20 January, 2011

The Tunisian uprising: it happened in Sudan before

Before Tunisia, it happened in Sudan. Very rarely mentioned is the popular uprising against Ja'afar Numeiry that took place in Sudan about 25 years ago. In March 1985, a few days after Numeiry had doubled the prices of bread, petrol and public transport, public protests began in Sudan. Daily protests continued and were soon to be joined by university students, union activists and tens of thousands of others. Many were arrested, a state of emergency was declared so as to better manage crackdowns. Then, too, like in Tunisia, the military at first watched impartially; but eventually sided with the popular uprising. On the 5th of April, 1985 - the Sudanese armed forces supported the people's demands for the ouster of Numeiry and seized power in Sudan, while Numeiry was out of the country; they suspended the constitution, sacked Numeiry's top officials and dissolved the People's Assembly. Lead by General Suwar Al'Dhahab, they formed a transitional government, they organized democratic elections and about one year after they had taken over, the military relinquished power to a democratically elected government. Only for that government to be ousted on the 30th of June,1989.

The difference is that, most of us have been completely taken by surprise and disbelief by the the dramatic and very swift events in Tunisia. Twenty-five years ago, due to the extreme economic hardships there, one could understand what happened in the Sudan. But, Tunisia? Incredible. Here was a country whose government seemed to have absolute power control and the country looked very disciplined and stable. Without depending on oil or minerals,Tunisia has grown at about 5% annually for the last ten years; it has one of the highest income per-capitas not only in the region, but in Africa, with only about 4% of its population living below the poverty line; it has one of the highest exports, per-capita, in Africa; it has one of the lowest death-rates and longest life expectancy in the Arab world, in Africa and in fact - in the whole world; and it has one of the highest literacy rates not only in the Arab world and in Africa, but in the world; and - about 60% of its university graduates are women. Home ownership is reportedly at 80%. Read this - excerpt below - very insightful article from the Institute for Security Studies:
On the positive side, Ben Ali did well in infrastructural development in his country. In the 2010 UNDP Human Development Index, Tunisia is the third African country and one of only four African countries on the list of High Human Development countries after Libya and Mauritius and before Algeria. Its annual GDP per capita is put at $8,509, with a life expectancy at birth of 74.3 years, and an adult literacy rate of 74.3 per cent. Moreover, the country has developed one of the finest medical systems on the continent, with a good health infrastructure and highly skilled medical staff. Compared to other African states, and given that all this was achieved without substantial natural resources, this is truly an impressive record, and much of the credit goes to Ben Ali. It is this impressive record that bemuses most people.
This was a country being lauded by economists and 'experts' as being an 'economic miracle', an African 'tiger' and a role model to be emulated by other countries. Only ten days ago, the Economist which many policy makers, especially Western, rely on - was confidently stating that: Tunisia’s troubles are unlikely to unseat the 74-year-old president or even to jolt his model of autocracy. Well: Ben Ali has been unseated. Tunisians are now jubilant. They are rejoicing and celebrating. Revolutions are that sweet. But, they are only sweeter if dreams are realized; and if they bring better changes; if the goals for what lives were lost for, are achieved.Tunisians can - in fact, should - learn from the Sudanese experience. The question now for them, is: what next? Can and will their elation continue for long? Will their expectations be fulfilled? Can and will what they revolted for, be achieved?

Search Safari Notes