As British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan once said it, there’s a “wind of change” blowing through the African continent. “Whether we like it or not,” he said, “this growth of national consciousness is a political fact.”
That was the ‘60s, as countries across the continent were lowering the British flag and raising their national one.
“I can still remember watching that flag,” recalled Francesca Emmanuel, a former federal permanent secretary in the new Netflix documentary Journey of a New Colony. “It was the British flag I was watching coming down, coming down, and the Nigerian flag, going up, going up.”
“It was beautiful,” she sighed. “At last, our great day has arrived… That feeling, it’s something you can’t describe.”
But 40 years later, the promises of independence are being challenged by postcolonial leaders unwilling to abide by their constitution when it’s time to step down. Rising impatience by young people to again “raise that flag” has sparked riots in the streets of Ivory Coast, Guinea, Cameroon and over a dozen other countries.
In Guinea, incumbent Alpha Condé, age 82, ordered a crackdown on protests to his bid for a controversial third term. It resulted in the deaths of at least 50 in less than a year with “defense and security forces responsible for unlawful killings,” says Amnesty International. Voting took place this past Sunday.
Similarly in the Ivory Coast, protesters in the thousands filled the streets of the capital, Abidjan, when President Alassane Ouattara, in an about face, announced he would seek a third term in office. Five months ago, the 78 year old Ouattara had pledged to “transfer power to a new generation”. Voting is scheduled for Oct. 28.
“We need to adhere to the constitutional provisions of our countries, particularly on term limits,” Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari told his counterparts at a meeting last month. “This is one area that generates crisis and political tension in our subregion.”
“The reluctance to giving up power is a growing trend across the continent,” writes Congolese freelancer Vava Tampa, “causing joblessness, conflict, corruption, economic decline, and human rights abuses. Even Paul Kagame, the West’s standard-bearer for ‘good African leadership’, changed the constitution to cling to power. In fact, according to the Economist’s 2019 Democracy Index, more than half of Africa’s 55 countries are ruled by a ‘life president’ or – in the words of the report’s authors – ‘authoritarian regimes’.”
Other contested elections in the coming months include Tanzania, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Niger, Uganda and Central African Republic. Will a growing people’s movement again be a ‘wind of change’?