Disclaimer: The letter below is meant for diasporadical purposes only. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.
This letter is addressed to you, yes you.
As you may have noticed, the news is saturated with coverage from Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen – what is now being dubbed ‘an Arab Revolution‘ by many. Like many observers, I have been very reluctant to refer to the unprecedented events in Tunisia and Egypt as “revolutions” and therefore I have had my own reservations against the use of the word “revolution” by friends, family and the world at large. Meanwhile, I have fruitlessly tried coming up with my own catchy imagery, symbolism or analogies that best capture the profound changes taking place especially in Tunisia and Egypt.
It was around then that I came across this statement taken from a recent speech given by Jeremy Gauntlett, a distinguished South African lawyer :
“I have often thought that the trouble with political revolution, velvet or otherwise, is that it gives rise to the same illusions as university graduation. There is the sense of attainment and finality, of a status achieved and no more to be learnt or done. I believe the converse is true. It is just a beginning.”
Ofcourse my first thought was to dissect this statement to see whether it holds true. Can political revolutions (I assume he had Tunisia and Egypt in mind) be likened to university graduations in as far as the “illusions” created are concerned?
My short answer: No. I totally disagree with my learned friend Mr. Gauntlett on the grounds that political revolutions by their very nature are made up of several key reforms taking place over a period of time and cannot be narrowed down to a succint moment in time as is the case with university graduations. We must distinguish between “political revolutions” and “political reforms”.
Indulge me, if you please.
A revolution is and can only be defined as a complete ‘turn around”, a total overhaul, a complete break with the past and the notion of ‘tabula rasa’ comes to mind. What we are seeing in Tunisia and Egypt are not revolutions, they are merely people-driven violent strategies being employed to overthrow percieved dictatorial rulers. You can call them protests, uprisings, regime change but for heaven’s sake, these are not Revolutions. For a revolution to take place in any country, it must have a much wider scope and it is the culmination of many different reforms which have taken place over time and whose cumulative effect is to completely change the very core of that country. A revolution cannot be focussed around ousting one man or one regime from power so as to replace it with another. A revolution goes to the very root of the country’s economic, socio-cultural and political structure and seeks to devise a new “maniere de faire” [way of doing things] that never existed before.
The so-called “revolutions” we’ve been hearing about taking place in Egypt and Tunisia have been focussed on getting rid of certain people and their associates and in so doing, the two countries would somehow move forward. Take Egypt for instance, the centre of the protests is one man: Mr. Hosni Mubarak, who is said to have plundered his country during his 30 year rule. The question I keep wanting to ask Egyptians is this: if you do succeed in forcing Mubarak out of power, what will happen next? How will Egypt move forward? Who will govern it? Equally, the same questions can be raised about Tunisia. What measures are being put in place to ensure that future incumbents dont end up becoming other Ben Ali’s and Mubarak’s of the respective North African states?
To draw on an example closer to home, let’s go back to 1992, the historic year that Section 2(A) of the constitution that made Kanu the sole legal political party was repealed. Kenyans were too focused on trying to get rid of Moi to adequately prepare for our first ever multiparty elections without realising that the repeal of section 2(A) did not change the other laws and institutional framework that still largely favoured Moi’s continued rule.
That said, the importance of ousting these dictators cannot be downplayed since it is a first step towards instituting reforms. And that’s what this is all about, REFORMS! NOT REVOLUTIONS. I stand to be corrected but I dont believe revolutions happen over night or over a week or a month. A revolution is systematic transformation and is made up of several key reforms taking place within a particular space. As for the list of reforms that culminate in a revolution, it is a pretty long one which must go beyond getting rid of individuals but must also focus on overhauling the existing institutional frameworks as well as the legal mechanisms that have facilitated these dictators to abuse public office and exploit their people.
As for graduations, Gauntlett suggests that university graduates are so naive and myopic as to consider their university graduation as their final goal. A graduation is an important ceremony for any student which marks the culmination of many years of hard work. However I would argue that there are very few graduates out there today who considered their graduations as an end in itself and that once they were awarded a degree, everything else including employment will magically fall into place. I believe that the changing realities of the world we live in have forced us to see a graduation as nothing more than a hurdle in a race rather the finish-line of that race.
And so on those two counts, I disagree with Jeremy Gauntlet’s proposition, as attractive as it sounds.
These are my few thoughts on the subject, I look forward to hearing yours.