In the space of eighteen short months, a series of veteran ‘strongmen’ have been swept from power. In Zimbabwe, Algeria and now Sudan, longstanding rulers were forced out by popular street protests, led by youthful leaders calling for change, hope and opportunity.
No more presidents for life
In Angola and the DRC, presidents who had ruled for decades stepped down ahead of elections, finally giving their people the chance for new leadership. And here in East Africa, Abiy Ahmed became Prime Minister of Ethiopia, beginning a wave of reform and liberalisation that is paving the way for free elections next year.
As young Africans watching on from afar, we cannot help but feel pride at the sight of these passionate and brave young people fighting for change. While of course we respect what the older generation of leaders, such as Mugabe and Dos Santos, did to liberate our continent from colonial rule, it is hard to feel too much sympathy for their plight.
They overstayed their welcome, and were shown the door. Let them retire in peace, and give someone else a change to govern.
From a Kenyan perspective, these events are useful in helping us reflect on our own reality.
For whatever our the flaws in our system, both economic and political, Kenya today is a long way away from witnessing the scenes we have seen in Sudan in recent days.
The root cause
In order to understand why, we must first recognise what drives these popular uprisings. As Vladimir Lenin famously said, “A revolution is impossible without a revolutionary situation.”
Throughout history, we see that these ‘revolutionary situations’ rest on two pillars: Political alienation and economic disaffection.
Simply put, when people do not feel represented by their leaders and are alienated from the body politic, or when their economic situation is not improving and shows little sign of doing so in the near future, they are more likely to go to the streets.
These are the conditions that unite Zimbabwe, Sudan and Algeria.
Fortunately, under the leadership of Uhuru, Kenya is further away from this situation than ever before.
On the political front, the last few decades have seen the gradual improvement of Kenyan democracy: No elections in the 1980s. Uncompetitive elections in the 1990s. Violent elections in the 2000s. Highly competitive elections that remained predominantly peaceful in the 2010s. Whatever the critics may say, today the Kenyan people do have a fair chance to choose our leaders.
But alienation is not only caused by a lack of democracy, but also by a lack of representation. After all, in a ‘democracy’, 49 per cent of the population can have no representation whatsoever, what the famed political philosopher John Stuart Mill termed the ‘Tyranny of the Majority’.
Fruits of handshake
While that may have been the case in Kenya previously, the Uhuru-Raila handshake changed all that.
Today, not only is our government democratically elected, but it represents the true ethnic makeup of Kenyan society. There is no reason for anyone to feel alienated.
In spite of initial jitters, economic growth is returning to the 6 per cent mark, and other economic indicators, such foreign exchange reserves, interest rates, current account deficits, and FDI are all positive.
President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big 4 agenda, centred on food security, affordable housing, universal healthcare and the expansion of manufacturing, is a further indication of the positive direction of travel, and the expanding opportunities for our youth.
Whereas there is of course much more to do, we have witnessed a real drive and determination to leave behind a significantly improved economy for the next generation.
As we witness our brothers and sisters across the continent find their voice and exercise their power to push out unpopular leaders, we feel pride and solidarity. Our generation is finally having its say.
We should also feel satisfaction and relief that our reality is diametrically opposed to theirs. For all its flaws, we have a system that represents us, an economy that is on the right path, and crucially, a system in place that ensures that a leader works extra hard to leave a better legacy when time is up.
We pray that the struggles of our brothers and sisters in Sudan will result in a similar situation.
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