Citizen power and the changing the world

Published By UNNGOF |  June 24, 2013

The Post-Gaddafi World

The year I was born, I am told, was a year of reinventing the world.  In France, where I am writing from, May 1968 is remembered as one of the greatest years when 10 million workers occupied the factories that they worked in.  This year – 2011 will also go down in history as the year when citizens in America took to the streets and non-violently occupied Wall Street.  Tahrir Square in Egypt is now a household name known as the place where people took over and toppled their dictator. In India, one man’s fast this year brought millions onto the streets and the government to its knees and won decisive action to end corruption. The Greek citizens are protesting unfair cuts to public spending. The Spain citizens and huge number of their “indignados” defied a ban on pre-election demonstrations and mounted a protest camp in Sol square to speak out against political corruption and the government’s handling of the economic crisis.  The Arab spring has metamorphosed Gaddafi from ‘King of Africa’ to ‘fugitive of Africa’ and now – ‘the former Gaddafi’.  This year also saw Mubarak being wheeled in a court room on a hospital stretcher to face his trial.

I recall all these events because of how flabbergasted I am on hearing that our MPs who had just won acclaims for coming of age during the oil debates have now turned around in the face of the ‘big-man’ to swallow what they had originally spat out.  It is commendable that a few MPs saw the light and walked out at least to ensure that their conscience and behavior are consistent.  But this kind of cajoling is certainly leaving a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.  After 24 hours of a well staged parliamentary debate, to be told that that is being turned around by several hours of NRM caucus cacophonies at the – ‘school of political leadership’ – is certainly 3 steps backwards in our democracy.

I would have loved to write about things like separation of powers and those other nice theories that always characterize our NGO-speak.  But I would like to ask that we look elsewhere and start asking if there is an expiry date to this unprincipled politics.  All signs on the wall across the world tell us that there is a new movement of social justice that we can no longer afford to ignore.  Today across the world we have over 146 countries that are experiencing some form of citizen pressure or another.

Citizens across the world are speaking through their actions that the day when corrupt elites that cause financial crises and expect poor families and rural peasants to pay for them are over.  This message should not be externalized but internalized by all politicians the world over-including Uganda.  In every uprising, from Cairo to New York to even our homegrown walk-to-work skirmishes and other forms of protest, the call for an accountable government that serves the people is clear. The time of politics being in the pockets of the corrupt few is ending, and in its place we are building real democracies, of, by, and for people. This may not seem the case in Uganda but like viral diseases, these kinds of effects spread variously, if the King of Africa who was just last year a strong man was hiding in the drainage gutter the other day and being smoked out like a common thief, everyone in leadership should pay attention.

A riot here, a demonstration there and many talking shops are occurring while our politicians are paying little attention to the needs and interests of the majority of their citizens, claiming instead to focus on ministering to the health of those “too big to fail”. The resultant disillusionment with our politicians, elites and experts that have for long been the managers of this country are forcing citizens to re-evaluate their options.