Splashed across every headline for the past two months: “Revolution in the Middle East”. You can’t escape it. First Tunisia, then Egypt, and who knows what’s to come for Libya. The fire has been ignited, it’s rapidly spreading, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish. With all this fervour and excitement in the Middle East, you ask, what’s next for Africa?
Sub-Saharan Africa has, throughout modern history, notoriously been portrayed by the media as dire, horrifically poor, and in a seemingly never-ending state of digression. It is often compared to countries of the Middle East as “third world”. Held in the hands of oppressive dictators that have been in power for far longer than I have been alive. Flashing before our eyes are images of plump, corrupt autocrats driving in fancy sports cars, while a nearby child dies of malnutrition. If people of sub-Saharan Africa are suffering so much, why won’t the tides of the Jasmine revolutions in the north spread to its neighbours in the south, inspiring rebellion?
Simply, because Africa is not that horrific, dangerous, and dire place that most of us have imagined. In Africa there is more than just the corrupt, the hungry, and the dying: most of Sub-Saharan Africa enjoys a little something that most of the Middle East has been missing out on, and that is something I like to call freedom. Freedom by no means equates to wealth, not to prosperity, not even to modernity; however it often equates to happiness.
While most of North Africa and the Middle East suffers from severe repression of some, or all civil liberties, citizens of Sub-Saharan African countries, such as Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda and Benin among others, enjoy considerable freedoms within a relatively stable government and civil society. While Saudis and Yemenis lack freedom of speech, Nigerians and Kenyans say what they feel. While Iranians and Bahrainis protest in fear, Ghanaians and Liberians enjoy a freedom of the press. While problems pervade much of African politics, these problems are not centred on freedom.
Besides, there is a new spirit in African politics that perhaps will also soon be embodied in politics of the Middle East. After suffering a tumultuous history from independence, states like Rwanda have experienced a relative tranquillity in this first decade of the twenty-first century, a tranquillity that is worth holding on to.
So, if what I claim is true; that revolution is unnecessary in sub-Saharan Africa, what’s next? Instead of overthrowing Goodluck Jonathan, Raila Odinga, and John Atta Mills in an aggressive, chaotic, and confusing uprising, Africans should instead settle down with their existing governments and develop the institutions that need modernising. Instead of wreaking havoc on the streets, Africans of sub-Saharan states should enjoy these liberties and express their opinions, vote in elections, and protest against measures they disagree with. They should urge their relatively stable governments for better education, healthcare, and social security.
The only place left for Africa to go is forwards. And the continent’s evolution shows that forwards is exactly where the continent is heading with its increasingly democratic governments. The future of sub-Saharan African states relies upon progress, development, and modernisation. Evolution, not revolution.