The words revolution and uprising seem to be flooding the airwaves, newspapers and social networking sites lately. It feels a little like a tidal wave. There is an overwhelming sense of jubilation at the fact that Africans are finally empowered to decide their own futures. If one believed everything he read; he would be convinced that the average man had been given a voice and a magic wand. Now, all of those “evil men” will be dealt with at long last and Africans will have the freedoms and opportunities we’ve long deserved.
I’m far from being the kind of person who is convinced that she knows the answers, much less “the truth”. But, I’d like to inject a new word to the dialog. This will certainly not be the word that is welcome; but I’m convinced it is necessary. You see, it isn’t the kind of word that rallies already elated masses or stirs up excited protesters. But, as an African mother, I find it my duty to utter the word even if it means I risk name-calling or dissent. That word: temperance. Despite our enthusiasm, we owe it to ourselves not to allow emotion to overwhelm our clarity of thought in moments as important as these.
We should always be happy when we encounter hope. Hope is what defines Africa. It is what keeps us from diving into despair and giving up, (thus sealing our fate). It is what keeps mothers and grandmothers going day after day as they struggle to provide opportunities for the next generation sometimes knowing that their own lives might never change. But, hope without planning is false. Our rallies and cheers may in fact be so premature that it borders on criminal. Here is my reasoning:
About 50 years ago, all over Africa, we heard the same chants and songs of revolution that we heard this week on the streets of Tunis, Cairo, Libreville and Khartoum.
Many Africans though, ten or twenty years later, found themselves in the same positions as they were when they dreamt about freedom from those European countries which had colonized their lands. This time, instead of a colonial power, it was one of their own that they wanted to eject. And for millions of Africans, that cycle has never stopped. Ask someone from Ethiopia, Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo… the list goes on. Even worse, for those Africans who gained independence as late as the 1980s or 1990s (like Zimbabwe and Eritrea), who clearly had the added benefit of being able to learn through their neighbor’s mistakes; it made little or no difference.
I want freedom for all African people. I want my sisters and brothers across the continent to have the same basic rights that I do. I understand clearly and completely that the freedoms held in most Western countries are not just important; but essential to building strong and successful nations and futures. Nonetheless, I feel it my duty to remind my brothers and sisters of that word again: temperance. Because hope without planning is a dangerous thing. Creating a vacuum means that the vacuum will be filled. It is a basic law of physics isn’t it? So, before we start to create vacuums, let us decide what to fill them with. Change for the sake of change has already proven itself as false hope. With each time that the revolving door of dictators turns, we lose a little more and dream a little more about true freedom.
If we continue to have revolution after revolution without addressing how we will then temper what borders on reverence for the group or individual we credit with the latest coup; we stand no chance of building lasting change.
Let us not be like frustrated teenagers who want rebellion without understanding the end result. But instead, let’s act as our wise elders who understand the gravity of the situation and the incredible responsibility of knowing our children’s futures are more important than our own.
Statistically speaking, coups d’état don’t work in the long term. Choosing charismatic leaders and giving them superhero status doesn’t work either. For like it or not, they show themselves to be human beings in the end. We wake up months later and wonder why our youth were out in the streets risking their lives when we’ve seen little change. I could list the country names, dates or names of leaders we held as Supermen… along with the dates their citizens finally said “enough”. But, I suspect you already know them well enough.
Please understand what I’m saying: It is absolutely past time that men, women and children in Africa have democratically elected governments which respect basic human rights. Africans deserve that no less than anyone else born anywhere else on the planet. I’d love to think that these revolutions du jour will be the thing that creates that across the continent. But as a woman who understands that temperance is important… I understand that there simply is no magic pill. We need to look to those places on our continent that work and ask ourselves how we can emulate them in a way that works for our own culture, nation and people. We DO have success stories in Africa. They rarely make the headlines and aren’t talked about much by those obsessed with militancy. Perhaps we should spend more time focusing on our success stories so that we can learn how to bring those ideas to our own villages and nations.
Revolution is a great idea; but there is nothing revolutionary about the cycle of that bad leader out, this bad leader in… it’s frankly a story that I wish we could make ancient African history. Our children deserve more. Let us learn how to make peaceful transitions, respect the rights of women and children and put each other first instead of only thinking of how we can assist in others grabbing power.
Tonight, like all nights, I pray for my beloved Africa.
PS: A note to our youth: Great leaders search to avoid the bloodshed (even that of their enemies) when they can. Distinguished leaders respect the right of others to be heard. Ideal leaders care more for their people than for themselves. Strive to be that kind of leader in your family, village, town or city… it will spill over into the greatness of your nation. That is the kind of revolution we need and deserve.