The breeze of Belgrade is sweeping through the African continent

Share

Whether it's the breeze of Belgrade, or the miracle of modern communications technology, the popular overthrow of a tyrant in south-eastern Europe reverberates across a distant continent. The eviction from power of Slobodan Milosevic after he tried to steal an election in Yugoslavia has provided a model for the deposing of General Robert Guei, who attempted an even cruder theft in the Ivory Coast, and has given fresh heart to the opponents of Robert Mugabe, who pulled off his own democratic robbery in Zimbabwe's parliamentary elections.

Whether it's the breeze of Belgrade, or the miracle of modern communications technology, the popular overthrow of a tyrant in south-eastern Europe reverberates across a distant continent. The eviction from power of Slobodan Milosevic after he tried to steal an election in Yugoslavia has provided a model for the deposing of General Robert Guei, who attempted an even cruder theft in the Ivory Coast, and has given fresh heart to the opponents of Robert Mugabe, who pulled off his own democratic robbery in Zimbabwe's parliamentary elections.

Both developments are highly encouraging. They suggest that Africa's deepest malaise - the habit of so many of its rulers of treating power as a personal treasure chest rather than as an obligation towards all their people - is not incurable. They offer the chance of a new departure for two countries that have fallen far and fast from their previous roles as advertisements for Francophone and English-speaking ex-colonial Africa respectively.

For three decades, the Ivory Coast was a haven of prosperity and stability in impoverished, coup-ridden West Africa. Zimbabwe, too, upon independence in 1980 inherited a flourishing industry and agriculture, a relatively developed infrastructure, as well as a vast stock of international goodwill - only for these assets to be squandered by Mr Mugabe as he declared race war on his white farmers, entered a ruinous war in the Congo, and led what should be one of sub-Saharan Africa's richest countries to runaway inflation, food riots, and the verge of economic collapse.

But there is no guarantee that either story will have a happy ending. In the Ivory Coast, the socialist leader, Laurent Gbagbo, who clearly won the elections that the former military leader sought so outrageously to steal, has promised to heal national wounds and extended a hand of reconciliation to the army. But the flight of General Guei will not be followed automatically by democracy. All Mr Gbagbo's good intentions may not be enough to head off a protracted struggle for power.

In Zimbabwe the omens are brighter. The description of Robert Mugabe by many of his countrymen as the "Milosevic of Africa" long pre-dates the peaceful revolution in Belgrade, while the machinery of a functioning constitution survives, despite long years of abuse by the president and his henchmen. The challenge to Mr Mugabe is being mounted not - or at least not yet - by mobs trying to storm the state radio and television headquarters, but by means of the impeccably constitutional process of impeachment.

It will not succeed, given that the opposition Movement for Democratic Change is in a minority in the Harare parliament. But impeachment provides a perfectly legitimate avenue to vent criticism of the regime and increase the pressure on Mr Mugabe to withdraw from the scene.

Africa has experienced too many winds of unfulfilled change. We hoped for better things when the old leaders of the first post-independence generation, of whom Mr Mugabe is the last representative, were obliged to leave power. The last but one, General Mobutu, plumbed new depths of despotism in the Congo until he was forced from power in 1997. His departure, alas, was followed by the war in which Mr Mugabe's Zimbabwe and half a dozen other countries are today embroiled. Let the breeze from Belgrade become a tempest.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Full Stack Developer (.NET 4.0, ASP.NET, MVC, Ajax, WCF,SQL)

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Full Stack ...

AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - Investment Management

£450 - £600 per day: Harrington Starr: AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - I...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Jihadist militants leading away captured Iraqi soldiers in Tikrit, Iraq, in June  

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Robert Fisk
India's philosopher, environmental activist, author and eco feminist Vandana Shiva arrives to give a press conference focused on genetically modified seeds on October 10, 2012  

Meet Vandana Shiva: The deserving heir to Mahatma Ghandi's legacy

Peter Popham
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?