African Spring now looks a matter of time

No one knows when and where will the Arab uprising end. But we know for certain that Africa will be the next where volcano will explode. At least eight central African nations including Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Namibia, Algeria, Zambia, Guinea and Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe are teetering on a precipice. A frustration, if not anger, is brewing in their backyards.

And it may not take long for this frustration to burst into what we may call African Spring. If so happens, the African outburst could be equally dramatic and bloody like the Arab explosion.

Mo Ibrahim, founder and chairperson of Mo Ibrahim Foundation, says that a disconnect between the ruled and the rulers in Africa, especially in those eight countries at the centre of the continent, is widening. And the clearest symbol of this disconnect is the age of those who continue to set the direction of these countries and their citizens. For while the median age of Africa's population is now 20 and falling, the average age of our continent's
leaders is around sixty.

The President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, is 89 today and has been in power since 1980 first as the Prime Minister and then as the President. This oldest man in power in Africa stormed into his second term as the President in August this year. Ethiopia's President Girma Wolde-Giorgis is 88 year old and Paul Biya, Cameroon's President, is 80.

The other prominent members of this infamous club of oldsters are Namibia President Hifikepunye Pohamba (78), Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika (76), Zambian President Michael Sata (76), Guinean President Alpha Condé (75) and President of São Tomé and Príncipe Manuel Pinto da Costa (76).

These septuagenarian and more have been holding on to power for too long and in utter contrast to the average age of the Africans. Ibrahim says, Africa's population is already 16 years younger than in China, and this is only the beginning. Within less than three generations, four out of ten of the world's youth will live on this continent.

This shifting demographic pattern offers Africa a unique advantage and also is the principal cause of the continents soaring frustration which is slowly but perceptibly snowballing into an anger which many observers feel may lead towards Arab Spring like uprising.

In almost all the central African nations "political power lies in the hands of aging leaders who have little knowledge or interest in the ambitions and concerns of younger generations — and sadly even less interest in passing on the reins of leadership."

And that was why when the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership was instituted in 2007 the "condition  (was) that only those democratically elected leaders who hand over power voluntarily at the end of their constitutional term would be eligible."

Last twenty years have been a painful journey on reverse for Africa. There was a time when the world was eagerly looking forward to the continent's transition to democracy.

But that was not to happen. The rise of anti democratic forces in the forms of old and fossilised leaders like Mugabe, Girma Wolde-Giorgis and others took the continent back to the dark days from where it aspired to come out. Pre-1990 incumbent leaders usurped power manipulating election processes and refusing to relinquish.

Youth in Central Africa expected the Arab uprising to move southward in Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Namibia, Algeria, Zambia, Cameroon, São Tomé and Príncipe etc from Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. The contagion did not and remained confined within the Arab world much to the disappointment of the African youth who were getting ready to carry the torch of the revolution; pull down their own dictators.

Monopolisation of political power, in fact all power, by these oldsters and fossils is gradually setting the temperature to boil in the continent. Unemployment is rising alarmingly, education is dwindling and crimes of all hues are soaring. In Africa, restiveness is palpable. "Denied the chance of peaceful change," despair and anger among the African youth is gaining dangerous proportion.

And with Ibrahim we agree that we will see, sooner than later, even more leaders overthrown in Africa than in the Arab world. Yes, it is time for the fossilised African leaders to listen to their young, set for themselves a retirement age and create opportunities for the youth to lead the continent.

As of now, Africa is silent. But the question is how long will the continent remain so. Their brethren in the north have sown in them the seed to defy, to rise and to demand sans fear their right to be heard and their right to be involved in the governance of their land. Robert Mugabe and his likes will not be able to contain this for long.

To them the idea of revolution has already dawned. And their geriatric leaders — presidents and prime ministers — are today visibly worried. Africa's rise in revolt, African Spring, is now only a matter of time.

The author is the Opinion Editor of Times of Oman.


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In your dreams Mr. doomsday teller; In your dreams.