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Andrew Mwenda: Why Bashir is a Hero of Democracy


By Andrew M. Mwenda

Dear friends and allies on Facebook! I know many of you are excited about the fall of Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir hoping that his example may also happen in Uganda. I am also aware that you view him as just another tyrant who was stifling democracy and oppressing the people of Sudan who has finally met his fate and fallen from power.

Yet for me the fall of Bashir has made him a hero. Bashir presided over a rapidly growing economy. Between 1989 when he came to power and 2013, the economy of Sudan grew at an annual average rate of 8.41%, making it the 4th fastest growing economy in the world. It is this growth that nurtured the social forces – professionals and women – who organized the protests.

The economy of Sudan at $120b is larger than the economies of Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi combined. Yet it has a population of 43m compared to these four countries with a combined population of over 110m. Sudan’s per capita income is $4,000; Kenya is $1,500, Uganda and Rwanda about $700 and Burundi $500.

What is the lesson here: success, more than failure, is what is likely to create grave diggers! Bashir fell because his leadership nurtured social forces that could use the streets to effectively bring him down. Same applies to Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt where per capita income was $9,000 and $6,000 respectively. It is unlikely that peasants trying to ache a living out of the soil can organize village paths protests that can bring down a government.

The success of Bashir can be seen in the fact that he has not been brought down by some primitive social forces organized around identity (like the islamic religion) such as Boko Haram or Al Shabab. He has been toppled by protests led by professionals and educated women groups. Such forces, if their energies are well harnessed, have greater potential to usher in a new liberal democratic dispensation.

A great leader does not need to directly and personally organize a transition to democracy. All he needs is to nurture the social forces that advance democratic politics. In his fall Bashir has proven to have been that great leader and I applaud him for this.

I do not share the religious belief that good leaders need to be judged by what they intend to do. Rather I believe good leaders should be judged by what they produce – whether they intend it or not does not really matter.

A capitalist does not invest his money and make all the innovations because she/he wants to serve some social goal of creating jobs and paying taxes to the state. He/she invests to make money for himself/herself. But his/her selfish actions combined with competition in the market produce a socially beneficial outcome. That is the basis of the prosperity the world of today enjoys.

The same applies to Bashir. He wanted power and to keep it did many things that perhaps helped the economy of Sudan to grow! That natured the enlightened forces that have finally brought him down. This is a great achievement.

But there are worrying signs in that country. Yesterday the new military leader of Sudan stepped down after only one day in office because protesters refused to leave the streets. This portends of bad things. A country cannot be ruled by protestors on the streets. Any such rule has great potential to produce a reign of terror as happened in France during the 1789 revolution. For then decisions in the chamber of deputies were determined by the Parisian mob.

I am therefore a bit worried now that the Sudan revolution may falter because I harbor inherent hostility to mob action. As I have said here time and time again, mobs rarely do things. Often they destroy things.

A mob forced Pontius Pilate to sentence Jesus Christ to death in 33 CE; another mob had sentenced Socrates to death in 399 BCE. As a child I was horrified by the Jesus’s death. I could hear echoes of the mob chanting: “crucify him, crucify him…” The mob was willing to let Banabas, a thief, go free to vent their spleen on an innocent Jesus. I then developed a morbid hatred for majoritarian decisions.

The foundation of freedom is order. So first and foremost the state has to enjoy a monopoly over the exercise of violence, and ensure the rule of law, not the rule of the mob. The passions of the masses have to be controlled, not to be allowed to run government. Empowering a mob is playing with fire.



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