by Naefa Khan-Crookes, Business Day
NORTH Africa has been portrayed as distinct from the rest of Africa, a
clever divide-and-rule technique. Frantz Fanon, writing half a century
ago, succinctly encapsulated this phenomenon when he wrote : "Africa is
divided into Black and White and the names that are substituted — Africa
south of the Sahara, Africa north of the Sahara — do not manage to hide
this latent racism. It is affirmed that White Africa has a
thousand-year-old tradition of culture; that she is Mediterranean, that
she is a continuation of Europe and that she shares in Graeco- Latin
civilisation. Black Africa is looked on as a region that is inert,
brutal, uncivilised — in a word, savage."
Unfortunately this divide has been sustained and reinforced
through geopolitical groupings of north Africa with the Middle East
rather than with Africa. This despite that its racism is clear, as Fanon
pointed out, and despite the region not being endowed with the oil
wealth that has been the curse of most of the Middle East. The region
has also experienced economic and sociopolitical problems similar to
most African countries. Severe wealth disparity, endemic corruption,
entrenched leaders and farcical elections have become continental
problems. However, current events could provide an opportunity to begin
dismantling this colonial, constructed divide.
Dictatorships that have survived for decades in n orth
Africa have crumbled. The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt were organic
and initiated by those who had had enough of despotic, corrupt and
In Tunisia the death of a young fruit seller exposed the
repressive nature of a country heralded by the west as a bastion of
progressive Islamic rule. It was portrayed as a reformist, westernised,
Muslim country while human rights abuses, especially against Islamists,
Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak never held a free
and fair election, but Egypt’s strategic role in the Israel-Palestine
conundrum meant the west kept pouring in money and weapons to entrench a
corrupt dictatorship . Egypt similarly tried to portray itself as a
progressive modern state while detaining both liberals and Islamists.
Now the people have spoken . Even as an interim military regime in Egypt
tries to control its citizens, people continue to protest against the
military presence as they push for a speedy return to civilian rule.
While western powers cogitate and overtly and covertly seek
to control the momentum and results of these revolutions, support for
the achievements in these countries is imperative. Current writings
stress the effect these revolutions may have on western countries,
especially in the context of Islamic fundamentalism. Often clothed in
the mantle of fostering democracy, support is habitually driven by state
interest. Islamists have been successful in the first elections since
the toppling of these dictators; one of the reasons is the social
support networks provided by religious groups since the regimes failed
to take care of the majority of their people.
If Tunisians and Egyptians are denied the opportunity to
determine their own future, then those who have died did so in vain.
Whether it is through putting pen to paper, providing legal or policy
support, or flying Egyptian and Tunisian flags, support must be
demonstrated, especially by Africans.
SA is perfectly poised to assist. Having undergone our own
regime change we can note our achievements and our failures and assist
others so that they do not repeat the same failures.
Similarly, Tanzania, Kenya and Senegal can be used as case
studies for the role which Islamic law plays or should play in a
democratic state. In Egypt article two of the constitution stipulates
that Islam is the religion of the state. This article is the subject of
heated debate. Similarly, article one of the Tunisian constitution
declares Islam the state religion. However, legislation was enacted to
prevent polygamy, to stipulate marriageable age, to prevent abuse of the
talaq, which allowed men to easily divorce their wives, and to curb
other practic es being abused. To manage the role Islamic law should
play is going to be difficult and African states that have dealt with
similar issues could provide assistance.
Finally, African solidarity will send a clear message to
African despots that although revolutions have occurred in n orth
African and in Middle Eastern countries, they are not immune to the
impetus that created them. The "colonial Africa north of the Sahara and
Africa south of the Sahara" construct will no longer be countenanced. As
independence was gained in Egypt and Ghana and gained momentum in the
rest of the continent, so too should these revolutions be viewed as
signifiers of an end to oppressive rule. The name of the fruit seller
was Mohamed Bouazizi and his name should be on the lips of every African
from Cape to Cairo.