Joke with bread or matooke and you could pay big price

Sunday April 14 2019

By Bernard Tabaire

Idi Amin was kicked out of power a cool 40 years ago. He had bumbled and bamboozled. And he was armed. He had to go, so decided armed Ugandan exiles — President Yoweri Museveni key among them — supported by the Tanzanian government and military.

Bungling yet vicious presidents still walk Africa. Some may not be that nasty, it is just that they overstay their welcome. They refuse all entreaties to leave in peace and dignity. They learn nothing and forget nothing and therefore a number leave in ignominy — forlorn figures of pity whose bad deeds now outweigh their good.

Pocket-book issues are generally at the centre of the discontent. Amin messed up the economy, amongst his many adventures and misadventures.

The thing though is that a country need not be completely ruined for the people to rise. On top of feeling like they have a voice, they must also see themselves getting better off. When the majority feel the economy is not working for them, and at the same time they see ruling elites swimming in wealth, it is a matter of time for something to pop.

In Tunisia in 2010, it took the self-immolation of a frustrated street hawker/vendor. The Arab Spring sprung up. Frustrated citizens swept their leaders from their palaces in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. (I suspect that if foreign powers had not intervened, Libya’s Gadhafi would simply have delayed a little his fall). Whether the outcome of the people power anger has been what they wished for is debatable. But, again, that is what happens when no one acts responsible enough to offer leadership to change power at the top.

Now, you would think Mr Abdelaziz Bouteflika was not that bad a student of history — of a history manufactured in his own backyard. He may have ended a civil war when he came to power in 1999, but he also looked on as his cronies raided institutions like Sonatrach, the state oil company, to enrich themselves.

The poor people notice when politically exposed persons steal proceeds from national resources. They bide their time.
Very sick, wheelchair-bound since 2013 and obviously not in a position to govern, the 82-year-old still wanted to hang on and run in the election originally set for this month. He probably wanted to continue shielding his looting cabal. Yet the economy was in poor shape. The people rebelled and hit the streets. Now he is gone, forced out.

Why not leave when one’s standing is still high?

A little farther down to Algeria’s southeast is Omar el-Bashir, supreme military ruler of Sudan since 1989. Khartoum, the capital, is on people power fire. Actually, it is more accurate to say women power fire.
Blame it on the economy. Again. It all started with bread. Amid shortages of fuel and cash supplies, Gen Bashir had the wisdom to raise the price of bread in December last year.

It appears his much-vaunted intelligence services were asleep on the job and never anticipated the spectacular backlash from wananchi who have been fed up for long.

As is, the man is cooked.

Some leaders not only live in a bubble, they are full of hubris. They see themselves as God’s own happy gift to their countries. They see things only their way even if their way ceased making sense to a majority of the people.

They just keep blundering along. But they can’t say “damn the consequences” forever. Mr Bouteflika changed the constitution to ensure a life presidency in 2008. The protests forced Gen Bashir to postpone the same move in February.

Of course, President Museveni beat his hapless brother-leaders to the game. He did his term limit thing in 2005. Then again in 2017 when he tackled the age limit irritant. And on and on. But so far so good because the price of matooke has not shot sky-high. He must hope things remain that way for years to come.

STOP PRESS! As I was clicking send, word started coming through that Bashir was stepping down under duress — this was on April 11, the same date 40 years ago on which Idi Amin was ousted, although in different circumstances. To add to the man’s misery, the International Criminal Court may come calling soon.