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North Africa: Shifting sands and ‘Strong men’ politics

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North Africa: Shifting sands and ‘Strong men’ politics

Reflecting on the people’s revolutions in Sudan and Algeria, our editor Anver Versi believes that the triumph of the people in North Africa will be a triumph for everyone across Africa – and may usher in the end of the era of ‘strong men’ politics.

Over the last month, we have seen some momentous shifts in North Africa – Sudan is considered part of the North African region although it intersects with Sub-Saharan Africa – the ramifications of which are likely to have long term ripples over political development in the rest of the continent.

Simultaneous, but unconnected, huge public protests defenestrated long entrenched leadership regimes in Algeria and Sudan, forcing Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Omar Al Bashir out of office. Both regimes had relied on extensive and powerful intelligence services and brutal crackdowns to silence public disapproval and heavily armed military to enforce compliance.

In both cases, faced with ever swelling numbers of protestors who refused to be cowed by brutal beatings and detentions, the guns reached the limits of their potency to generate fear and became useless. In the case of Sudan, some of the army turned on their commanders and fought back, several soldiers losing their lives in their efforts to protect the people.

In Algeria, Bouteflika, who had become little more than a figurehead for the regime stepped down but the protestors were  not satisfied and have continued (at the time of writing) to demand a total dismantling of the structure of the regime and a fresh start.

In Sudan, the military made a last-ditch effort to remain in power by staging a palace coup against Bashir but the public refused to accept the compromise and the former Defence Minister, Ahmed Awad Ibn Auf who had stepped as chair of the interim military council, as well as the dreaded head of intelligence and security, Salah Gosh were compelled to resign.

The more acceptable General Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan took over the council. In a complete turn-around, he praised “the sacrifices made by Sudanese people, especially women and the young”. He lifted the curfew that had been imposed, ordered the release of political detainees, pledged meaningful dialogue with all political forces and promised the formation of a civilian government.

The leading organiser of the movement, The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), demanded “the transfer of power to a civilian transitional government in which the army participates but does not rule and lead”.

At the time of going to press, the SPA had named a group of civilian negotiators to enter into dialogue with the military council with the view of establishing the groundwork that would lead to a shift of power back in civilian hands.

Strong men politics

But, even while citizen power had toppled two of the continent’s ‘strong men’ leaders, another was making his way to take over in Libya. Khalifa Hafdar, leader of the self-styled Libyan National Army based in the east of the country, mounted attacks on Tripoli, seat of the internationally recognised Government of National Accord.

Emily Thornberry, the Shadow Foreign Secretary in the UK parliament accused France of supporting Haftar’s advances, an accusation denied by the French. However, his main financial backing according to the British Foreign Office, comes from Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Egypt’s President Abdelfattah El Sisi has also backed Haftar.

All three North African countries have the potential to be economic superstars in the continent but all three have been mired in internal turmoil for decades. Some of this has been due to structural weaknesses in their body politic and some of it due to external interference. The result has been the same – stagnation of human and economic development and the burden has fallen disproportionately on the common people.

In Sudan and Algeria, the people have decided to do something about it and discovered new strength in unity of purpose. In Libya, the people, so far are still divided by conflicting loyalties and rivalries. They have yet to discover that the real enemy is not another clan or ethnic group or region, but those who, domestic and foreign, who build their palaces on the broken bones of people just like them.

For the sake of the continent, let us hope that the people’s revolutions in Sudan and Algeria succeed and thrive. The triumph of the people in North Africa will be a triumph for the people all over Africa – and may usher in the end of the era of ‘strong men’ politics.

The triumph of the people in North Africa will be a triumph for the people all over Africa – and may usher in the end of the era of ‘strong men’ politics.

Over the last month, we have seen some momentous shifts in North Africa – Sudan is considered part of the North African region although it intersects with Sub-Saharan Africa – the ramifications of which are likely to have long term ripples over political development in the rest of the continent.

Simultaneous, but unconnected, huge public protests defenestrated long entrenched leadership regimes in Algeria and Sudan, forcing Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Omar Al Bashir out of office. Both regimes had relied on extensive and powerful intelligence services and brutal crackdowns to silence public disapproval and heavily armed military to enforce compliance.

In both cases, faced with ever swelling numbers of protestors who refused to be cowed by brutal beatings and detentions, the guns reached the limits of their potency to generate fear and became useless. In the case of Sudan, some of the army turned on their commanders and fought back, several soldiers losing their lives in their efforts to protect the people.

In Algeria, Bouteflika, who had become little more than a figurehead for the regime stepped down but the protestors were  not satisfied and have continued (at the time of writing) to demand a total dismantling of the structure of the regime and a fresh start.

In Sudan, the military made a last-ditch effort to remain in power by staging a palace coup against Bashir but the public refused to accept the compromise and the former Defence Minister, Ahmed Awad Ibn Auf who had stepped as chair of the interim military council, as well as the dreaded head of intelligence and security, Salah Gosh were compelled to resign.

The more acceptable General Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan took over the council. In a complete turn-around, he praised “the sacrifices made by Sudanese people, especially women and the young”. He lifted the curfew that had been imposed, ordered the release of political detainees, pledged meaningful dialogue with all political forces and promised the formation of a civilian government.

The leading organiser of the movement, The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), demanded “the transfer of power to a civilian transitional government in which the army participates but does not rule and lead”.

At the time of going to press, the SPA had named a group of civilian negotiators to enter into dialogue with the military council with the view of establishing the groundwork that would lead to a shift of power back in civilian hands.

Strong men politics

OUSTED: Algeria’s Abdelaziz Bouteflika (R) meeting with Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir in Algiers on October 12, 2015. (Photo by HO / ALGERIA PRESS SERVICE / AFP)

But, even while citizen power had toppled two of the continent’s ‘strong men’ leaders, another was making his way to take over in Libya. Khalifa Hafdar, leader of the self-styled Libyan National Army based in the east of the country, mounted attacks on Tripoli, seat of the internationally recognised Government of National Accord.

Emily Thornberry, the Shadow Foreign Secretary in the UK parliament accused France of supporting Haftar’s advances, an accusation denied by the French. However, his main financial backing according to the British Foreign Office, comes from Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Egypt’s President Abdelfattah El Sisi has also backed Haftar.

All three North African countries have the potential to be economic superstars in the continent but all three have been mired in internal turmoil for decades. Some of this has been due to structural weaknesses in their body politic and some of it due to external interference. The result has been the same – stagnation of human and economic development and the burden has fallen disproportionately on the common people.

In Sudan and Algeria, the people have decided to do something about it and discovered new strength in unity of purpose. In Libya, the people, so far are still divided by conflicting loyalties and rivalries. They have yet to discover that the real enemy is not another clan or ethnic group or region, but those who, domestic and foreign, who build their palaces on the broken bones of people just like them.

For the sake of the continent, let us hope that the people’s revolutions in Sudan and Algeria succeed and thrive. The triumph of the people in North Africa will be a triumph for the people all over Africa – and may usher in the end of the era of ‘strong men’ politics.


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Written by Anver Versi

Anver Versi is the award-winning former editor of African Business Magazine. He was born in Kenya and is currently based in Accra, Ghana.

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