On 24th of January 2011,Tunisian president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali,was forced to flee into exile.This was the culmination of weeks of unrest,as Tunisians massed in popular protests against his leadership.After some 23 years as president,Tunisians had apparently had enough.This successful ousting of the leader of a country has given a new fillip to “afro-optimism”.The feeling is that this revolution could have a domino-effect across the continent.That other Africans,inspired by the Tunisian example,would embrace the culture of mass-protest,as a vehicle for imposing the will of the people on the government or changing leaders they do not want,where constitutional means are lacking or have been neutered.
Could this be replicated across black Africa?It is not impossible,just very difficult.Take a look at Tunisian society.Tunisian society is largely homogeneous,unlike most black African nations.Held together by the same ethnicity,religion and the Arabic language,it was possible for Tunisians to act in concert against a common enemy,without being undermined by any tribal or religious cleavages.Being one people,it was impossible for the government to divide them,by playing one group against the other,on the basis of tribe or religion.Thus there was no group found,that was willing to defend the president,because he was their kinsman,against those from other tribes.
In much of black Africa,the president would have been able to count on the support of members of his ethnic group.The debate about his performance,or lack thereof,would never have been objective.Charges of incompetence or corruption would have been rebuffed by his “brothers”,as mere witch-hunt.This is a reflection of the multi-tribal and multi-confessional make-up of most black African countries,in combination with a high level of illiteracy and ignorance.In such an atmosphere of mutual intolerance and suspicion,it is no surprise that most of the unrests in Africa,are of a sectarian or tribal nature.
Though Nigeria boasts many tribes an tongues,three stand out,in terms of size.These three almost-equally-matched-tribes have more-or-less controlled power,economic and political.Until recently,with the Niger Delta insurgency,all political unrests and agitations in Nigeria have been the result of the mutual suspicions within this tripod.Nigeria has boiled,only when a member of this group has felt cheated by the other members.Political conscientization has been, mostly, limited to defending group rights,with respect to the “national cake”.Every group is exercised by fears of being denied it’s “turn” at the feeding trough.
Zoning,whether implicit or not has been Nigeria’s bane.It is responsible for the very high level of mediocrity and corruption in government.People are placed in power,not for any personal quality or achievement,but because it is their “turn”.And this means they cannot be held to account,since they did not get there,on the basis of personal qualification or abilities.The “it is our turn” mentality cuts across our political parties and underpins,and undermines,our political culture.Take a look at the presidential flagbearers of these parties:People’s democratic party,PDP;Action congress of Nigeria,ACN;and All Nigeria people’s party,ANPP.With the exception of the PDP,probably because of the incumbency factor,all the presidential nominees of the other parties were Northerners.
This tells you that the political class is organized around a consensus,on zoning.This mentality will make it near-impossible to enthrone a culture of merit.Wtihout such a culture,incompetence,corruption and such negatives tend to become destigmatized.In combination with the automatic support of ones “group”,such a socio-political climate will make it very difficult,if not impossible,to mobilize people,across tribal and religious divides, to coalesce around an agenda,for interpellating or changing a despotic government.