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Bobi Wine, Julius Malema, #EndSARS… have the old guard seen what is coming for them?

Nicholas Norbrook
By Nicholas Norbrook
Managing Editor of The Africa Report

Posted on Monday, 11 January 2021 11:07

nigeria sars
Nigerians take part in a protest against alleged violence, extortion and harassment from Nigeria's Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), in Lagos, Nigeria October 11, 2020. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja

The rise of well-organised youth politicians is giving pause for thought to the old guard. From the dance that Bobi Wine is leading President Museveni in Uganda, to the trenchant opposition of Julius Malema, a new generation of leaders is being inspired to drive out the old and bring in the new.

“How did you go bankrupt?” Bill asked. “Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually and then suddenly.” 

Ernest Hemingway’s line in The Sun Also Rises was brought to mind by the following sentence in Morris Kiruga’s piece on Uganda’s upcoming poll, which President Museveni will almost certainly win:

“[T]he inevitability of the overall result should not blind us to the fact that the country’s politics are changing, even if the regime does not,” wrote academics Sam Wilkins and Richard Vokes.

Uganda’s story can be seen all around the continent: younger voters, online disinformation, a rattled old guard.

We wrote about it last year, with another line that feels timeless: ‘When the bulwark finally crumbles it looks like destiny. And yet the Sudanese protesters who caused the removal of President Omar al-Bashir on 11 April were far from certain of success.’

South Africa is already well attuned to the vigorous pushback the old guard faces from well-organised younger opposition. “We are the party that appeals to the youth. And when you appeal to the youth, you appeal to the future,” Julius Malema told The Africa Report in 2018. “The future of the EFF is guaranteed. We are rooted in communities.”

Three different years, yet the message stays the same. Have the elder statesmen seen the writing on the wall?

Push back

Given the violence and intimidation facing most civil demonstrations against power, the answer has to be yes. But even the knee-jerk deployment of the army to quell the #EndSARS movement in Nigeria seems to have come from another age.

President Buhari’s military heavy-handed approach now marks him out as one of the last of an older generation that came to the power by the gun, out of step in the querulous but more democratic Nigeria of the last two decades.

READ MORE Lagos burns after army accused of ‘Lekki massacre’

But as Uganda shows, things are changing. And as in Sudan, a regime can seem secure… until suddenly it doesn’t.

Progress is certainly not linear, as illustrated by Ethiopia’s premier Abiy Ahmed, from young Nobel Peace Prize winner to architect of a regional conflict.

Ethiopians are pleased that Oromo youth combined with party elders to get rid of the old regime, but it is unclear that the woman on the Addis omnibus signed up to the launch of a war in the north. It is hard to see much new in Cairo today, a decade after the Egyptians launched a North African uprising.

READ MORE Abiy Ahmed’s aim to ‘Pentecostalize Ethiopian politics’

Going back to the era of Meles and Mubarak however, is not an option.

As one of the youngest authors from this stable says, ‘Dear Nigeria Government, you must earn respect not force it”.

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