Africa’s Super Sunday

Recently on holiday in West Africa, I was somewhat torn. There was a strong temptation to leave my political conscience in a left luggage locker at Gatwick. Indeed, I think I did to an extent. I was, after all, on holiday and, being in a rural “eco lodge”, I was able to mix with ordinary Africans and provide some support to the local economy.

But on my return, I’ve been able to reflect. It is quite depressing to see pitifully poor people (in the specific country I visited which I acknowledge is the exception to the rule these days) with a President and his tribe, who cling to power, sew up the opposition and control the national media, all lubricated by back-handers. Offset against that, one sees the strong role of the family, involving stable family “compounds” with crops and animals, and the outward cheerfulness of the people. A friend related a tale of an African visiting London and being in tears on seeing homeless people on the streets – “Why are their families not caring for them?” – she asked. So we need to be careful not to judge too readily.

However, through my trusty shortwave radio I was able to listen to the BBC World Service and received a little encouraging news, albeit of the “curate’s egg” variety, from the rest of Africa. Africa’s “Super Sunday” – when polls were held in six states. Results from Zanzibar, Niger and Congo seem to fit the “clinging to power” model. Cape Verde elected the liberal opposition party – yay! Power changed hands in Benin, where the President was praised for allowing power to change hands after ten years in office.

But I was most encouraged by the result of the referendum in Senegal, where the people decided to reduce the presidential term from seven to five years, and introduce a two term limit.

Update 17:34 13/4/16: The title of this article was changed and the following sentence was modified to its current form to make it clear that I was referring to one specific country: “It is quite depressing to see pitifully poor…” I am sorry for the intially clumsy wording. Paul Walter

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist and member of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • Lorenzo Cherin 13th Apr '16 - 5:30pm

    Very positive developments in recent years , especially through the African arm of Liberal International, mean reasons for hoping, and these are encouraging. Much of the world was once a mass of tyranny , now far less. Always we hear doom and much gloom , here is a light shone , and it is brighter than it might have been.

  • Cape Verde is a bit of a model country. It is poor and developing but it seems to have democratic government and a strong line against corruption. As a result it has been able to manage tourism in a way that conserves marine life (3 months of National Service is spent guarding the turtles) but builds the economy.

    I did feel a bit guilty about staying in a large comfortable hotel with unlimited desalinated water on tap, but after chatting with some local people and the tour guide I could see that life for the islanders had improved enormously because it was there. There was the evidence of power for at least 12 hours a day in the villages, enough water and new roads which enabled people to travel to the larger towns for work.

  • David Garlick 14th Apr '16 - 10:53am

    We do need to leave these countries alone as our interference usually results in conflict and carnage. The internet and its spread of knowledge will inform the populations of all countries and, when they are ready, I believe that they will find their own way to a fairer society and hopefully with less bloodshed. Going there and providing income through tourism will help the country to become better off and make the transition away from what is in reality dictatorship, less unpalatable for the current rulers.
    I trust you planted a few trees on your return to offset you carbon expenditure.

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