From West to East Africa, things aren’t falling apart
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From West to East Africa, things aren’t falling apart


on  Thursday, September 28  2017 at  12:37

East Africa has been too busy with its own political dramas in recent days to pay sufficient attention to events in Togo.

Protests were once unthinkable in Togo. Now, President Faure Gnassingbé is beleaguered. Since August, hundreds of thousands have protested, demanding constitutional reform.

Gnassingbé has been in power since 2005, when he took over from his father, dictator Gnassingbé Eyadéma, who seized power in a coup in 1967. Between Gnassingbé Senior and Junior, the family has ruled Togo for 50 years.

In East Africa, we have been distracted by events in Uganda, where protests against moves to amend the Constitution to remove the 75-year age limit — which would allow President Yoweri Museveni to run for office in 2021, when he will be 77 — have dominated the headlines.

A controversial amendment in 2005 removed term limits, allowing Museveni, who has been in power for 31 years, to remain in the saddle.

Last week, when an amendment (later postponed) was due to be moved, security forces surrounded Parliament, complete with armoured cars.

Skirmishes have continued between security forces, students and political activists, who have adopted red bandanas as a symbol of their resistance. On Tuesday, fists flew in Parliament.

In Kenya, we have been kept busy by continuing protests by opposition coalition Nasa’s supporters against the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) with backers of President Uhuru Kenyatta rallying to his support, ahead of the repeat election scheduled for October 26.

In an Africa first, Kenya’s Supreme Court overturned the August 8 presidential vote against the incumbent in a September 1 ruling, citing irregularities.

Political tugs-of-war

In Togo, Uganda and Kenya, however, if you want to understand the forces driving these political tugs-of-war, you will find the answers in visceral anger, prejudices and fears fuelling them on social media.

The raw insults, the ugly portrayals of opponents and the humour can be both scary and extremely intriguing. Not surprisingly, as in all countries where we have seen such political fights, there are many who say social media is “burning down” or “destroying” the national fabric and should be controlled or shut down altogether.

Maybe not. There is no political intelligence service that can provide the insights that social media is doing freely. Among the things it does that was not possible before is offer good people on the peripheries and the many lunatics out there a say.

What they tell us is that the rosy view of our countries that the elite espouse from the lounges of five-star hotels in the big cities is limited.

One of the first things we learn is that, nearly everybody actually wants to have a say in how their country or community is governed. If we ignore the nastiness of the miscreants on social media, some important things are being said there.

Period of peace

Like elsewhere, African social media is the result of several positive developments in recent years. It differs, though, from the anger of white working classes in Europe and the US who are lashing out because they feel left out of the prosperity of globalisation and fear that their countries are being overrun by too many black, brown and yellow people from strange lands.

In Africa, the rage is a result of progress. First, today, more Africans are educated than ever before. Not only that, but, because of improved health (vaccinations, etc.) more of us are making it into middle age and beyond.

Also, despite rising inequality, more Africans are relatively better off than at any other point in history — and things can only get better.

The continent is also enjoying its most extended period of peace. To repeat a statement made in this column in the past, today, an African is several times more likely to die in a car accident than from a bullet fired in a civil war or military coup.

Africa has delivered a massive cohort of educated, healthy young people to the political and economic marketplace and they are asking the hard questions and groping for a future.

Some people have despaired that this new generation is as tribal, if not more so, than their parents and grandparents. But their tribal roars could have another meaning. They are asking, “Where is our place in the bigger national picture?”

That’s a legitimate question.

The leaders who comprehend that will enjoy a long, happy rule. The ones that don’t will perish.

Mr Onyango-Obbo is publisher of and explainer and Twitter: @cobbo3