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Reuben Abati: The People’s Revolt in Algeria and Sudan

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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 a 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, and No to the abuse of power.

The ordinary people are the heroes in both emerging revolutions. The villains are 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 have been very peaceful in making 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 and caused 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 book to remain in power. Since he suffered a stroke in 2013, he has rarely been 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 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, spoke their minds with unusual boldness. Many of these young Algerians who became revolutionaries have not known any other president in their lives. But they had seen the corruption of the Algerian elite and were determined to register their protest.

A descent into chaos seemed imminent until Army Chief General Ahmed Gaid Salah intervened, and posited 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 a 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 private 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, but we have also seen the military establishment turning against the government. In Algeria, the military helped to facilitate the process of change. In Sudan, however, 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 underestimate 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 with the removal of Omar Al-Bashir from office. Al-Bashir, like Algeria’s Bouteflika, is a veteran dictator. Most of the young people leading the protests in Sudan were not 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 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 claimed, for “a new generation of leaders.” He managed to retain control of his country’s Security Council. He 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 will still come.

Across the globe, there is a growing wave of fascination with the idea of democracy, 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 will 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 may die or 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, and 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.

II:

The Return of Tiger Woods

What happened in the United States, at the Augusta National Golf Club on Sunday, was phenomenal, historic and inspirational – a truly human story in its grandeur and implications. With a hard stare and a single, final stroke, Tiger Woods won the Masters, his fifth since he won the first in 1997, 22 years ago. History was made. This was his 81st PGA tour win. His first major title since the 2008 US Open. His fourth Masters green jacket was in 2005. As he wore the jacket again on Sunday, 14 years later, he said: “It fits.” Indeed, Tiger, “it fits.”

It was one of those wow moments in the history of sports. The crowd cheered. The Tiger roared! On display was a touch of greatness, originality and talent. Pure talent. Tiger Woods’ career as a golfer has been marked by “highs and lows,” to borrow President Barack Obama’s words. But the highest moment for him, a moment that will forever be remembered in the history of golf, was that moment on Sunday when he shot the final putt on the 18th hole. The legacy of Tiger Woods has become one of the most defining moments in the history of the game itself. And although he is second in terms of overall record to Jack Nicklaus who has a record of 18 major wins (Tiger Woods trails behind with 15 major trophies), there is no doubt that Tiger may well end up as the champion of the records. He is, however, not defined by statistics.

He is defined by his determination, confidence and the manner in which he has ended up at the other end of the tunnel of self-discovery to regain his composure and his preeminence. Many cannot be blamed for giving up on him and thinking that he had reached the end of his career. His marriage collapsed. He was called out by women who accused him of sexual harassment. He had a car accident. He was charged for driving under the influence. As recently as 2017, he battled with multiple back and leg injuries. He even took to painkillers. He lost the star power he once wielded, as younger players took over the game and charted their own paths, even if many of them came into the game inspired by him. On Sunday, April 14, the old Tiger Woods returned to claim his place as a master of the game.

His triumph is the triumph of the human will over adversity. For a man to rise and fall and to find the courage and energy to rise again is one of the most inspirational things about what makes us human. For generations to come, others will draw inspiration from the example of Tiger Woods. He is beyond golf. He is such a fine example of the human spirit.

The young 21-year old who won his first green jacket in 1997 has become the man, one of the greatest of all times. In 1997, his father watched him wear the green jacket. This time around, his own children, 11-year-old Sam and 10-year-old Charlie, were at the Augusta National to watch him. The son has become the father. A cycle closed, a new chapter opened, as history was made, fusing together the story of three generations beyond the moment. Tiger’s two children were not yet born at the time of his reign as the king of golf. Hear him: “To have my kids here, it’s come full circle. You know my dad was here in ’97 and now I’m the dad with two kids here.” That was touching. Those words reverberate beyond the golf course.

There are of course many lessons to be learned from the story of Tiger Woods. Only those who persevere win at the end. From being the Tiger of the pack, Woods ended up in sixth position in the PGA Championship in 2009, fourth at the US Open in 2010, and sixth at the British Open in 2018, and at other times he disappointed us even more tragically. But now that he is back at the top, the question is: will he be able to sustain the magic? And it won’t take too long for us to get an answer to this question, as Tiger Woods will be participating in some tournaments in the remaining months of the year: the PGA Championship, May 16-17, US Open, June 13-16, British Open, July 18- 21 and the Presidents Cup, December 12-15. Whatever happens in the future, we will all have that memory of April 14 to cherish: Tiger Woods is the comeback king of the game. His achievement, by the way, momentarily united President Trump and President Obama, the two political opponents agreeing on the authenticity of Tiger Woods, with President Trump becoming a twitter cheerleader for Tiger Woods. Congratulations, Tiger.

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