I can’t say I know much about Tunisia beyond what the international press tells us, but by gosh, people power always moves me! And hurrah for the Tunisians! My instincts are clear: a president in power for 23 years, who “wins” elections by between 89-99% and whose family is beyond accountability and have the gall to ostentatiously parade their wealth, must mean there is a problem, and a big one too. I go for the small guy, the one who challenges power and speaks truth to it…and there is no better way to speak truth to power than what Tunisians are doing!
So let’s hear it for Mohamed Bouazizi, the 26 year old university graduate who inadvertently started the chain of events that have led to the ouster of one of Africa’s Big Men. Mohammed could not get a job despite his university education, so he started selling fruits and vegetables on the streets. In Kenyan terms, he was a jua kali hawker. But the police said he had no license so they destroyed his goods and in a fit of desperation, he set himself on fire. I am certain that he had no idea that his actions would lead to the fall of the dictator Ben Ali. He had no organization, no money, and no group of tribal supporters. He was just plain tired of trying to survive and all the hardships placed in his path.
And after that suicide, another followed. Anger in society grew, for the unspoken contract between Ben Ali and the people—that in exchange for his power and autocracy there was to be social and economic development--was over. So facing guns, tear gas, rubber bullets and water canyons, the people started flowing out onto the streets in protest. And the state, as it often does, over reacted, aiming to beat the people into submission. Between 23 and 60 people were killed but that only increased the anger and the courage. Ben Ali tried to make concessions but it was too little, too late…and the rest is history. Of course it’s not over and we will watch Tunisia with lots of interest over the next few years, for turning back the clock on this heroism is still possible, as we learnt in Kenya with NARC in 2003.
But for us, some lessons. We have to keep working the courage. We have to keep working the anger. We have to call the political elite for what they are: predators, parasites and pretenders. They are not leaders for leaders respect and like their country and their people; they do not just take take take…
We have lots of work to do in Kenya but sometimes the political elite makes it a little easier for us, as they are doing now with the idea that one can justify crimes against humanity; that our taxes should pay for the private defenses of suspected criminals for such chilling crimes; that they are more special than we are, those that keep them there…
So let’s gear up and work…if it can be done in Tunisia then we can do it too in Kenya. And for us the target is not just one or two families at the top: we should aim for all the 222 MPs and their acolytes, remembering who and what they are….
Now that is an interesting start to 2011!!!