Amid two weeks of protests and labor strikes in Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak has finally resigned and the military now has taken control. Thousands of Egyptians are celebrating in the streets and the Egyptian Army is reportedly going to dismiss the rest of the cabinet.
Some black writers have suggested African-Americans don’t have a special responsibility to pay attention to Egypt’s political turmoil because Egyptians aren’t culturally or politically connected with us. I disagree. While Egypt is culturally more part of the Middle East than Africa, Egyptians are a genetically a mix of Arab/Berber and sub-Saharan African. They are also drawing some inspiration and tactical ideas from the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S.
More importantly, Egypt is one of Africa’s most populous nations. As one of the “Next Eleven” emerging economies, it’s also a regional economic powerhouse. Now that Mubarak has been deposed, the fallout could have domino-like ramifications throughout Africa. Many of the issues playing out in North Africa are also happening elsewhere on the continent, including the West African region.
WATCH NBC NEWS COVERAGE OF THE EGYPT CRISIS:
[MSNBCMSN video=”http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/32545640″ w=”592″ h=”346″ launch_id=”41532673″ id=”msnbc1e31eb”]
Last year, Africa surpassed the one billion population mark. The continent has the world’s fastest growing youth population, and almost two-thirds of unemployed Africans are under the age of 25. Thus, authoritarian sub-Saharan leaders are also on a ticking time bomb. Quite a few sub-Saharan African leaders have been in power for 20 years or more. Corruption costs Africa more than $300 billion a year, which is six times higher than the foreign aid that it annually receives. Africa’s youth are growing less tolerant of scenarios where they suffer while leaders entrusted with national treasuries choose to plunder them. They increasingly look West and East, and wonder why their countries can’t have economic prosperity, genuine democratic rule, and human rights as well.
Andrew Mwenda is a Ugandan journalist who often challenges Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s policies, even to the point of going to jail on sedition charges (Uganda’s courts later ruled in his favor). Mwenda writes in his newspaper Independent that the factors which led to Tunisian President Ben Ali’s downfall — increasingly educated and tech-savvy youth population, coupled with high unemployment and insufficient economic growth to meet educated youth’s rising aspirations — face Uganda’s 25-year ruler:
As Tunisians celebrated the downfall of Ben Ali, Daily Monitor of January 19 reported that Uganda is producing 400,000 graduates from tertiary institutions every year. Only 20,000 are getting jobs in the public sector. Even counting the private and informal sectors, Uganda is unlikely to be creating more than 150,000 jobs every year. Over the next five years, this country may have more than a million unemployed graduates,” he writes. “These unemployed graduates are not going to sit around and passively watch the kinds of institutionalised corruption, incompetence and nepotism that we see in Uganda. They will begin to question the existing political order.
Another authoritarian leader on the watch list is Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who has been in power for 30 years. Zimbabwe’s relatively educated population has fled to South Africa and Botswana after the country’s hyperinflation woes. Also, land-reform policies against white minority farmers ostensibly designed to help level the playing field from the colonial era have instead been used to enrich political cronies, turning what used to be Africa’s breadbasket into a food desert.
Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang — who has been in power for 31 years — is another longtime authoritarian ruler to watch. Although oil wealth in the country of 700,000 people gives it a per capita income of $32,000 a year (which ranks it 28th in the world), 60 percent of Equatoguinean live on less than $1 a day due to massive corruption involving the ruling family.
South African commentator Sentletse Diakanyo is hopeful that the events going on in North Africa challenging authoritarian rule will spread throughout the continent. “The recent revolutions across the Arab world, from Tunisia to Jordan, Yemen, Algeria, Egypt and Syria should serve as an inspiration to Africans whose existence is at the mercy of kleptomaniacs and despots,” he writes in his column in the Mail & Guardian.
“The African Union has become a club of despots, most of whom have been in power for over 30 years. They have plundered the resources of their own countries with no meaningful economic development and social progress of their people. The people of Libya, Equatorial Guinea, Zimbabwe, Angola, Swaziland and other parts of Africa, w[h]ere despots refuse to yield to meaningful political and economic reforms, must rise to defend their own countries and install governments they deserve.”