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  • on 10.11.2009
  • at 01:33 PM
  • by Staff

M’Bokolo and the new Africa. Changes after the Fall of the Berlin Wall 0

“Die mauer ist weg”: the wall has fallen. It happened on 9 November 1989. While hundreds of thousands German citizens were destroying the “Wall of Shame” and ending the historic division between Western Europe and Eastern countries, millions of Africans were looking with surprise at a historical turning point that would change the destiny of Africa. The fall of the Berlin Wall, as many experts say, opened a breach into the African political landscape, which had been focused for 40 years in single party regimes.

“The truth is that Africa was already pervaded by tensions that were overcoming the despotic parties in power”, says Elikia M’Bokolo interviewed by Afronline.org and two African partners, the newspapers Sud Quotidien from Senegal and Le Potentiel from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

When thinking about 1989, which are the images and memories that impressed you? (Afronline.org)

The most important event was the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Beyond the end of the two blocs, what impresses most is the affirmation of population as a political and social actor and the presence of a majority of young people among this group.

Some experts say that Africa and its public opinion did not follow the fall of the Wall and that it was a matter concerning a limited group of Africans. What do you think about this? (Sud Quotidien)

I think that this approach underestimates the fundamental role played by television, a medium that was common on the African continent even 20 years ago.

However, away from Berlin, I think that the images of Nicolae and Helena Ceaucescu’s arrest in Bucharest, the process and their execution had a stronger impact on Africans. The brutal fall of a powerful politician linked to numerous African heads of state came from outside the usual circle of journalists, intellectuals or politicians.

Outside the realm of the main national conferences many citizens started organizing conferences promoting concepts coming from East Europe, for example the so called “rumanization” when saying that the main party could overcome its leader. It has happened in certain Central African countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire). President Mobutu was forced to admit his failings in public and promise that he would organize the passage to democracy by renouncing his privileges.

But we know how it all ended… (Le Potentiel)

The end of the communist system had a really short-term effect. The “political genius” of African leaders has quickly taken the upper hand and the despotic regimes have been restored quickly. The essential change was the expansion of the political class and the growing number of people benefiting from power.

Do you think that African leaders were prepared for the historic transformation that changed Europe? How did they perceive it? (Afronline.org)

On the African side there was a historic precedent when in 1980 Senegalese President Léopold Sédar Senghor left power. He was very charismatic and the other African leaders respected him. History has shown that many heads of state were traumatized by his decision.

The former Ivorian President Houphouët-Boigny tried to discourage him and he said “If you leave, you will give our people the idea that a head of State can voluntarily give up power. We cannot support you”.

After Senghor’s gesture the 80s were notable for pressure from Washington based financial institutions– such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund – which started asking for more transparency and accountability. Maybe we cannot call it democracy but measures to limit the political, economic and financial power of State leaders were promoted. It enhanced the feeling that in 1989-1990 the world was changing and that Africa could not escape this historic turning point.

By the end of the 60s and in particularly from May 1968 weren’t African youth in high schools and universities demanding freedom and democracy just like young people in the ex-DDR? Can’t we say that it was an overall change, an almost natural evolution of the situation? (Sud Quotidien)

Well, I think that the role played by African actors in Africa should be re-evaluated in a positive way. Youth in the schools played an important role. By the end of the 80s if you took three Africans, two out of three of them were under 25   a proportion that shows how large was the amount of young people who got the protests started. 1968 was a turning point both in Dakar, where heavy riots took place against Senghor, and in Kinshasa, in the former Zaire, where the vice-President of the U.S. was derided because of the U.S. role in Vietnam.

However, women and mothers took part in the changes too. During the 80s the flow of structural adjustments provoked a dramatic series of food crises in African cities and from Conakry to Libreville women went to the streets to protest against the misery of many social categories.

We cannot forget religious men either. Muslim leaders in Nigeria and in the Sudanese Africa and Catholic and Protestant leaders such as Monsignor De Souza in Benin and Desmon Tutu in South Africa protested against leaders’ rampant corruption.

And between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the La Baule summit there was the release of Nelson Mandela. The idea that the political battle fought by the ANC party could be rewarded was another founding element for African democracy. From this perspective we can say that Berlin was an event inside a bigger dynamic.

Download the full interview – pdf version

By Joshua Massarenti (Afronline.org), in collaboration with Mame Aly Konte (Sud Quotidien from Senegal) and Freddy Mulamba (Le Potentiel from the Democratic Republic of Congo).

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