Power of masses in effecting change should not be underrated

A coup happened for the umpteenth time in coup-prone Burkina Faso but stand-in-vacuum military leader Lt Col Isaac Zida has not set a precedent for Africa because it was set by then Lt Gen Suwar El Dahab in Sudan decades ago.

What Blaise Compaore’s removal by the masses has done is to confirm Africa’s greatest paradox that history repeats itself because the ‘dinosaurs’ Ambassador William Naggaga cogently described in his recent article, learn nothing from it! True, Zida’s action has saved the subversion of a people’s popular revolt after mass protests ejected Compaore from power.

It was like reading a script from the overthrow of Field Marshal Gaafar Muhammad Numeiry in the Republic of Sudan decades ago. There was general disgruntlement over a wide range of issues. Ugandans ain’t seen nothing yet when they talk of load-shedding. In a country reputed to be one of the hottest places in the world, electricity in the early 1980s used to go off for extended periods.

Air coolers and conditioners are mostly powered by electricity and without them the atmosphere indoors is akin to an oven. Never mind that it is that same country to which, according to veteran journalist and retired senior foreign service officer Jenkins Kiwanuka in his book, Son of a Rat Catcher, Ambassador Ibrahim Mukiibi refused to go but this writer, whom the author, with tongue-in-cheek described as ‘a hard-skinned officer’ lived and worked for six years!

Numeiry’s government increased the prices of sugar, cooking oil and bread all loved by school pupils who promptly took to the streets to protest and were joined by their poorly salaried teachers, followed by the equally frustrated health workers who could not bear the stench of rotting bodies in the morgue because the refrigeration system was kaput.

A general strike then ensued, paralysing the State. The government responded by ordering the police to quell the upheaval, but the Sudan People’s Defence Forces, who were ordered to assist the police stayed in their tanks and keenly watched as the police brutalised the demonstrators.

Then extraordinary things happened. The turrets were rotated such that the gun muzzles pointed backwards, which I hear is a signal of surrender! The demonstrators were invited to climb onto the tanks, which then rolled downtown! We rushed to the safety of our residences in the Al Amarat neighbourhood of Khartoum where upon arrival and switching on the TV, the image of Gen El Dahab appeared.

“To save a bad situation from getting worse, the armed forces have decided to side with the people,” he roared promising to hold power for one year to allow the process of returning the country to democracy take place. He kept his promise and handed power back to a civilian administration amid impassioned appeals for him to continue.

The breakdown of national authority, as happened in Burkina Faso, often draws international actors into the domestic politics of a country. Ethically, should foreigners enter the domestic political struggles of other countries? Sovereignty has been an inconsistently applied principle. Domestic issues influence the probability of internal conflict but as the Burkinabe have learnt, international forces usually exert decisive influence as well and are often important players in the struggle for democratic rule.

It is hard to discern the objectives of all the players in domestic politics but one thing is clear though the power of the masses in effecting change must never be underrated. The idea that a country’s institutions and internal interests are sometimes influenced by international forces is also cogent.

Mr Baligidde is Director of UMU’s Rubaga Campus. sbaligidde@umu.ac.ug

SOURCE: Daily Monitor

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