Former South African President Thabo Mbeki has warned African leaders of more Arab spring uprisings on the continent if they continued to be “preoccupied” with enriching themselves and not being concerned about “the lives of the people”.
In an interview with The Sunday Independent, Mbeki said the patience of the youth and ordinary Africans was waning, and that their frustrations could explode.
He wrote in The Thinker magazine in September, quoting poet Langston Hughes, that if the African dream is deferred for much longer it will explode.
Asked this week if the explosion could amount to uprisings such as the Arab spring, Mbeki said: “If the African population continues to experience similar conditions as happened in Tunisia and Egypt, similar conditions of standards of living not improving, facing crises all the time, and a small elite which lives well and eats better every day, and flaunts its wealth… in the end these ordinary African people, like the ordinary African people of Tunisia, surely will say enough is enough, I think it is imperative of all our governments to clearly focus on this matter.”
Mbeki said he sensed some exasperation among African youth when he interacted with them throughout the continent.
“There is a level of impatience. And the determination to see things change for the better… It is the responsibility of government to respond to that voice and for the youth to understand their role, not rebellion, but to reconstruct the continent,” he said.
He also reiterated what he wrote in The Thinker that there were some African leaders, including some in SA, who came to power to accumulate wealth.
“You will see it in many parts of the continent where people assume positions of leadership… as an opportunity for self-enrichment.
“We’ve seen the same phenomenon here in South Africa, we are not immune… and somebody who is preoccupied with that is not about to be concerned about ‘what did I do wrong yesterday which has impacted negatively on the lives of the people’. [They are] not interested in that.”
He said this was partly why the AU failed to reflect on its successes and failures on its 10th anniversary this year. He told The Sunday Independent he hoped the 50th anniversary of the Organisation of African Unity, the AU’s predecessor, would provide an opportunity to review progress on continental issues.
“I think it is important not just to make speeches and say we celebrate. But say what has been our experience in the last 50 years, what has gone right and what has gone wrong.”
Mbeki also warned that new AU chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma has been set up for failure.
Mbeki said the dynamics and processes within the AU would neither allow Dlamini Zuma to effect any changes nor set policy. He expressed his concern “about people putting a burden on her shoulders; a burden she can’t carry”.
Said Mbeki: “I think part of this feeling that she is going to change [things] is the failure to understand how the AU operates. People might put a big burden on her shoulders expecting her to do this and that and when it doesn’t happen, they will blame her when actually she has no capacity to do these things.”
When The Sunday Independent put it to him that the SA government has also created these expectations, Mbeki said: “No, I am afraid it is wrong. The policies of the AU do not originate from the commission of the AU.
“In a sense the AU Commission has even got less powers than the European Union Commission, the policies of the AU don’t derive from the AU Commission.”
Mbeki said most of the implementation of AU policies depended on what individual governments do.
“You have to be able to intervene with the governments in a manner that encourages them.
“That is why at some point we decided that we should get a former president, [Mali’s Alpha] Konare to take over as the chairman of the AU Commission.
“The reasoning was that once you have a former head of state sitting in this position of chair, he will have sufficient influence over his former peers.
“It didn’t work. When it came to renewing the contract, President Konare said this thing is not working, get somebody else… The people should not raise expectation with regard to the appointment of Nkosazana, which expectations will be disappointed,” Mbeki said.
In The Thinker, he blasted the AU for being “consumed by the eminently subsidiary matter of who should chair the AU Commission, reflecting the malaise that is poisoning the African body politic”.
Home Affairs spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa said Dlamini-Zuma was not immediately available for comment. – The Sunday Independent