If there is ever formidable attestation that Africans are tired of autocratism and yet have become prejudiced to perpetually putting up with the burden of hijacked democracy, then one needs not look further but at the face of the triple events that just unfolded in Algeria, Sudan, and Mali within a span of less than three months.
Citizens’ resolve and pressure in the three countries all north of the Equator resulted in the heads of state and government officials reluctantly vacating office, thereby paving way for new political dispensations.
Characterised by sustained and unwavering protests and sit-ins that have been largely non-violent in content and scope, these unique uprisings point to a new trajectory that could herald a political system of embraceable genre, across continental Africa.
Granted, this prompts the question: Is Africa experiencing a new and innovative awakening?
Dispensational awakening does not occur quite often but when it does, it commands societal and ideological restructuring.
Africans, in particular, have had enough of both dictatorship and democracy.
Democracy, in all its variant shades and machinations, has not apparently produced appreciable outcomes as far most African countries are concerned.
Its upholding and periodic rituals have instead proved to be subject to manipulation, chaotic, and oftentimes engender constant fragility than peace, security and development.
In contrast, dictatorship—benevolent or malignant—has seemingly reached its point of diminishing returns, as demonstrated by the cases of Sudan and Algeria.
For nearly 30 years, Sudan has been ruled by one brutal autocrat, Omar al-Bashir, who first came to power through an Islamic-backed coup in 1989.
Thereafter, he progressed by rigging elections and institutionalised Sharia law.
However, on April 11, 2019, his reign tumbled when a combination of factors conspired against him.
The good news is that the ouster was less costly in terms of human life and property losses, making an extraordinary departure from the usual killings that have become instinctively Africa. Impressive has the revolution been, thus closely watched continentally, if not globally.
Suffices to deduce that whereas this approach is not entirely maiden (there were previous uprisings in 1964 and 1985) to Sudanese people, its successful impacts are certainly more likely to be replicated near and far. Here is why:
- A velvet revolution
Contrary to the covert stratagems by National Congress Party (NCP) insiders to hoodwink the public that Bashir was toppled by military junta, it was actually the Sudanese people who defenestrated the rogue leader.
As usual, the Bashir’s conservative Islamic government tried to intimidate the youth and women by introducing violence but the judicious coalition remained undaunted.
The beauty of it all is that, after three decades of defying catastrophic military incursions in Southern Sudan, Darfur, Southern Kordofan, Blue Nile and eastern Sudan, Bashir was ultimately forced to relinquish power by the determined chanting of singing women and students.
Yes, it was the absence of wielding of weapons, or stone-throwing, or property destruction that diminished all burning desire to employ violence as trap against the protesters.
The organisers and participants knew this trick and therefore avoided playing into the hand of the government security agents.
On the other hand, the army, unlike in the past, was in solidarity with the citizens and in fact provided significant protection against harm by the national security radicals.
Any stubborn insistence on violence by the government could have not only been condemned internationally, but could have also triggered unforeseen maximum response by relatives of the ordinary citizens within the armed forces.
An unwinnable war by the government could have ensued, setting the already economically-distraught country to protracted instability.
- Collaterally diverse
The survival of Bashir’s regime had thrived on Islamization, inter-religious and inter-ethnic conflict, political patronage, exclusion and marginalisation of the peripheries, false conspiracies, and use of brute forces to suppress popular discontents.
These strategies staled and could not keep up with cultural shifts, increasingly educated citizenry, alternative communication channels made possible courtesy of social media, and a more neutral and professional army.
Partakers in the protests and sit-ins suspended all racial, religious, and ethnic differences in order to pursue the cause.
Voices and pictures stemming from the demonstration scenes are unmistakably clear that Sudanese across all walk of life were involved.
Muslims, Arabs, Christians, black Africans, women, youth, students, unionists, and professionals of varying manifestations participated.
The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA)—the body responsible for organising and synchronising the protests synergies—is an amalgam of various practitioners, who are of different gender, faith, and age.
Vivid pictures and videos showed clearly that Sudanese regardless of their ethnic background, colour, religion creed, gender, and profession mixed freely, helped each other out, and joined in chanting slogans and singing all kinds of songs.
Frantic attempts to divide the protesters along ethnic line, such as Bashir’ claim that the Darfurians caused the uprising due to their penchant for rebellion was flatly rejected.
Last minute manoeuvre's by the national security to scare or shoot the civilians were met by the national army shooting back to protect the non-violent citizens.
This unanticipated coalition showed the depth of the diversity and how the people, rather than the leaders, can be more willing to coexist peacefully under good governance.
- Internally autonomous
It is typical in Africa, that every time organised groups such as political parties, workers’ unions, or ordinary citizens undertake large scale protests against certain government policy options, they get accused for acting at behest of a foreign agent.
This was not the case with Sudan and the government was convinced that the protests were purely autonomous, and reflect the level of domestic frustrations.
Further, the revolution was geographically disperse, not confined to Khartoum only. All major towns were engulfed.
Bashir and his coterie of cronies could not decisively identify any single foreign scapegoat in whom to direct blames and in order to rally regime supporters.
The lack of external involvement or interference left the kleptocratic government with extremely limited options about how to confront the situation.
- Youth and articulate Afrocrats
Alaa Salah, the young university student whose picture, taken while chanting atop a car, went viral in the first 24 hours of it posting, is only 22 years old.
Her appearance at every corner in Khartoum attracted instant crowd so eager to chant back after her as she recited, “The bullet does not kill. What kills is the silence of people.”
There were more people so willing to listen to Ms Salah than to ever want to entertain an old Bashir.
Salah was young, articulate, and naturally imbued with charismatic aura. Dubbed variably as Kandaka (Nubian Queen) or “Lady Liberty,” Salah was the youth diplomat of the revolution movement.
Her portrait immediately appeared on several walls in the war-torn Syria as youth there became even more motivated by her noble courage.
Music, education exchange programs, and political changes across the globe have imparted in the youth the essence of cultural and political freedom, collaborative cooperation, and leadership renewal.
The emergence of youthful leaders in the persons of Ethiopia’s prime minister, Dr Abiy Ahmed, Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta, French president Emmanuel Macron, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau and not least Barack Obama, has made most young demographics across Africa to question the logic of gerontocratic leaders overstaying in power, including unashamedly instigating constitutional amendments to extend term limits.
The pace at which peaceful revolutions and a compromising willingness to find common ground is picking up in Africa is indicative of the fact that the continent, as a political society, has been in search of a contextual model that fits its very diverse and unique configuration.
A model which resists checkered leadership, unlimited dictatorship, and incompatible democracy is likely to ultimately emerge.
- Call it Afrocracy or Afrocratism
As a cultural and political tool to contest outdated practices and suppression of basic human rights, Afrocracy is poised to be based on citizens consultation, dialogue, consensus building, inclusivity, secularism, and delegated leadership.
As an evolving phenomenon, it will contrast sharply with postcolonial reformists, advocates for blind sovereignty and nationalism, and violent change makers.
Moreover, its radical departure from entrenched norms could contradict western version of democracy while equally challenging retrogressive politics of postcolonial statehood.
Judging from how Ethiopia settled on its current prime minister and the method Sudan will apply to get a transitional civilian leader, Afrocratization, as a process or revolutionary journey, is likely to bear features of being less declaratory, less exclusive, devoid of elitist patronage, and vibrantly youthful.
These cited strides could be anecdotal but there is a plausible sense that as African consciousness gradually grows, more so as contrasted against the foreign-derived concepts, soon a realization of a system best-fitting to the sensitivities of circumstantial realities may be devised and instituted. This will mark the beginning of pragmatic Afrocratization.
*Julius Nyambur is an African policy consultant and researcher based in Washington, DC. The views expressed here are his own and do not reflect any organisation.