Conference on the Implications of North Africa Uprisings for Sub Saharan Africa

We are witnessing an extraordinary wave of uprisings that began in Tunisia and Egypt at the start of 2011 and have unleashed a democratic fervor for
basic political rights all across the North Africa and the Middle East - a region which, for so long and by so many, had been considered hopeless as regards fundamental democratic change. Yet, this is a political development of global, not just regional, importance. Notwithstanding the vital geopolitical as well as geo-economic importance of the region, the uprisings are pregnant with governance implications whose potential significance extends beyond North Africa and the Middle East. Indeed, the unprecedented "bottom-up"upheavals in Tunisia and Egypt have inspired new forms of popular activism and public dissent in some mature democracies. Their example of self-empowered, barely coordinated, momentous peaceful protests, with no visible leadership, organization, or specific political program, besides expressing angered dissatisfaction with the status quo, has been emulated by protesters in the United States, Western Europe and Asia.

Much that is both new and important has been gleaned from the uprisings about the challenges for authoritarian stability, as well as, opportunities for democratic progress, but much more awaits examination.

The stunning success registered by grassroots movements in Tunisia and Egypt have shaken confidence in the presumed phenomenon of "durable authoritarianism", whose stability and resiliency is underwritten by wellcrafted and highly developed institutional forms. Moreover, and perhaps, more importantly, the uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East lend support to the conclusion that economic growth and development in and of themselves do not guarantee political stability, and that, to this end, issues of democratic governance cannot be sidestepped. Hence, a new approach is required for the political analysis of countries that have achieved notable economic growth, yet continue to show a flagrant governance deficit.

In this, and many other ways, the uprisings have created many questions that need to be analyzed and addressed. These questions are of particular relevance to both North and Sub-Saharan Africa which have recently achieved striking economic growth, yet still seek remedies to governance deficit.

In view of the above, it is imperative that due attention be given to the possible implications of the complex uprisings for Sub-Saharan Africa, where there is considerable potential for growing opposition and demand for political rights of citizens. The issues deliberated at the InterAfrica Group (IAG) conference on the North African Uprisings have profound implications, not only for the concerned Sub-Saharan countries, but also for the African continent in general. They also impact on the international community, the major global powers, and international and multilateral institutions of governance and finance such as: the United Nations, NATO, the African Union, the League of Arab States, the World Bank, IMF and the African Development Bank.

It is against this backdrop that IAG organized a conference to provide a platform whereby the various implications and lessons learned from the North African uprisings would be thoughtfully examined and deliberated. To this end, six papers were presented that closely addressed various aspects
related to the following thematic questions:

  1. Based on the experience of the uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East region, the indicators that signal political vulnerability.
  2. The political challenges to assumed legitimacy and stability derived from economic success.
  3. The future policy issues that need to be considered on the part of multilateral and bilateral assistance under the new dominant public demand for liberal democratic governance.
  4. The future African Union response to growing citizen demand for democracy and change of government in Sub-Saharan member countries.
  5. The political dynamics behind the precedence of the NATO intervention in Libya and the implications of such interventions on the issue of sovereignty.

I am confident the six papers that were presented by the knowledgeable experts, and the conference proceedings presented in this publication will offer vital insights about and lessons from the North African Uprisings. IAG hopes they will shed light on policy and strategy inputs to be considered by governments and Civil Society Organizations in Africa and major global powers, as well as by continental, international and multilateral institutions.

In closing, I wish to thank: Professor Helmi Sharawy, Dr. Deredje Alemayehu; Dr. Mohamed Salih; Dr. Samuel Assefa; Dr. Mehari Tadele Maru; and Dr. Alex DeWaal for sharing with us their valuable research papers and expertise.

InterAfrica Group Executive Director


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