By Alemayehu G. Mariam
Creeping Youthbellion and Youthvolution in Africa and the Middle East
“When the sun rises, it rises for everyone,” goes the old saying. The sun that rose over tyranny in North Africa will not set at the edge of the Sahel; it will shine southward on the African savannah and rainforest. The wind of change blowing across the Middle East will soon cut a wide swath clear to the Atlantic Coast of West Africa from the Red Sea. The sun that lifted the darkness that had enveloped Tunisia, Egypt and Libya for decades can now be seen rising just over the Ethiopian horizon. The sun rises to greet a new generation of Ethiopians.
Today we are witnessing a second African independence, an independence from thugtatorship no less dramatic or volcanic than the upheavals of oppressed peoples that overthrew the yoke of colonialism one-half century ago. In 1960, British PM Harold McMillan warned his fraternity of European imperial powers: “The wind of change is blowing through this [African] continent, and whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact. We must all accept it as a fact, and our national policies must take account of it.”
The wind of change that has kicked up a sandstorm of youth rebellion and revolt in North Africa has laid bare the ghastly facts of oppression and youth despair to global consciousness. Arab and African youths are crying out for freedom, democracy, human rights and equal economic opportunity. The vast majority of the uneducated, under-educated and mis-educated African youths have no hope for the future. Legions of Arab youths with college degrees, advanced professional and technical training waste away the best years of their lives because they have few economic opportunities. They too see a void in their future. African and Arab youths have had enough, and they are rising up like the sun to liberate themselves and their societies from the clutches of thugs. The outcome of the youth uprisings is foreordained. As Sam Cooke, the great pioneer of soul music sang, “It’s been a long, a long time coming/ But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will…”
But there are some who cynically argue that the type of volcanic popular uprisings sweeping North Africa cannot happen in Ethiopia. They offer many reasons. They say the thugtators in Ethiopia have used every means at their disposal to keep the people benighted, divided and antagonized. They point to the primitive state of information technology in Ethiopia as proof of a deliberate official strategy to prevent Ethiopian youth from accessing the Internet freely to learn new ideas and create cyber civic societies. (Ethiopia has the second lowest (after Sierra Leone) internet penetration rate in Africa.) They say Zenawi has bought off the best and the brightest of Ethiopia’s youth with cash, jobs, special educational opportunities and privileges just to keep them off the streets and happy as a clam. (It seems Ethiopia’s youth are a pressurized powder keg.) They say Ethiopia’s young people (who comprise the majority of the population) have no frame of historical reference and that Zenawi has brainwashed them into believing that he is their demi-god and savior. (It is possible to fool some of the youths all of the time, but it is impossible to fool all of the youths all of the time.) They say Zenawi’s vast security network of informants, spies and thugs will suppress any youth or other uprising before it could gather momentum. They say Zenawi has permeated the society with so much fear and loathing that it is nearly impossible for individuals or groups to come together, build consensus and articulate a unified demand for change. They say Zenawi has created so much ethnic antagonism in the society that he can cling to power indefinitely by playing his divide-and-rule game and raising the specter of genocide and civil war. Regardless of what anyone says, Zenawi has made it crystal clear what he will do to cling to power. He will “crush with full force” anyone who opposes him electorally or otherwise.
The Survival Principle of Thugtatorships
African thugtators will do anything to cling to power. Hosni Mubarak used a state of emergency decree to cling to power for three decades. When he was deposed from his Pharaonic throne, there were 30,000 political prisoners rotting in his dungeons. Ben Ali in Tunisia did as he pleased for nearly a quarter of a century. Gadhafi’s actions in Libya today offer a hard object lesson on what thugtators will do to cling to power. He continues to use helicopter gunships and MiG fighter planes to bomb and strafe civilians. He is using his private army of thugs and mercenaries to commit unspeakable violence on Libyan citizens. He has offered to buy off Libyans for $400 per household and pledged a 150 percent increase in government workers’ wages if they stop the uprising. They told him “to immerse it in water and drink it” (or “to stuff it…” in the English vernacular.) Gadhafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, has threatened to dismember Libya and plunge it into a civil war and “fight to the last minute, until the last bullet, until the last drop of my blood.” Gadhafi is doing everything in his power to cling to power. The only unanswered question is whether he will resort to the “chemical option”. On March 16, 1988, toward the end of the Iraq-Iran war, Saddam Hussien used chemical weapons against the Kurds in Halabja killing thousands. Will Gadhafi use chemical weapons against Libyans in March 2011 as his regime comes to its long overdue end? Whether Zenawi will follow Gadhafi’s scorched earth policy to cling to power remains to be seen, but careful analysis of his actions, public statements, interviews, speeches, writings, ideological perspective and the irrepressible and self-consuming hatred he has publicly displayed against those who have opposed him over the past 20 years suggests that he will likely follow the tragic wisdom of the old aphorism, “Apre moi, le deluge” (After me, the flood).
But thugtators, trapped in their bubbles and echo chambers, often overestimate their prowess and abilities. “Brotherly Leader” Gadhafi thought he was so powerful and the Libyan people so cowardly that he did not expect in his wildest imagination they would dare rise up and challenge him. He was proven wrong when Libyans broke the chains of crippling fear Gadhafi had put on them for 42 years. Gadhafi thought he could prevent Libyan youths from communicating and coordinating with each other by shutting down social media such as Facebook. Libya’s young revolutionaries proved to be more creative; they used Muslim dating websites to coordinate their activities. Now Gadhafi has completely shut down Internet service in the country believing he can control and distort the flow of information coming out of Libya. Gadhafi’s murderous thugs and mercenaries have been repelled time and again by a ragtag army of Libyan shopkeepers, waiters, welders, engineers, students and the unemployed. Despite Gadhafi’s talk of tribal war, Libyans have closed ranks to wage war on thugtatorship. After 42 years of ignorant ramblings in the Green Book, Gadhafi and his Jamahiriya (“republic ruled by the masses”) are in their death throes.
The Bouzazi Factor
Mohamed Bouzazi was the young Tunisian who burned himself to protest Ben Ali’s thugtatorship. Bouzazi’s desperate act became the spark that created the critical mass of popular uprising which has caused a chain reaction throughout North Africa and the Middle East. The tipping point for change in any country cannot be predicted with certainty. In Tunisia, Bouzazi was literally the “fissile material” that catalyzed the popular uprising. In Egypt, a number of factors worked together to get rid of Mubarak’s thugtatorship. The young Egyptians who led the revolt were well educated and tech savvy and used their knowledge to organize effectively. The Egyptian military maintained neutrality and opposition elements were able to build consensus on the need to remove Mubarak and his henchmen from power after three decades. In Libya, the people just had enough of a raving lunatic running their lives.
Change is a universal imperative and it will come to Ethiopia as it has for its northern neighbors. The coming change in Ethiopia may not necessarily follow any existing template. It will originate from an unexpected source and spread in unexpected ways. The tipping point in Ethiopia will likely revolve around three factors: 1) the clarity, truthfulness and persuasiveness of the message of change delivered to the people, 2) the unity in the voices of the messengers who deliver the message, and 3) the context in which the message of change is communicated to the people. Simply stated, a convergence of democratic forces and a consensus on a clear message of change is necessary to create a critical mass for change in Ethiopia.
Overcoming the Fear Factor
The one common thread in all of the uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East is that the people overcame their fears. The thugtators waged decades long campaigns of psychological warfare to instill fear and loathing in the hearts and minds of their peoples. For decades, the people believed the thugtators to be strong and invincible, untouchable and unaccountable. Recent evidence shows that all thugtatorships have feet of clay. The moment the Libyan people unshackled themselves from 42 years of crippling fear — the kind of fear President Roosevelt described as “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified, terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance ” — they were able to see Gadhafi for what he truly is — a thug. Ditto for Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak. Change came to Tunisia, Egypt and Libya not because the thugtators had changed but because the people had changed. They were no longer afraid! They found out the true meaning of the old saying, “Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is.”
The Hubris of Thugtators
Thugtators believe they can cling to power by eliminating their opposition, and particularly those who helped them get into power. They ward off potential challengers by keeping their military weak and appointing their cronies and henchmen to leadership positions. They believe they are loved, respected and admired by their people. Gadhafi said, “All my people love me!” They don’t. They hate him. Gadhafi convinced himself that all Libyans are happy under his rule.” They are not. Libya has a Sovereign Wealth Fund of $70 billion and nearly as much has been frozen by the American, British and Swiss governments. Yet the vast majority of the 6 million Libyans have difficulty making ends meet. Gadhafi has squandered much of the oil money buying arms, financing terrorists, seeking to develop weapons of mass destruction, giving it away to other countries to increase his prestige and paying blood money for acts of terrorism he personally ordered. He paid $3 billion to the survivors of the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in which 270 people died. Zenawi said he won the last election by 99.6 percent because the people love his party. They “consider themselves and the EPRDF as two sides of a coin” and “nothing can ever shake their unwavering support for our organization,” he said in his victory speech last May. He congratulated the people for “giv[ing] us the mandate through your votes” and patronized them for their “high sense of judgment and fairness” in voting for his party.
Regardless of what thugtators say or do, they will always remain weak and anxiety-ridden because they are in it for the money and not to serve the people. State power is the means by which they pick clean the economic bones of their countries. Thugtators are incapable of anticipating or understanding the need for change. Because they lack a vision for the future and the courage to do what needs to be done in the present, they are always swept away in a flash flood of popular uprising as Ben Ali, Mubarak and Gadhafi have found out lately.
Foolishly Riding the Tiger
President Obama needs to realize that it is not enough to talk about being “on the right side of history”. The U.S. must first do the right thing. For the Obama Administration to talk about “regime alteration” instead of regime change in the Middle East and North Africa today is not being on the right side of history. It is just being plain wrong! President John F. Kennedy said that being on the right side of history is being on the side of the “people in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery and helping them help themselves.” In his inaugural speech President Kennedy said:
To those new states whom we welcome to the ranks of the free, we pledge our word that one form of colonial control shall not have passed away merely to be replaced by a far more iron tyranny. We shall not always expect to find them supporting our view. But we shall always hope to find them strongly supporting their own freedom– and to remember that, in the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.
To those people in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required–not because the Communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.
The lesson of the spreading uprisings for African and Middle Eastern thugtators is a simple one best paraphrased in Gandhi’s immortal words: “There have been thugtators and murderers who have foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger. But in the end, they found themselves inside the tiger’s belly. Think of it, always.”
The weekly commentaries of the author are available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/
By Alemayehu G. Mariam
The Berlin Conference of 2009
In 1884, the Berlin Conference was convened by the European imperial powers to carve out colonial territories in Africa. It was called the “Scramble for Africa”.
In 2009, another Berlin Conference was convened by a high level group of diplomats (referring to themselves as the “partners”) from the U.S. and several European countries to hammer out an “agreement” on what to do (and not do) in the Horn of Africa.
According to a recently released Wikileaks cablegram, with respect to Ethiopia, the partners “agreed [on] Ethiopia’s key role in the region” and “the need to support and observe its May 2010 elections.” They acknowledged “Meles as a regional leader, pointing out he would represent Africa on climate change in Copenhagen.” They agreed Meles is “intent on retaining power” and that he is “a guy you can do business with”. They expressed doubts about “being associated with a likely imperfect process” that could result from the May 2010 elections (which subsequently produced a 99.6 percent win for Meles’ party), but “they nonetheless agreed on the importance of international involvement in the elections.”
The German and French partners debated “Ethiopia’s economic situation, namely [the] hard currency and the poor investment climate.” The German diplomat suggested that Ethiopia’s economic problems could be traced to “Meles’ poor understanding of economics”. The French diplomat argued that “Meles actually had a good understanding of economics, but was hampered by his ideological beliefs.” In a single sentence, out of the blue, the partners ganged up and whipsawed the entire Ethiopian opposition: “The [Ethiopian] political opposition is weak, disunited, and out of touch with the average Ethiopian, partners agreed.”
For quite some time, foreign journalists have been reporting wholly disparaging and categorically dismissive remarks about Ethiopia’s opposition by anonymous Western diplomats. In February 2010, I wrote a commentary decrying and protesting the cowardly and scandalous statements issued by Western diplomats hiding behind the veil of journalistic anonymity. I complained that the derisive characterizations were not only unfair, inaccurate and self-serving, but also dispiriting, disheartening and demeaning of Ethiopia’s besieged opposition. It is gratifying to finally put faces to the surly anonymous lips.
Is the Ethiopian political opposition “weak and disunited”?
It is true that the Ethiopian “political opposition is weak and disunited”, an issue I have addressed on previous occasions. But Western governments seem to be conveniently oblivious of the reasons for the disarray in the opposition. For two decades, Meles Zenawi and his regime have done everything in their power to keep the opposition divided, defeated, discombobulated and dysfunctional. Zenawi has pursued the opposition relentlessly often comparing them to Rwanda’s interhamwe (meaning “those who stand/work/fight/attack together”) genociders. In 2005, he rounded up almost all of the major opposition political and civic leaders, human rights advocates, journalists and dissidents in the country and jailed them for nearly two years on charges of genocide, among many others. Zenawi’s own Inquiry Commission has documented that hundreds of peaceful opposition demonstrators were massacred in the streets and over thirty thousand suspected opposition members jailed in the aftermath of the May 2005 elections. In 2008, Zenawi jailed Birtukan Midekssa, the first female opposition political party leader in Ethiopian history, on the ridiculous charge of “denying a pardon”. He put her in solitary confinement and categorically and absolutely ruled out any possibility of freedom for her declaring: “There will never be an agreement with anybody to release Birtukan. Ever. Full stop. That’s a dead issue.” (He let go in October 2010.)
Zenawi has demonized a major opposition group as a “terrorist” organization bent on “creating a rift between the government and the people of Oromiya.” In his pursuit of the opposition, he has “used extreme force trapping the civilian population between the insurgents and the government forces.” He put on trial and sentenced to death various alleged “members” of Ginbot 7 Movement, and contemptuously described the Movement as an organization of “amateur part-time terrorists”. He has intimidated and verbally shredded his former comrade-in-arms who have stood with the opposition and rhetorically clobbered his critics as “muckrakers,” “mud dwellers”, “sooty,” “sleazy,” “pompous egotists” and good-for-nothing “chaff” and “husk.” He even claimed the opposition was “dirtying up the people like themselves.” Opposition parliamentarians are routinely humiliated in public and treated like delinquent children. In parliamentary exchanges, they are mocked for their pronunciation of English words.
When opposition leaders went on the campaign trial in 2010, they were prevented from meeting with voters in their districts as former president Dr. Negasso Gidada and others have documented. Opposition political and civic leaders and dissidents are kept under 24-hour surveillance, and the people they meet are intimidated and harassed. The culture of fear that permeates every aspect of society is reinforced by a structure of repression that is vertically integrated from the very top to the local (kebele) level making peaceful opposition impossible. Unless one is a member of the ruling party, the chances of higher education, employment and other privileges are next to nil. By becoming part of the opposition, the average and not-so-average Ethiopian invites political persecution, economic hardship and social isolation. Under such circumstances, is it any wonder that the Ethiopian opposition is weak and disunited? Is it not ironic that Western donors are unwilling to help the opposition in any way (including giving moral support) yet skulk behind journalistic anonymity to heap dismissive contempt on them while turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to flagrant abuses of human rights and misuse of their aid money to buy votes?
Is the Ethiopian opposition “out of touch with the average Ethiopian”?
The gratuitous backhanded slap on the face of the Ethiopian opposition as “out of touch with the average Ethiopian” has caused disappointment among some political and civic leaders. But the evidence shows that the Western “partners” may actually be right! For instance, Birtukan Midekssa was completely out of touch with any Ethiopian, except her mother and young daughter, for nearly two years. She was spending time in solitary confinement in Kality prison, a/k/a Kality Hilton, feasting on gourmet food and “putting on weight”, according to one highly placed source. Following the May 2005 elections, for almost two years, nearly all of the country’s opposition party leaders, leading journalists, human rights activists and civic society advocates were completely out of touch with any Ethiopian, except their jailors, at the same Kality Hilton. As to opposition party members and dissidents, tens of thousands of them have completely disappeared from the face of the earth over the past decade alone and are out of touch with anyone. Tens of thousands more are held incommunicado as political prisoners in secret jails. In light of this evidence, could it be denied that the Ethiopian opposition is completely out of touch with the average and not-so-average Ethiopian?
Is the ruling regime in touch with the average Ethiopian?
One would have to answer that question in the affirmative. The whole idea of a police state is to make sure that the rulers stay in very close touch with the average citizen. Zenawi’s regime stays in close touch with the average Ethiopian using the services of hundreds of thousands of secret police operatives and informants spying on each individual. Dr. Gidada has documented one of the common ways the regime stays in extremely close touch with the people:
The police and security offices and personnel collect information on each household through other means. One of these methods involves the use of organizations or structures called “shane”, which in Oromo means “the five”. Five households are grouped together under a leader who has the job of collecting information on the five households… The security chief passes the information he collected to his chief in the higher administrative organs in the Qabale, who in turn informs the Woreda police and security office. Each household is required to report on guests and visitors, the reasons for their visits, their length of stay, what they said and did and activities they engaged in. … The OPDO/EPRDF runs mass associations (women, youth and micro-credit groups) and party cells (“fathers”, “mothers” and “youth”). The party cells in the schools, health institutions and religious institutions also serve the same purpose….
The average and not-so-average Ethiopian looking for a government job or applying for a business license needs to be in close touch with the powers that be to get one. The regime is so in touch with the average and not-so-average Ethiopian that they want them to hear only what they have to say. They have jammed the transmissions of the Voice of America, opposition satellite broadcasts and filtered out websites of regime critics.
Are the Western donors “in touch with the average Ethiopian”?
Western donors are very much in touch with the average Ethiopian, that is in the same way as they were in touch with the average Tunisian, Egyptian, Yemeni, Bahraini and so on. They were so in touch with the average citizens of these countries that they anticipated and correctly predicted the recent popular uprisings. That was the reason President Obama “applauded” the people for throwing Ben Ali out of Tunisia. The U.S. was so in touch with the realities of the average Egyptian over the past 30 years that President Obama and his foreign policy team froze in stunned silence, flat-footed and twiddling their thumbs and scratching their heads for days before staking out a position on the popular uprising. They could not bring themselves to use the “D” words (dictator, democracy) to describe events in Egypt. Western governments were also very much in touch with Hosni Mubarak floating his ship of state on an ocean of corruption and repression with billions of dollars in military and economic aid. They are very much in touch with Zenawi; after all he is the “guy you can do business with,” a partner. Truth be told, they have done tons of business with him over the past 20 years, no less than $26 billion!
Who is “the average Ethiopian”?
Who is the “average Ethiopian” whose contact is so highly prized and coveted? It seems s/he has an average life expectancy at birth of less than 45 years. S/he lives on less than $USD 1 per day. S/he is engaged in subsistence agriculture eking out a living. S/he survives on a daily intake of 800 calories (starvation level). S/he can neither read nor write. If s/he is sick, she has a 1 chance in 39,772 persons to see a doctor, 1 in 828,000 to see a dentist, 1 in 4,985 chance to see a nurse. She has little or no access to family planning services, reproductive health and emergency obstetric services and suffers from high maternal mortality during childbirth. She is a victim of gender discrimination, domestic violence and female genital mutilation. She has fewer employment and educational opportunities than the “average” man and is not paid equal pay for equal work. S/he is likely to die from malaria and other preventable infectious diseases, severe shortages of clean water and poor sanitation. The “average” Ethiopian youth is undereducated, underemployed and underappreciated with little opportunity for social mobility or economic self-sufficiency. The “average” urban adolescent is unemployed and a drop out from school. S/he is frustrated and in despair of his/her future and is likely to engage in a fatal pattern of risky behaviors including drug, alcohol and tobacco abuse, crime and delinquency and sexual activity which exposes him/her to a risk of acquiring sexually transmitted diseases including HIV. The “average” child has a high likelihood of being orphaned and die from malnutrition and is vulnerable to all forms of exploitation, including child labor and sexual. So, who really is in touch with the “average Ethiopian”!?!
Be In Touch With the Youth
Regardless of how the Western donors define the “average Ethiopian”, the fact is that s/he is a young person. An estimated 67 percent of the population is under the age of 30, of which 43 percent is below the age of 15. Two of history’s evil men understood the importance of staying in touch with the youth population. Vladmir Lenin, the founder of the totalitarian Soviet state said, “Give me just one generation of youth, and I’ll transform the whole world.” His counterpart in the Third Reich said, “he alone, who owns the youth, gains the future.” Both failed because they wanted to use the youths as cannon fodder for their warped vision of world domination. Africa’s dictators have ignored and neglected the youths and consigned them to a life of poverty and despair. They have tried to put in the service of their dictatorial rule Africa’s best and brightest. They too will fail.
The demographic data on Africa’s youth is frightening. As Africa urbanizes rapidly and its population population continues to grow uncontrollably (expected to increase from 294 million to 742 million between 2000 and 2030), the number of young people trapped in poverty, hungry and angry will multiply by the tens of millions per year. Frustrated, desperate and denied political space, they will become the powder keg that will implode African societies. African dictators and their Western partners continue to delude themselves into believing that the youth will continue to passively accept and tolerate corruption, repression, abuse of power and denial of basic human rights. But a new generation of African youths is rising up declaring: “Enough is Enough!”
Revolutionary Democracy Meets “Facebook” Democracy in Ethiopia
If Tunisia and Egypt are an indication, Zenawi’s vision of revolutionary democracy will in due course collide with the “Facebook” democracy (tech savvy young people creating a functioning civic community using information technology) taking over Africa’s youth. Zenawi wrote:
When Revolutionary Democracy permeates the entire society, individuals will start to think alike and all persons will cease having their own independent outlook. In this order, individual thinking becomes simply part of collective thinking because the individual will not be in a position to reflect on concepts that have not been prescribed by Revolutionary Democracy.
This is not democracy (revolutionary or reactionary). In the old days, such “democracy” was called fascism where the national leader (Der Fuhrer) sought to create “organic unity” of the body politic by imposing upon the people uniformity of thought and action through violence, legal compulsion and intense social pressure. It is no longer possible to brainwash, mind control and indoctrinate impressionable young people with meaningless ideology as though they are helpless and fatuous members of a weird religious cult. The days of programming human beings as jackbooted robots marching to the order of “Der Fuhrer” are long gone.
“Facebook” democrats reject any totalitarian notions of “individual thinking becoming part of collective thinking”. They do not need a single mind, a single party, a single operating system to do the thinking for them. Africa’s youths have their own unique outlook and independent voice on their present circumstances and their future. History shows that every regime that has sought to force unanimity of opinion and belief among its citizens has found the unanimity of the graveyard. When free speech, free press and the rule of law permeate society, and human rights and the voices of the people are respected and protected, citizens will experience dignity and self-respect and muster the courage and determination to forge their own destinies.
There are enough young Africans with the idealism, creativity, knowledge, technical ability and genius to transform the old fear-ridden Africa into their own brave new Africa. In this effort, they do not need the guiding hands or the misguided ideas of ideologues from a bygone era. Western partners have the choice of supporting a brave new Africa of young people on the march or they can continue their “partnership” in the crime of democricide with the old “stable” police states careening to the dustbin of history. With the recent departure of two of the most powerful and entrenched police chiefs, and others teetering, the West may not be able to shoehorn the youths of (the Horn of) Africa into silence and submission from boardrooms in Berlin, Washington, London, Rome, Paris…
Power to Africa’s Youths!
Alemayehu G. Mariam
A specter is haunting Africa and the Middle East – the specter of an awesome army of youths on the move, in revolt, marching for freedom, chanting for democracy and dying for human rights and human dignity. Millions of youths are standing up and demanding dictators to stand down and leave town. They are fed up with despotism, totalitarianism, absolutism, authoritarianism, monarchism, fascism and terrorism. They are sick and tired of being told to wait and wait and wait as their future fades into nothingness. They are sick and tired of being sick and tired. Youths rose up like the morning sun to brighten the long dark night of dictatorship in Tunisia and Egypt. They dictated to the great dictators: “Mubarak, irhal (go away).” “Degage, Ben Ali!” (Get out, Ben Ali!). When Mubarak refused to budge like a bloodsucking tick on a milk cow, they brandished their shoes and cried out, “Mubarak, you are a shoe!” (a stinging insult in Arab culture). Mubarak finally got the point. He saw 85 million pairs of shoes pointed at his rear end. In a 30-second announcement, the House of Mubarak dissolved into the dust bin of history.
The Beautiful Egyptian Youth Revolution
What makes the Egyptian youth revolution so beautiful, wonderful, absorbing, hypnotizing and inspiring is that they did it with moral courage, steadfast determination and without resorting to violence even when violence was visited upon them by Mubarak’s thugs. They did not fire a single shot, as Mubarak’s thugs massacred 300 of their own and jailed several thousands more. Egypt’s youths fought their battles in the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and elsewhere, but they won their war against dictatorship and for freedom, democracy and human rights in the hearts and minds of their people. How they went about winning their revolution is a testament to a people whose civilization is the cradle of human civilization. They transformed their oppression-seared nation into a molten steel of freedom-loving humanity: Muslims and Christians prayed together in Tahrir Square for the end of the dark days of dictatorship and the beginning of a new dawn of freedom. Civilians held hands with soldiers who were sent out to shoot them. Religious revivalists locked arms with secularists, socialists and others to demand change. Rich and poor embraced each other in common cause. Young and old marched together day and night; and men and women of all ages raised their arms in defiance chanting, “Mubarak, irhal.”
Victory of Courage Over Fear
For 30 years, Mubarak ruled with fear and an iron fist under a State of Emergency. He established a vast network of secret police, spies, informants and honor guards to make sure he stayed in power and his opposition decimated. Under an emergency law (Law No. 162 of 1958), Mubarak exercised unlimited powers. He banned any real opposition political activity and unapproved political organizations, prohibited street demonstrations, arrested critics and dissidents and clamped down on all he thought posed a threat to his rule. Mubarak had the power to imprison anyone for any reason, at any time and for any period of time without trial. Some he tried in kangaroo military courts and sentenced them to long prison terms. Mubarak held an estimated 20,000 persons under the emergency law and the number of political prisoners in Egypt is estimated at 30,000. Mubarak’s brutal (secret) police are responsible for the disappearance, torture, rape and killing of thousands of pro-democracy campaigners and innocent people. A cable sent to Washington by the US ambassador to Cairo in 2009 revealed: “Torture and police brutality in Egypt are endemic and widespread. The police use brutal methods mostly against common criminals to extract confessions, but also against demonstrators, certain political prisoners and unfortunate bystanders.” When Egyptian youth overcame their fears and stood up to the notorious secret police, spies, informants and bloodthirsty thugs, it was all over for Mubarak and his kleptocratic regime. In less than three weeks, Mubarak’s empire of fear, terror and torture crumbled like an Egyptian ghorayebah cookie left out in the Sahara sun.
All Dictators End Up in the Dustbin of History
These must be days of worry and panic for African and Middle Eastern dictators. No doubt, some are in a state of total depression having sleepless nights and nightmares when they catch a wink. They brood over the questions: “What if IT (the “unspeakable”) happens to me? What am I going to do? How many can I kill to suppress an uprising and get away with it? A thousand, ten thousand?”
African and Middle Eastern dictators who have abused their power must know that sooner or later their turn will come. When it does, they will have only three choices: justice before their national or international tribunals, the dustbin of history, or if they can make it to the airport fast enough to Dictators’ “home away from home”, Saudi Arabia (at least until their turn comes). There will be no place for them to run and hide. Let them learn from the fates of their brothers: Al Bashir of Sudan has an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court hanging over his head. Old Charley Taylor of Liberia is awaiting his verdict at the ICC. Hissien Habre of Chad will soon be moving into Taylor’s cell at the ICC. A gang of Kenyan state ministers which instigated the violence following the 2007 presidential elections should be trading their designer suits for prison jumpsuits at the ICC in the not too distant future. Mengistu, Ben Ali, Mubarak, Al Bashir and others will be on the lam for a while and evade the long arm of justice. Justice may be delayed but it will always arrive as it did a couple of days for Pervez Musharraf who has warrant out for his arrest in connection with the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.
All dictators are doomed to an ignominious downfall. No African dictator has ever left office with dignity, honor, respect and the adulation of his people. They have all left office in shame, disgrace and infamy. History shows that dictators live out their last days like abandoned vicious dogs– lonely, godforsaken and tormented. Such has been the destiny of Mobutu of Zaire, Bokassa of the Central African Republic, Idi Amin of Uganda, Barre of Somalia, El-Nimery of the Sudan, Saddam of Iraq, Pol Pot of Cambodia, Marcos of the Philippines, the Shah of Iran, Ceausescu of Romania, Pincohet of Chile, Somoza of Nicaragua, Hoxha of Albania, Suharto of Indonesia, Stroessner of Paraguay, Ne Win of Mynamar, Hitler, Stalin, Mussollini and all the rest. History testifies that these names will forever be synonymous with evil, cruelty, atrocity, depravity and inhumanity. It is ironic that Mubarak (which in Arabic means “blessed one”) was born to live as the blessed one; but he will forever be remembered in Egyptian history as the “cursed one”.
The Power of Nonviolence Resistance
As Gandhi said, “Strength does not come from physical capacity”, nor does it come from guns, tanks and planes. “It comes from an indomitable will.” Winston Churchill must have learned something from Gandhi when he said, “Never give in–never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
As odd as it seems, violence is the weapon of the weak. To shoot and kill and maim unarmed protesters in the streets is not a sign of strength, it is a sign of fear and cowardice. To jail wholesale opposition leaders, journalists, critics and dissidents is not a demonstration of control but the ultimate manifestation of lack of control. One speaks the language of violence because one cannot speak the language of reason. Violence is the language of the angry, the hateful, the vengeful, the ignorant and the fearful. Dictators speak to their victims in the language of violence because their raison d’etre (reason for existing) is to hate and spread hate. Their very soul stirs with hatred often damaged by childhood experiences and feelings of inferiority. Hitler and Stalin exhibited strong hatred towards Jews from childhood, and because they felt woefully inadequate, they did things to try and show everybody that they have power. Violence never resolves the issues that triggered the violence; and as Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” Dr. Martn Luther King explained it further: “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate…” To reciprocate in violence is to become one with the perpetrators of violence. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
But the nonviolent resistor is strong, very strong. S/he is willing to sit down and reason with the one brutalizing her/him. Gandhi, Martin King, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Vaclav Havel, Lech Walesa, Rosa Parks and many others have proven to be stronger than those whose heartbeats stroked to the metronome of hate. Gandhi drove the British colonialists out of India without firing a single shot. They mocked him as the “little lawyer in a diaper.” In the end, the British saluted the Indian flag and left. More recently, Eastern Europe shed its totalitarian burden through nonviolent resistance. Now we have seen it happen in Tunisia and Egypt.
But there are some who believe that nonviolent resistance will not work in the face of a morally depraved, conscienceless and barbaric adversary who will mow down in cold blood children, men and women. Others say nonviolence resistance takes too long to produce results. Such views have been articulated since the time of Gandhi, but the historical evidence refutes them. As we have recently seen in Tunisia and Egypt, two of the most brutal and entrenched dictatorships in the world unraveled in less than a month through nonviolent resistance.
As to a long-term nonviolent struggle, there are many instructive experiences. Let’s take Poland as an example. In 1981, the Soviets put General Wojciech Jaruzelski in charge to crackdown on Solidarity, a non-communist controlled trade union established a year earlier. Jaruzelski immediately declared martial law and arrested thousands of Solidarity members, often in in the middle of the night, including union leader Lech Walesa. Jaruzelski flooded the streets of Warsaw, Gdansk and elsewhere in Poland with police who shot, beat and jailed strikers and protesters by the tens of thousands. By the beginning of 1982, the crackdown seemed successful and most of Solidarity top leaders were behind bars. But Jaruzelski’s campaign of violence and repression did not end the nonviolent resistance in Poland. It only drove it underground. Where the jailed union leaders left off, others took over including priests, students, dissidents and journalists. Unable to meet in the streets, the people gathered in their churches, in the restaurants and bars, offices, schools and associations. A proliferation of underground institutions emerged including Solidarity Radio; hundreds of underground publications served as the medium of communication for the people. Solidarity leaders who had evaded arrest managed to generate huge international support. The U.S. and other countries imposed sanctions on Poland, which inflicted significant hardship on Jaruzelski’s government. By 1988, Poland’s economy was in shambles as prices for basic staples rose sharply and inflation soared. In August of that year, Jaruzelski was ready to negotiate with Solidarity and met Walesa. Following the “Polish Roundtable Talks”, communism was doomed in Poland. In December 1990, Lech Walesa became the first popularly elected president of Poland. It took nearly a decade to complete the Polish nonviolent revolution. History shows that nonviolent change seems impossible to many until people act to bring it about. Who would have thought two months ago that two of the world’s worst dictators would be toppled and consigned to the dust bin of history in a nonviolent struggle by youths?
The Wrath of Ethiopian Youth
In June 2010, I wrote:
The wretched conditions of Ethiopia’s youth point to the fact that they are a ticking demographic time bomb. The evidence of youth frustration, discontent, disillusionment and discouragement by the protracted economic crisis, lack of economic opportunities and political repression is manifest, overwhelming and irrefutable. The yearning of youth for freedom and change is self-evident. The only question is whether the country’s youth will seek change through increased militancy or by other peaceful means.
Youths always inspire each other. Ethiopia’s youths seek the same things as their Tunisian and Egyptian counterparts: a livelihood, adequate food, decent housing and education and basic health care. They want free access to information – radio, newspaper, magazines, satellite and internet — as they are absolutely and unconditionally guaranteed in their constitution. Above all, they want to live in a society that upholds the rule of law, protects human rights and respects the votes of the people. They do not want corruption, nepotism, cronyism, criminality and inhumanity. That is not too much to ask.
When the uprising took place in Tunisia and Egypt, it was not the “leaders” that led it. Youth power became the catalyzing force for a democratic revolution in both countries. Africa’s dictators should understand that people do not rise up because it is in style or fashionable, but because their conditions of existence are subhuman, inhuman and intolerable. It is possible to stop the satellite transmissions, jam the radio broadcasts, shutter the newspapers, close the internet cafes, grab a young journalist and human rights advocate as he walks out of an internet café and interrogate, threaten, intimidate and terrorize him, but it is far more difficult to quiet the hungry stomachs, mend the broken hearts, heal the wounded spirits and calm the angry minds of the young people. Youths united in Ethiopia and elsewhere on the African continent can never be defeated.
Power to Africa’s Youths!
Zenawi, irhal! Bashir, degage! Mugabe, irhal! Gbagbo, degage! Ghaddafi, irhal! African dictators, irhal!…. degage!