Young people are leading a people’s revolution in Algeria and Sudan, both developments remind us forcefully of the wages of mis-governance, the power of the people to seize control of their own destiny, and the role that the youth can play in a country’s development process. It is encouraging to see that in both countries, we are witnessing the triumph of the people’s will. In Algeria and Sudan, it is Arab Spring (or Winter?) all over, with the people saying No to Repression, No to Dictatorship, No to the abuse of power.
The ordinary people are the heroes in both emerging revolutions- the villains are the members of the ruling elite, those the Algerians refer to as “le pouvoir” (that is the powerful) who have suppressed and alienated the people for decades. Algerians want a complete change of system, a break from the past. The people of Sudan are similarly asking for a new order. These courageous young men and women, who have since been joined at the barricades by professionals and in Algeria, by the military, are determined to stand firm until they have their way. They refuse to be cajoled. They do not want half-measures. They know what they want and they have been very peaceful in making their demands. They are no longer afraid. They are on the streets. They are on social media. The power of the youth in full expression, can be loud and overwhelming.
In Algeria, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the 82-year old who has been the absolute dictator in charge of Algeria since 1999 and a member of the ruling establishment since independence from France in 1962, has been pushed out by the protests. Bouteflika’s reign of terror was marked by corruption, cronyism and repression. In 2010/2011, he survived the Arab Spring that swept through North Africa and the Middle East resulting in political crisis and regime change in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and Syria. But he could not survive weeks of protests by the Algerian people this time around. Bouteflika had used every trick in the books to remain in power. Since he suffered stroke in 2013, he had been rarely seen in public, choosing to run the country through a selected group of family members and political associates. Still he wanted a fifth term in office. The people refused.
In February, he tried to introduce cosmetic changes with the promise that there would be a national conference. The people took to the streets. They no longer trusted him. They just wanted him to go. He eventually abandoned his fifth term ambition. Even that was not enough for the people. They waved the Algerian flag on the streets, and spoke their minds with unusual boldness. Many of these young Algerians who have become revolutionaries have not known any other President in their lives. But they have seen the corruption of the Algerian elite and they were determined to register their protest.
A descent into chaos seemed imminent until Army Chief General Ahmed Gaid Salah intervened and asked that the best way forward would be to invoke Article 102 of the Algerian Constitution, and thereby move the country forward within the Constitutional Framework. Article 102 requires the Algerian President to step down in the event of his incapacitation, and with his exit, the leader of the Upper Chamber of parliament would assume office as President in an acting capacity and conduct fresh election within 90 days. Bouteflika, Africa’s oldest President has since resigned, his vanity project of building the Great Mosque of Algiers remains uncompleted. His successor, Abdelkader Bensalah, the former leader of parliament has promised that he will organize elections on July 4 and respect the people’s will. But the Algerian revolutionists have refused to stop the protests. They don’t just want Bouteflika out of the way, they want the entire system that he represents and all his cronies that he has placed in strategic positions in both government and business out of the way. They are putting pressure on Bensalah.
In both Algeria and Sudan, we have not only seen the people- the youth - fighting for themselves, rejecting years of misrule and graft – we have also seen the military establishment turning against the government. In Algeria however, the military helped to facilitate the process of change. In Sudan, we have the military subverting it – that is a key difference between both countries. In Algeria, the military queued up behind the people to defend the Constitution. In Sudan, the military capitalized on the people’s protest to seize power, suspend the Constitution and impose a state of emergency on the country. But one lesson from both countries is that it may be unwise to under-estimate the people’s resolve. When a revolution begins, especially one arising from disenchantment with prices and living conditions, it may be difficult to predict when and how it will end. This explains why in Sudan there have been three Presidents in two weeks. Four-month protests over rising prices of fuel and bread ended surprisingly in the removal of Omar Al-Bashir from office. Al-Bashir like Algeria’s Bouteflika, is a veteran dictator. Most of the young people who are leading the protests in Sudan were not yet born when al-Bashir seized power in Sudan 30 years ago. The military may have taken advantage of the people’s protests but the youths of Sudan insist that the military is unacceptable because that is not the change they want. General Ahmed Ibn Auf has had to step down. He fell within 24 hours! The new General, Abdel Fattah al-Bashan may also not survive in the face of the people’s anger even if he has taken the step of sacking and detaining more members of the disgraced al-Bashir government, and appears ready to negotiate a civilian-led transition. Omar al-Bashir ran a military government in practically every regard. His reign was marked by state-sponsored terror, autocracy, war and genocide.
The military council in Sudan has declared that it has no intention of handing him over to the International Criminal Court (ICC) where he is wanted for war crimes and crimes against humanity, thus confirming the suspicion that the new caretakers in Khartoum are a clone of the al-Bashir government. The politics of the ICC notwithstanding, Omar al-Bashir should be made to answer for his crimes, against the people of Darfur and the people of Sudan in general. It is not enough to keep him in “a safe place.”
These recent developments in Algeria and Sudan, and perhaps Kazakhstan should be a warning sign to all sit-tight leaders and those leaders who take the people for granted. Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbayev is probably the smartest of the three dictators. Faced with protests by the people, Nazarbayev quickly stepped aside in March, to make way, he claims, for “a new generation of leaders.” He manages to retain control of his country’s Security Council. He has also created a cult of personality around himself with a pompous, self-styled title of “Leader of the nation.” The capital of Kazakhstan has also been named after him by Parliament. It doesn’t matter as his own day of reckoning would still come.
Across the globe, there is a growing new wave of fascination with the ideas of democracy and people power, especially among the youth. It must be considered a positive thing that the youths of Africa are part of this trend. Africa has its fair share of dictators and sit-tight leaders. It took sustained international outrage to get Joseph Kabila to relinquish power in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He is now Senator for life! In Equitorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Mbasogo and his children are sitting atop the country’s wealth; the old man has no plan to leave power anytime soon. In Uganda, Yoweri Museveni is effectively a President for life. But all autocrats should contemplate and learn from the fate of Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Yahya Jammeh of The Gambia, and now Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria and Omar al-Bashir of Sudan. No matter how long it takes, the people usually win in the end.
It is one thing, however, to get rid of the strong man of power, it is another to maintain or achieve national stability. Dictators may be removed or they may die or they may be incapacitated, but after their exit, they tend to retain something of the country’s DNA in their hold. This is the sad story of Cote d’Ivoire after Houphouet-Boigny, Libya after Muammar Ghadaffi, Iraq after Saddam Hussein, Venezuela after Hugo Chavez. The rest of the world must therefore keep an eye on the developing scenarios in Algeria and Sudan. It is the people’s will that must prevail in the end, not the will of military usurpers or the clones of the ousted autocrats.