Nobel prize comes to Bourgiba’s Africa – Okello Oculi


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The 2015 Nobel Prize for promoting peace was awarded to four patriotic, resilient, patient and untiring associations in Tunisian society. The ‘’quartet’’ consisted of Trade and Handicrafts, Human Rights League, the Confederation of Industry and the Order of Lawyers. They got together in 2013, two turbulent years after the ‘’Jasmine Revolution’’. That convulsion was triggered by youths protesting against a female police woman allegedly slapping an unemployed university graduate who was selling oranges on a street corner in a small town. President Ben Ali – a former CIA informant while he was in Tunisia’s embassy in Poland – probably recalled how a trade union movement brought down the Communist government in that country. He fled.

Islamic ‘’extremists’’ soon started withdrawing gains in human rights -including those of women – which Tunisia’s founding father Bourghiba, had built into a secular constitution. Bred on over six decades of progressive political culture, members of organised ‘’civil society’’ moved to protect these gains by launching a ‘’dialogue’’ to put out flicking flames of bloodshed between those passionately favouring a Sharia-based constitution and those favouring a secular one.

Mohammed Fadhel Mafoudh, a leader of the Order of Lawyers described winning the Nobel prize as ‘’a message to all parties present in certain political conflicts, to tell them that everything can be settled with dialogue and all can be settled in a climate of peace, and that the language of weapons leads us nowhere. I think that is the most important message’’. Libya, Egypt, and Syria had missed that simple message.

The Nobel prize was denied to visible individuals like Denis Mukwege, the Congolese surgeon who has rehabilitated thousands of victims of barbaric rapes by foreign militias in eastern regions of the country; Pope Francis, and Dr Adedevoh: the female Nigerian doctor who sacrificed her life to halt a potential conflagration of Ebola flaring across densely populated Lagos metropolis and beyond.

The award holds vital lessons across Africa. It highlights a vital tradition in Africa of local communities putting a fire on a neighbour’s roof before it spreads. The attitude of people ‘’waiting for government’’ to take action – while individuals stand and watch passively – has been shamed. Too often elites bred in colonial educational cultures reflectively take to flight out African countries to safe havens in Euro-America rather than roll up their wills to undertake corrective activities.

The quartet was neutral and talked to all groups. This gave them credibility and opened doors to dialogue with all groups in a way that could win concessions to, and accommodation of, what was important to other groups. The tendency was overcome of bowing down to religious and ethnic strong heads; and bowing away from challenges of getting ‘’amalgam of different values, backgrounds and perspectives’’ to make contact and think forward.

Critics of “civil society” activists in Africa blame their dependence on funds provided by external donors for their bias for confrontation with governments not favourable to their backers. Unlike the Tunisian quartet, they are often recent graduates thrown into a hostile pool of underemployment, and lacking depth of intellectual, professional, trade and political experience. However, with backing from government agencies and local private corporations who demand accountability and integrity in the management of financial resources, their youthful energies could, in the coming decade, enable them build on the achievement of the Tunisian quartet.

One sector that is hungry for their energy and that of ‘’age mates’’ of Tunisian quartet is the animation of the AFRICAN PEER REVIEW MECHANISM (APRM). This is a novel initiative by African leaders who agreed to assemble African experts who would review conditions in a country and draw up a report for a committee of presidents to consider and make recommendations to its government for corrective implementation. Follow-up measures would monitor implementation of these recommendations. ‘’Civil society’’ in each country participates in drawing up their own report; and conduct intensive dialogue with the visiting experts before the final report is produced. They are also mandated to monitor implementation for achieving corrective good governance.

At the June 2015 Summit of the African Union, President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya was elected to chair a drive to revive APRM. ‘’Civil society’’ groups all across Africa have remained silent, if not indifferent to this development. This is probably due to lack of funds to arouse their activities. With foreign donors, lacking interest in the success of APRM, help should come from trans-continental African banks and trans-African businesses like the Dangote Group in Nigeria and ABSA in South Africa. They stand to gain from the realisation of good economic and political governance in Africa. It is imperative on them to fund the energy in local NGOs and the Tunisian-type groups all across Africa.

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