Learn from the Arab uprisings, Obasanjo tells ‘sit-tight leaders’ in Africa

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo said that “the ‘life Presidents’ and ‘sit-tight leaders’ of the world” should draw lessons in democracy from the Arab uprisings causing serial upheavals in North African nations and take steps to address “people’s issues”.

Mr Obasanjo said this on Monday in India where he is on a five-day visit. He said the “seven or eight leaders” heading authoritarian government in African should learn from the people’s revolutions in North Africa and, if they do not, they would be made to learn the “important” lesson by their citizens.

“What has happened in North Africa is not just a lesson for nations in Africa, but is a lesson for the world as a whole,” the former president said while responding to a question on what lesson that the Arab Spring and the subsequent regime changes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen has for Africa after delivering an address at the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) at Sapru House.

He also pointed out that the situation vis-a-vis authoritarian rules in the African continent was “much more worse” two decades ago. “But today, the situation is better.

“The ‘life presidents’ and ‘sit-tight leaders’ are becoming endangered. If you look at Africa today, you have seven or eight such leaders. At one time, more than 50 per cent of Africa was under such leaders,” Mr Obasanjo, who had three stints as head of the Nigerian state, noted.

He was the Nigerian head of state first from February 1976 to September 1979 after incumbent Murtala Mohammed was assassinated. He was the first-ever military ruler to hand over governance to a democratically-elected leadership after national elections in 1979.

In 1999, Mr Obasanjo, after retirement from the military, contested the Nigerian presidential polls and won with over 60 per cent popular vote to become the nation’s head of state for the second time. He successfully contested the presidential polls for a second term in 2003 and remained Nigerian President till 2007.

“It is said that history repeats itself. But I say, if you learn from history, it will not repeat itself. A wise man learns from not only his own mistakes, but also from others’ mistakes. And these seven or eight leaders must soon learn. If they do not, they will be made to learn the important lesson,” the senior African statesman said.

Talking of Tunisia, the northern-most African nation where the first revolution now popularly called the Arab Uprising or Arab Spring broke out, Mr Obasanjo said before the movement erupted, it was all calm on the surface in that country, but one suicide triggered a wave that engulfed the whole of North Africa.

“The situation in Tunisia was anything but unstable, everything was calm on the surface, everybody seemed to be happy. But one individual decided to commit suicide and it erupted into a major movement. Anything can happen,” he said.

“It is not so much about democracy, but about unemployment, particularly of the youth. It doesn’t matter what sort of democracy you have, but people’s issues should be addressed,” he warned.