtures domicile citizens who are pre-occupied with survival more than anything else. However, it becomes a vicious cycle as failure to challenge dictatorship by the oppressed worsens their plight.
The tragedy of Africa is that her elite’s mandate is not derived from the people; hence it is not answerable to the electorate. On the other hand, the oppressed have failed to establish themselves as a force to reckon with for in their minds, the ballot box is the final battle ground from which they can get reprieve.
Stuck in this limbo, there is no plan B not only for the ordinary people, but for the opposition as well. Civil wars are not a viable option as evidenced by tragedies in Angola, Mozambique, Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo and they tend to nurture dictators, beside the human cost associated with them.
Revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia and Ukraine, although appearing to be a distant prospect for the rest of the continent, are the future for the oppressed in their quest to redefine and recreate themselves.
However, the mindset and conscience of the oppressed across the continent from Accra in Ghana to Nairobi in Kenya and Cape Town (in South Africa) to Cairo (Egypt) needs to rise to a higher level than where it is today before they are able to execute this revolution which is to be inherited by future generations and only to be repeated from time to time.
Answers to Africa’s problems can’t be found in leaders like Mugabe, Kagame, Museveni and Afewerki who have outlived their usefulness. The people of the continent need to rediscover new ways of redefining, re-establishing and renewing themselves in their quest for emancipation from black leaders and dictatorships.
Muchayi is a pro-democracy political analyst who can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org