A SUDDEN CONVERSION TO POLITICAL REFORM

Posted on February 2, 2011

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The man had been at the very top for thirty-years. No doubt backed by successive fellow top men in the US and other first world nations, that is, those who in their small groupings determine the destinies of the rest of the world. Regardless of how badly or lowly he may have been treating his own people, as long as he was able to contribute to the agenda of his first world backers, he was feted and honoured and financed by them.

There was enough resources- time, money, brains and the wherewithal- available to him to also do something about those of his people who were marginalized, liberalize his country’s system of governance, and put the most glaring faults right while he has been busy giving attention to his propensity for taking care of himself, his extended family and favoured partners in … and the all-important first world agendas.

Thirty years is a very long period of time by whatever measure. No matter how small or big a person any of us may be in our respective stations in life, and for that matter any organization- government or non-governmental, to procrastinate for one-half or one-third of our lifespan to see to some very necessary things in our life is a very unwise way to live let alone govern a country of eighty million people.

With millions of his people on the streets in various town squares asking for his immediate relinquishment of his tenure of office, for the man to go on air to say that he will not run again when his current term ends in September and he will use the remainder of his time in office to put in place changes in the constitution and a succession plan, is what must be a sudden change of mind, heart and mouth. A sudden conversion to political reform!

Just to hear him talk this way, an immediate response from one of the millions who brave danger, inconvenience, discomfort, lack of wash-rooms and other amenities normally required for bare human survival was: “He lied to us for thirty years, why should we believe him now!” This was followed by chants of “Liar! Liar! Liar! …” from those around him.

However, whatever or wherever else the people’s revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt will go from here, already it has reaped a harvest of sorts. Already neighbouring regimes in the region are either warning their own people not to take to the streets (which they would not heed) or begin to initiate some political adjustments no matter how little or perfunctorily their actions may have been. It is safe to say that change have come to the entire region.

Detractors to such mass street demonstrations will no doubt be shaking their heads in disapproval. They will no doubt be pointing to the fact that others with less purity of motives would have infiltrated the enormous crowds and biding their time to turn the peaceful assemblies to violence or to serve their own agenda be it political or religious, etc. And of course they are probably right to come to such conclusions.

Yet, from the earliest times, these mass revolts of people who have felt robbed of their share of their countries’ resources and disenfranchised from their countries’ decision-making process have periodically taken place regardless of whatever formulae others of us who may feel otherwise may care to apply. For example, the French Revolution of 1789 and more recently, the People’s Power of 1986 in the Philippines, the destruction of the Berlin Wall of 1989, the dissolution of the Soviet Union of 1991, the fall of thirty year’s of rule of Suharto in May 1998 following economic collapse and the shooting of four students and the outrage that followed.

Such monumental events have sometimes started with a solitary human life. A young man after repeated rebuffs to his several attempts to make a living, had his make-shift vegetable stall removed and took his case to the local authorities threatening suicide if he could not find a way to have a basic decent life, only to be rebuffed yet again. That was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. Tragically, he made good his threat. As it turned out, his departure from this world via self-immolation became the last straw that broke the back of self-control and patience of many others of his generation. That ignited the revolution of Tunisia in recent weeks which saw the flight of the unwelcome leader. In turn, it encouraged other such revolts in other neighbouring countries.

For some countries of the world, it is probably too late to try to demonstrate to their demonstrating people their sudden conversions to political reform. But political reform is due in many other countries of the world whose leaders or regimes are even now watching live TV scenes of the plight their counterpart in Egypt is facing. For sure, it is far better to watch others face impossible scenarios from the vantage point of your own comfortable living or plush office rooms than to be the subject of such TV continuing coverage. Lessons can be learned in turn and in time by the worst perpetrators of false democracy but only if they do something substantive sooner than later.

My language may be far less elegant and my coverage of the issues far less comprehensive than the Magna Carta or the UN Declaration of Human Rights. But commonsense should take centre stage and simple facts are more readily understood than pages of verbosity. So here is some unsought for advice for the powers that be whoever and wherever they may be:

– Don’t regard public finances, resources, offices and companies as your own to hold, to keep and to use however, whenever or wherever you like.

– Don’t use public resources without publicly accounting for them in layman’s readily understandable language.

– Don’t resort to draconian laws to suppress the people.

– Don’t neglect to listen to the people nor just attend to their spoken or written words but focus instead on the sentiments, aspirations and emotions behind their words.

– Don’t give speeches composed in your plush offices removed from the dynamics of real life but instead provide serious answers to the people’s serious questions and concerns.

– Don’t rely on words, slogans or semantics when your actions speak so much louder than your words.

– Don’t treat your people as though they are now and forever stupid, foolish or non-discerning.

– Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the people will tolerate the intolerable things you say or do.

– Don’t think that your improper conduct can be cancelled by your good deeds or stay hidden from the public forever.

– Don’t think that tomorrow you will still be in charge for today may be your last opportunity to make good.

Make good hay while the sun shines.

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Posted in: Perspective