Yaounde (National Times) – I was in my nightgown with a cup of tea at 7pm. My phone flashed and beeped, indicating a new story had been published on National Times News. I clicked on the story: ‘Protesters Kick Out Al-Bashir’s Successor In Sudan After Coup’.
I rushed to google and searched “Sudan”, eager to know what was going on, and behold the news, as always on National Times, was correct. A seemingly impregnable dictator was out. This happened just weeks after Algerians toppled their dictatorial and octogenarian Boutlefika.
As I went to School that day, a fellow student asked me, why have Algerians, Egyptians, Tunisians, and Sudanese been able to toppled extremely corrupt, incompetent, nepotic and extremely authoritarian leaders, while the people of Central Africa have failed too?
After some reflection, this was an important question. Chad, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, and Congo all have the same conditions researchers have given as the underlying causes of the Arab Spring. Most Cameroonians, Chadians, Guineans, and Congolese can testify of decades, ‘repression of free speech, human rights abuses, economic mismanagement, corruption and stifling of political dissent. [A climate where] Justice and human dignity [are] not priorities to the states”. Besides, these countries have aging dictators, the widespread use of social media amidsts high levels of poverty and unemployment.
So here are three reasons why we haven’t had similar revolution in Central Africa.
First, the organisation of the public in most central African states and these Arab states are different. In most Central African states, the state is based on a two structures: ethnic identity and wealth, which although often overlapping are the key determinants of the social change.
The middle class or wealthy outsiders, who have wealth no voice, often drive social change. In these countries there are no viable middle class or large group with collective identity. In the case of a country like Cameroon, the Bamileke’s and the Anglophones can be seen as the middle class, outsiders, but they do not have the numbers. Wealth is not sufficient cause of social unrest, the middle class needs numbers. This numbers are often gained either by horizontal ties, that is people of similar groupings, same towns, villages, religious affiliation, among others.
In Cameroon, it is very difficult to have this numbers. Mainly because most people identify themselves across tribal lines, rather than collective economic and social challenges. Because of this tribal divide, the ruling party emaciate all legitimate protests as tribal or minority protests. Even when they are not. An the citizens are quick to follow the official line.
The second reason as Cameroon’s eminent professor has said, is the accentuation in the use of force in these countries. In Sudan, Algeria, Tunisia, and Egypt (when Mubarak was ousted from power), the military avoided any form of outright shooting and killing of protesters. That is not the case in Cameroon, Chad, and Congo. In these countries, excessive use of force makes decision to protest a life and death choice. “Against any real or perceived opposition, it has become commonplace to deploy potentially bloody and almost limitless violence”.
This has created a climate of fear where most citizens prefer to suffer than to risk death. Again as Professor Achille Mbembe has said “Little by little, the repressive apparatus of the State became autonomous. The widespread use of the helping force, fear has become widespread and, with it, habituation to violence and brutality, even, episodically, to massacres”.
The final reason is the international support. In Libya and Syria, the west was quick to intervene and support the protesters because these protests presented opportunities for the west to gain influence in territories that were formerly hostile to them or a threat to the interest. In most Central African countries France’s grip and relations with the powerful NATO countries makes the support of the west hardly a reliable form of support to social change.