MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES : 3 – (Tunisian Troubles, Libyan Losses, Ethiopian Woes)

(Lessons from the first (mis)steps following modern Africa’s independence)

In Tunisia, in the so-called French Maghreb region of North Africa, Habib Bourguiba endured imprisonment and persecution, bravely kept up the struggle for liberation, and eventually led the country to independence in 1956, pushing the French out of the political helm of affairs in Tunisia. He applied himself to the economic betterment of his country, experimented with socialist models and, when they did not yield the desired results, switched to more liberal economic strategies. Internationally he was very concerned about securing an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. In the mean time, however, politically he set about instituting himself as the sole authority and system in Tunisia. He pushed through a constitution that gave him near dictatorial powers, and was eventually elected “president for life”. He maintained an authoritarian regime until, after more than three decades as president, a doctor declared him medically unfit to rule any longer. Ben Ali, his minister, succeeded him and he too applied himself to Tunisia’s economy, more than tripling its GDP within a twenty-year period. Politically, however, he too went down the road well trampled. He spent the next twenty-four years refining and perfecting his control over state and government, stage-managing elections, persecuting opposition, blocking free speech and incessantly perpetuating himself in power. But the long arm of the people’s fury, come to fruition in the Jasmine revolution, eventually caught up with him and his cohorts, at long last, in 2011.

Apart from in Egypt, the Tunisian revolution also triggered a similar revolution in neighbouring Libya, which historically has also not fared better, plunging that country too into riots, bloodshed and conflict, leading to the overthrow and death of their own once-liberator turned lifetime-dictator, Gadddafi. Today, more than five decades after modern independence, the present generations of these countries have to struggle desperately and painfully in a volatile, polarised, changing world, to attain what their Independence-generation failed to do: to motivate all sections of their populace into finding, anchoring and practicing a sustainable self-rotating form of representational constitutional democracy, one in which tolerance and reciprocal respect of differing wishes, inclusion, reconciliation and rule of law, within the context of a global modern world, hold sway.

In Ethiopia, Emperor Haile Selasie enjoyed the reputation of being the head of the only nation in Africa that was never successfully colonised. In the 1930s he courageously resisted Mussolini and the Italian invasion and then continued to rule Ethiopia, as Emperor, for many more decades to follow – until in a 1974 coup he was overthrown and dethroned, and then imprisoned in his own Grand Palace by his own people, where he died a few months later, a lonely old man. In his many long decades as leader of the Ethiopian Empire, he had fired the imaginations of Africans and Blacks all over the world, and hosted and reigned as founding chairman of the Organisation of African Unity. He inspired religions and movements, stood as a bastion of global racial equality and dignity, abolished slavery, and pumped much time, effort and the scarce financial means available to Ethiopia into a forward-thinking infrastructural modernisation and industrialization effort. Only one thing he did not do: show any interest in a political game-changer that would replace the monarchy with a true representational democracy in which all the different peoples, classes and sections of the nation would have, and unitedly administer, a joint stake. Civil wars with Eritrean, Oromo and Somali liberationists destabilised the state; a state in which Selasie ruled over and decided everything – administrative, adjudicative, financial, military and ministerial – an autocratic monarch. After the Wollo droughts and the famine came in the late sixties and early seventies, the disconnect between the leaders and the peoples tore the old establishment down. The army mutinied, popular revolts tore through the streets, and strikes and demonstrations paralysed the land. Emperor Haile Selasie was eventually deposed – after almost six decades as Ethiopia’s leader – and a new dictatorship under Major Mengistu took his place. Post-Selasie Ethiopia was then plunged into years of coups, dictatorship, Red Terror, uprisings, dispute, war and violence – all compounded by drought and famine. The Emperor had never built or championed a political system that could harness the patriotic, broad, representative efforts of the whole country’s peoples towards peacefully and constitutionally finding and executing a joint self-sustaining, rotational solution to their problems. He left a divided, politically adrift nation behind. Ethiopia was thus cruelly and ironically sent back to square one, despite its great history and iconic leader.

Che Chidi Chukwumerije

… continued in Part 4 of 11:

Preceding Chapters: