Africa’s Second Wind Of Change

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The second significance of the presidential election in Sierra Leone is that by all accounts, it was not only the best-run election, but also one which in recent history is regarded to have been the most free and fair, reflecting the will of the people.

[Issues Of Principle]


There are hopeful signs all over Africa that after about four decades of authoritarian misrule, fueled by neo-colonialism and characterized by sordid corruption, the great majority of the people are poised to seize the moment for affirmative march to a new era.

Whether the new age dawns sooner rather than later depends on a number of factors, among which is whether the elites will identify with the people or rather betray a historic mission and continue to serve as conduits to the despoliation of the continent.

The period we are in is reminiscent of the late 1950s and early 1960s, when elites in a Pan-African demonstration of solidarity mobilized the people to throw off the yoke of European colonial imperialism.

It was the political fact of nationalist mobilization of the people in accordance with the clarion call at the 1945 Pan-African Congress in Manchester, England, that the British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, on 10 January 1960, in Accra, Ghana, acknowledged in a speech about a wind of national consciousness blowing through Africa.

Although the speech in Accra received scant attention, less than a month later, on 3 February, 1960, Macmillan used the same phrase in an address to the South African Parliament; this time, it garnered media attention and became a popular currency in the lexicon of decolonization.

Today, despite the ravages of civil-wars in the Chad, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda, for example, there are positive omens from different regions of Africa that people are getting organized to reclaim their democratic rights and create conditions for sustainable developments.

Recent inspiring and trend-setting changes from Rwanda and Sierra Leone, whose tragic civil war experiences had more or less reduced them literally to ashes, illustrate an important point: that from the dreadful experiences of the past, Africa can indeed rise as the phoenix.

In October, 2007, the Ibrahim Index, named after and sponsored by the Sudanese mobile phone magnate Mo Ibrahim, to encourage good governance in Africa, identified Rwanda as the most improved country in sub-Saharan in terms of performance over the past five years.

The designation was arrived at after analyzing various data from sources including the United Nations, the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International, the think-tank Freedom House, which highlight, among other things, human development, safety and security. This is in addition to the fact that Rwanda has, in its efforts to bridge the digital divide, made great progress in its ambitious and vital project to empower its people and make the country the hub of information technology in the region.

Rwanda’s achievements are extraordinary, when seen in the context and against the backdrop of its recent tragic history. It must be remembered that barely a decade and half ago, in 1994, a most grotesque genocide took place in the country. Within the space of 100 days close to a million people were slaughtered. The killing in Rwanda was the most concentrated act of genocide in human history.

In Sierra Leone, which had experienced a decade-long civil war, the people rose like a tidal wave to exercise their democratic rights in a historic presidential election. The election was remarkably refreshing for two major reasons. 
In the first place, the candidate of the party then in power, the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP), lost to the candidate of the party then in opposition, the All People's Congress (APC).

Whereas the SLPP candidate and at the time Vice President, Solomon Berewa, received 44% of the votes, the candidate of the APC, Ernest Bai Koroma, won with 53% of the total votes. This was a political earth-quake in a continent where governing parties routinely stack rules in their favor and rig elections to maintain power.

The second significance of the presidential election in Sierra Leone is that by all accounts, it was not only the best-run election, but also one which in recent history is regarded to have been the most free and fair, reflecting the will of the people.

The credit for running a well-organized poll must be accorded to the National Electoral Commission (NEC) in general, and the head of the Commission, Christiana Thorpe, in particular. Although herself apparently a member of the then-ruling party, she refused to tolerate any malpractice. Her courage and integrity was perhaps best captured by what she said on the occasion of declaring the results of the election.

She pronounced: "There is no longer a place for fraud and malpractice in the Sierra Leone electoral system. The people of Sierra Leone deserve to exercise their rights in an atmosphere of freedom, fairness and transparency."  Her stand and utterance, coming on the heels of the heroic success of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia, speak volumes about the quality of leadership African women are capable of providing the continent.

The change of power in Sierra Leone meets two important criteria for viable democratic governance anywhere in the world. The first is that the foundation of democratic government is the active free participation of citizens in political processes. And the second is that democracy can be sustained without resort to violence only when opposition parties have a real possibility of assuming the reigns of government through free and fair elections.

It is inspiring that from the depth of despair, the two countries have risen like the African phoenix to radiate hope and give practical meaning to the clarion call for African renaissance. They have certainly demonstrated that with commitment to ethical conduct and to the empowerment of people, even experiences of debilitating suffering can be seized for transformative purposes that offer people prospects for great possibilities and the realization of aspirations.

Together, by what they have done, the leaders in Rwanda and Sierra Leone now join a cast of role models, in South Africa, Botswana, Cape Verde, Senegal, Ghana, Liberia, Tanzania and Mauritius, as torch bearers for the continent.

The challenge for elites in the continent is to learn from these experiences and begin in earnest to articulate inclusive vision and organize affirmative movement that will turn the oases of success into rivers of hope that will quench the thirst of people for democratic self realization.
 

Black Star News columnist Professor Amii Omara-Otunnu is UNESCO Chair in Human Rights, Executive-Director of the UConn-ANC Partnership and Professor of History at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. His column appears bi-weekly online and in the newspaper.

 

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