Nairobi – Kigali
Sunday May 8
The revolts in North Africa, what Al Jazeera labels “The Arab awakening”, were not caused by differences in ideology. They were born out of lack of freedom and triggered by frustration.
There has been good and sustained economic growth in many parts of Africa, including the revolting North African countries. But there have been two major problems, partly clouded by the impressive economic growth. These are the messages to the rest of us:
One. The growth has not reached all, it has not been inclusive. Excluded are the young (often well educated) who in many countries makes up around 70% of the unemployed. These young cohorts turned out to have both voice and political resources. That is the frustration factor.
Two. Economic growth is important, but not sufficient. Political freedom, the lack of oppression, is an increasingly important dimension of peoples “livelihood”. It is not a luxury add-on, something that might be extended or given to people. The revolts have given a face, no many faces, to the concept of freedom as a fundamental human right.
What about the reactions in East Africa to the developments? Do governments feel that they are vaccinated against the North African flue?
The reactions differ between country and country.
It seems to have two main streams. One is to try to neglect the political impact or influence. They have been largely successful: “This happens there, it is not relevant for us. We do not have their problems.” In that sense, the frustration factor, those of the unemployed youth, seems to have gone unnoticed, at least without political repercussions. One reason might be, and now I am speculating, that un- and underemployment of the youth is such an established pattern, almost a given, and nothing to be upset about because of events in North Africa.
A more positive explanation is of course that political oppression is not that tight, the young might feel excluded, but they have voice to air their concerns.
In most of the countries the more immediate concerns have been to handle the effects of rapid increases in consumer goods, mainly food and fuel. The Governments have softened these pills by reducing taxes, in Kenya with the effect that some major brokers tried to make money by market manipulations during the time between announcing the reduction and gazetting it.
Uganda seems to have been closest in adopting the North African examples. Demonstrations against food and fuel price hikes lead to political demands and demonstrations, treated heavy-handedly by the regime.
By the way, Al Jazeera is the only channel to watch if you want to avoid endless jingles and ditto weddings.