Are People Power Revolutions The Answer To Long Serving Presidents?

May 2nd, 2019 / Abaasa John Mary
| People Power movements have been the case for decades.

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The wave of political liberation in Africa that was largely fueled by the Arab Spring revolutions has been fast spreading. In just under a decade, there has been wide spread citizen protests against the government in more than 10 countries including Gabon,  Mali, Malawi, Djibouti, Zimbabwe and Uganda among others. In some countries, these protests have been ‘fruitful’, managing to unseat some of the longest serving presidents who are widely regarded as dictators, as was the case in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Zimbabwe and now the latest in the fray, Sudan. One factor that all these have had in common is a zealous ‘Freedom Fighter’ faction of the citizens and in some cases, western world backing. After several of these unplanned changes of guard, one thing has been very clear. It is not working, not Politically, not economically and not in the long run.


The simple protests which began as early as 2009 in Zawiya slowly intensified into the more violent protests of Benghazi in February 2011. Over time, the growing domestic support for change emboldened the citizens more and more until the formation of the National Transition Council (NTC), a body which quickly garnered western sympathy. Outside support would later turn out to be a crucial factor in the war. It was the United Nations Security Council resolutions of February 26th 2011 that froze the assets and bank accounts of Col Mauammar Gaddafi and his closest allies. The Security Counciil also forwarded the Libyan Matter to the International Criminal Court, opening up the regime to outside scrutiny.

Despite the Gaddafi government proposing ceasefire countless times in the months that followed, fighting continued until his eventual capture and assassination in October 2011 ending a 42 year rule that began in 1969. The NTC declared the Liberation of Libya and officially ended the war on 23rd October 2011 but as circumstances have shown since then, the war was far from over.   

The GDP Per capita in Libya has since fallen by over 40%, from a whooping 14,000 USD to about 9,600 USD in 2017. According to the CIA World Factbook, “The Libyan dinar has lost much of its value since 2014 and the resulting gap between official and black market exchange rates has spurred the growth of a shadow economy and contributed to inflation. The country suffers from widespread power outages, caused by shortages of fuel for power generation. Living conditions, including access to clean drinking water, medical services, and safe housing have all declined since 2011. Oil production in 2017 reached a five-year high, driving GDP growth, with daily average production rising to 879,000 barrels per day. However, oil production levels remain below the average pre-Revolution highs of 1.6 million barrels per day.”

Civil war is brewing again. Former Gaddafi ally Gen. Khalifa Haftar now commands an unrecognized regime in the West of the country, battling ‘various terrorist groups, criminal gangs, and many foreign proxies.’ These unbearable conditions have been the major reason for the surge of Mediterranean immigrants into Europe,  a problem that president Obama had cited as the reason for American intervention in Libya in 2011. It is important to note that Gen, Haftar was a vital cog in the Western campaign against the Al-Quaeda. Libya has not hit rock bottom… not yet!


While protestors of the January 25 revolution fronted many reasons like police brutality,  lack of political and civil liberties, the state of emergency laws and the rising inflation, their major selling point was the need to overthrow Hosni Mubarak's 30 year-long regime that had began in 1981. This was duly achieved,  on the 11th of February 2011 when Hosni Mubarak resigned, leaving the running of the Country's affairs to the Supreme Council Of The Armed Forces (SCAF) a military Junta headed by Mohamed Hussein Tantawi. What followed was further emergency. The constitution was suspended,  both houses of parliament were dissolved and it was set that an Interim Military government would be in place for the following six months.

Through the series of elections that ensued under the Muslim brotherhood, power was ceded to President Morsi in June 2012. He was deposed through a coup d’état barely a year later  by his own Minister Of defence, General Abdel Fatah El Sisi, amidst further protests that saw the participation of millions of citizens.

Despite the new government’s efforts to follow an IMF policy implementation caricature,  the political turmoil still took it's toll on the economy. Investors and tourists fled. Growth was anaemic. Unemployment peaked at 13.2%. President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi had to seek a $12bn loan from the IMF in 2016. A budget deficit hit 12.5% of the GDP in the 2015-16 financial year and under the current government,  the economy saw the highest Account deficit of 19.8 bn USD in 2016!

Since Hosni Mubarak's deposition in 2011,  Egypt has seen 4 regimes in it's highest office (both interim and ruling).

The Libya and Egypt situation was not the first of it's kind and neither will it be the last. Somalia has never recovered from the 1966 debacle,  South Sudan has never recovered since Garang and Iraq is still reeling from the political Vacuum left by Saddam Hussein.

Can it be done any different?

The citizen uprisings have all been almost identical. The people get tired of a long serving president,  they start protesting and before they know it, it is a fully fledged citizen uprising. The ‘dictator’ gets disposed, a military government assumes control leading to further political turmoil and unprecedented tanking of the economy.  Only a few have scraped through these circumstances.

What the Political Liberation romanticists have failed to understand is that a long serving president is no longer an individual. They morph into an intricately woven system that must survive a weaning process when the thread that wove it is torn. There is more to winning than raising the final victory flag after the incumbent has gone. Unfortunately what follows is the hardest part of the struggle. In the absence of rock solid policy,  strategy and plans, the country will degenerate into a calamity far worse that the citizenry bargained for.

Despite their fleeting appeal,  People Power movements must do more than just sell a political freedom narrative. They must be prepared to sustain the economy and take on the delicate balance of power at a better pace than their predecessor. Do citizen revolutions have what it takes to guide a country's power transition? Perhaps they do,  perhaps not. If they can learn from history, well and good.

Only time will tell!!!!!

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