No­bel prize comes to Bourgiba’s Africa

Daily Trust - - OPINION -

The 2015 No­bel Prize for pro­mot­ing peace was awarded to four pa­tri­otic, re­silient, pa­tient and un­tir­ing as­so­ci­a­tions in Tu­nisian so­ci­ety. The ‘’quar­tet’’ con­sisted of Trade and Hand­i­crafts, Hu­man Rights League, the Con­fed­er­a­tion of Industry and the Or­der of Lawyers. They got to­gether in 2013, two tur­bu­lent years af­ter the ‘’Jas­mine Rev­o­lu­tion’’. That con­vul­sion was trig­gered by youths protest­ing against a fe­male po­lice woman al­legedly slap­ping an unemployed univer­sity grad­u­ate who was sell­ing or­anges on a street cor­ner in a small town. Pres­i­dent Ben Ali - a former CIA in­for­mant while he was in Tu­nisia’s em­bassy in Poland - prob­a­bly re­called how a trade union move­ment brought down the Com­mu­nist gov­ern­ment in that coun­try. He fled.

Is­lamic ‘’ex­trem­ists’’ soon started with­draw­ing gains in hu­man rights -in­clud­ing those of women - which Tu­nisia’s found­ing fa­ther Bourghiba, had built into a sec­u­lar con­sti­tu­tion. Bred on over six decades of pro­gres­sive po­lit­i­cal cul­ture, mem­bers of or­gan­ised ‘’civil so­ci­ety’’ moved to pro­tect th­ese gains by launch­ing a ‘’di­a­logue’’ to put out flick­ing flames of blood­shed be­tween those pas­sion­ately favour­ing a Sharia-based con­sti­tu­tion and those favour­ing a sec­u­lar one.

Mo­hammed Fad­hel Mafoudh, a leader of the Or­der of Lawyers de­scribed win­ning the No­bel prize as ‘’a mes­sage to all par­ties present in cer­tain po­lit­i­cal con­flicts, to tell them that every­thing can be set­tled with di­a­logue and all can be set­tled in a cli­mate of peace, and that the lan­guage of weapons leads us nowhere. I think that is the most im­por­tant mes­sage’’. Libya, Egypt, and Syria had missed that sim­ple mes­sage.

The No­bel prize was de­nied to vis­i­ble in­di­vid­u­als like De­nis Muk­wege, the Con­golese sur­geon who has re­ha­bil­i­tated thou­sands of vic­tims of bar­baric rapes by for­eign mili­tias in east­ern re­gions of the coun­try; Pope Fran­cis, and Dr Ad­ede­voh: the fe­male Nige­rian doc­tor who sac­ri­ficed her life to halt a po­ten­tial con­fla­gra­tion of Ebola flar­ing across densely pop­u­lated Lagos me­trop­o­lis and be­yond.

The award holds vi­tal lessons across Africa. It high­lights a vi­tal tra­di­tion in Africa of lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties putting a fire on a neigh­bour’s roof be­fore it spreads. The at­ti­tude of peo­ple ‘’wait­ing for gov­ern­ment’’ to take ac­tion while in­di­vid­u­als stand and watch pas­sively - has been shamed. Too of­ten elites bred in colo­nial ed­u­ca­tional cul­tures re­flec­tively take to flight out African coun­tries to safe havens in Euro-Amer­ica rather than roll up their wills to un­der­take cor­rec­tive ac­tiv­i­ties.

The quar­tet was neu­tral and talked to all groups. This gave them cred­i­bil­ity and opened doors to di­a­logue with all groups in a way that could win con­ces­sions to, and ac­com­mo­da­tion of, what was im­por­tant to other groups. The ten­dency was over­come of bow­ing down to reli­gious and eth­nic strong heads; and bow­ing away from chal­lenges of get­ting ‘’amal­gam of dif­fer­ent val­ues, back­grounds and per­spec­tives’’ to make con­tact and think for­ward.

Crit­ics of “civil so­ci­ety” ac­tivists in Africa blame their de­pen­dence on funds pro­vided by ex­ter­nal donors for their bias for con­fronta­tion with gov­ern­ments not favourable to their back­ers. Un­like the Tu­nisian quar­tet, they are of­ten re­cent grad­u­ates thrown into a hos­tile pool of un­der­em­ploy­ment, and lack­ing depth of in­tel­lec­tual, pro­fes­sional, trade and po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence. How­ever, with back­ing from gov­ern­ment agen­cies and lo­cal pri­vate cor­po­ra­tions who de­mand ac­count­abil­ity and in­tegrity in the man­age­ment of financial resources, their youth­ful en­er­gies could, in the com­ing decade, en­able them build on the achieve­ment of the Tu­nisian quar­tet.

One sec­tor that is hun­gry for their en­ergy and that of ‘’age mates’’ of Tu­nisian quar­tet is the an­i­ma­tion of the AFRICAN PEER RE­VIEW MECH­A­NISM (APRM). This is a novel ini­tia­tive by African lead­ers who agreed to as­sem­ble African ex­perts who would re­view con­di­tions in a coun­try and draw up a re­port for a com­mit­tee of pres­i­dents to con­sider and make rec­om­men­da­tions to its gov­ern­ment for cor­rec­tive im­ple­men­ta­tion. Fol­low-up mea­sures would mon­i­tor im­ple­men­ta­tion of th­ese rec­om­men­da­tions. ‘’Civil so­ci­ety’’ in each coun­try par­tic­i­pates in draw­ing up their own re­port; and con­duct in­ten­sive di­a­logue with the vis­it­ing ex­perts be­fore the fi­nal re­port is pro­duced. They are also man­dated to mon­i­tor im­ple­men­ta­tion for achiev­ing cor­rec­tive good gov­er­nance.

At the June 2015 Sum­mit of the African Union, Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta of Kenya was elected to chair a drive to re­vive APRM. ‘’Civil so­ci­ety’’ groups all across Africa have re­mained silent, if not in­dif­fer­ent to this de­vel­op­ment. This is prob­a­bly due to lack of funds to arouse their ac­tiv­i­ties. With for­eign donors, lack­ing in­ter­est in the suc­cess of APRM, help should come from trans-con­ti­nen­tal African banks and trans-African busi­nesses like the Dan­gote Group in Nige­ria and ABSA in South Africa. They stand to gain from the re­al­i­sa­tion of good eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal gov­er­nance in Africa. It is im­per­a­tive on them to fund the en­ergy in lo­cal NGOs and the Tu­nisian-type groups all across Africa.

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