Uprisings a testament of countries’ poor leadership

An emerging global trend portends trouble: The spreading series of two types of fresh uprisings against constituted order. First, there is an unexpected uprising from above in which leaders go against the accepted norms and overhaul tradition. Second, there is an uprising from below, with the people turning against their rulers or constituted authority. The two types are happening globally, giving the impression that something is amiss.

US President Donald Trump (pictured), UK Premier Boris Johnson and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan disrupt governance traditions from above. Trump enjoys white nationalistic support as he upsets the American elite, which in turn generates rebellion against his administration. Impeachment possibilities increase with every revelation of his purported misdeeds, both as a candidate and as president.

There is something Nixon-like in Trump that erodes America’s global standing. Johnson, before becoming premier, helped to engineer the Brexit and made it difficult for Theresa May to perform. He faces top opposition from Parliament and the court for his unconstitutional behaviour and threat to British ‘democracy’.

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While uprisings from the top raise questions about leaders, uprisings from the bottom capture a different kind of attention, test leadership skills and have likelihoods of turning violent. In Europe, Spain is splintering in the northwest on the Atlantic and in the northeast on the Mediterranean Sea. The Catalans quarrel and hold counter demonstrations in Barcelona over their Castilian links. For Russia, ‘uprisings’ are episodic about ‘democracy’ and then disappear.

China captures the imagination, whether with Xinjiang Province Uighur Muslim grumblings or with the Hong Kong riots. Although Hong Kong, previously a British island colony, returned to mainland China in 1999, it kept elements of autonomy. Usually, Beijing determines broad policy, appoints top regional administrators and then lets each region implement the best way it knows how. Hong Kong’s British colonial identity collided with Beijing’s communist beliefs and led to uprisings, initially against the administrator and then against Beijing. The uprisings test Xi Jinping’s control and, should he emulate Deng Xiaoping in 1989, the place could be bloody.

In Latin America and the Middle East, externally manufactured disturbances in Venezuela and Syria are disappearing from the public radar on uprisings as presumably stable states take centre-stage. Those presumed to be stable in Latin America like Argentina, Bolivia and Chile, experience economy and youth-related disturbances that become social uprisings. In the Middle East, Lebanon has exploded in unprecedented ways, making Syria appear tame. In Saudi Arabia, American understanding enables the Saudis to continue pounding Yemen.

Bishop who fought for Kenyans  

Africa has its share of uprisings. While Libya remains the externally manufactured mess associated with US President Barack Obama’s administration, there are simmering grumblings against Egypt’s Al Sisi. South Africa leads ‘unhappiness’ with its xenophobic outbursts, which then make a mockery of its claims to leadership in Africa. Cameroon is split into two colonial identities, English and French, and there are few signs of positive reconciliation. While South Sudan continues with its unceasing civil war, uprisings in Khartoum’s Sudan managed to force Omar al-Bashir out of office, put him in a cage and start trials. Hitherto silent Malawi is deep in election-related disturbances that make schooling difficult.

Cyber activities

For some time, Ethiopia had given the impression of being stable as the government maintained tight security. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed even received a Nobel Peace Prize for settling disputes with Eritrea as he tried to secure access to the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean. His grip on Ethiopia, however, appears to be waning as demonstrations fill the streets of Addis Ababa.  

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Kenya shows signs of national socio-economic unwellness that translates into national unhappiness. When the Finance CS announces a lack of money, courts shut down due to money shortages, hospitals and clinics lack essentials, government domestic over-borrowing denies loans to small investors, and trouble looms for such dream projects as the Big Four and BBI.

The global uprisings, whether from the top or the bottom, affect the future. Some uprisings in target states are externally engineered, probable results of cyber activities, and indicate emerging geopolitical dynamics. Others are spontaneous, reflect generational friction, and are symbolic of global disillusionment. They seriously test the leadership skills of those holding power. Since many leaders would be wanting, trouble beckons.

Prof Munene teaches History and International Relations at USIU

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