Activism Without Agenda: The Other Side Of The Arab Spring

By Tayo Elegbede
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It was the definer of the most globally visible moment for some countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

2011 it was, a year for a stream of torrential protests in the region, a movement that would be dubbed the ‘Arab Spring’.

Originating from Tunisia in December 2010 with crescendo points in 2011, the Arab Spring was a revolutionary wave of demonstrations and protests both non-violent and violent, sparked by the quest for an improved society, sweeping across Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan, and not without a global footprint.

Apparently, the inability of government in these countries to address the growing demands of political inclusion, good governance, job creation and policies of inclusive growth played fundamental roles in awakening the people's consciousness, resulting in the revolutions.

The 2011 Arab revolts in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, remarkablyreflect how the globalization of the norms of civic engagement shaped the largely youthful protesters' aspirations fuelled by the ability to utilize technology particularly, social media to share ideas and tactics for shared vision.

Here, it’s been five years since hopes were raised, excitement high and flags of jubilation dangling in the air. The resoundingly silent question is ‘where are the gains’?

While some degrees of political stability have been attained in some of these countries, it is disturbing that the much aspired economic freedom and social stability are still far from virtually all the states in focus.

In his assessment of the economic fortunes of countries that participated in the Arab Spring, Ishac Diwan, an affiliate at the Belfer Center’s Middle East Initiative at Harvard University, wrote; “Five years after the Arab Spring uprisings began, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Tunisia have achieved reasonable levels of political stability. Yet economic growth remains tepid, and the International Monetary Fund does not expect the pace of expansion to exceed 1.5% per capita this year. Given the region’s large catch-up potential and young workforces, one must ask why this is so.”

Spotting references, Ishac, wrote“In Egypt, for example, the firms of 32 businessmen closely connected with then-President Hosni Mubarak received in 2010 more than 80% of the credit that went to the formal private sector and earned 60% of the sector’s overall profits, while employing only 11% of the country’s labor force. In Tunisia, former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s cronies received 21% of all private-sector profits in 2010, though their firms employed only 1% of Tunisia’s labor force.”

Looking back at the revolutions, many who participated in the Arab Spring, are today still expressing hopes and fears for the future, noting that while some gains have been made, the real essence of the revolutions are yet to be achieved.

Perhaps the deluge of a dysfunctional system beclouded the long-term vision of a better state and the mechanisms needed to achieve same. The burden of suffering in the midst of plenty triggered the uncontrolled frustration which was simply channeled at toppling the government in power without much thought on the aftermath of the change in power.

Maybe, the naivety of the dominant youth demonstrators took a toll on them not to have structured pattern for drilling into the causes of the then problems, ways to solve them and the resources to pull through. Young people often enjoy the bliss of the now effect without much consideration for the future, howbeit, this is not absolutely applicable to all youths.

Today, one might not be incorrect to state that the advocacy agenda to liberate the states through the Arab Spring movement had no sustainable or perhaps long-term thrust, hence, the half-way success or perhaps failure of the movement. That could be described as activism without agenda.

This reality reveals a critical juncture for civic movement and citizens’ action in Africa. There is the need for progressive collaboration and participation by all stakeholders in defining and managing citizens’ action for envisioned benefits.

Beyond the galvanizing effect of the Internet and social media, civil society organisations, media and communications experts, development and community practitioners and other stakeholders need to come on board to define and design the cause of the citizens’ action particularly the aftermath of a supposed unplanned citizens’ action.

The Arab Spring would have bared more gains if after the initial stages of the revolutions, civil organisations engaged on deeper conversations and actions on how to move the country forward.

With the ubiquity of technological tools and platforms, activism has assumed new models of expression, however, activism without agenda will result in time and resource plundering.

Activism must begin to think through it’s (why, what, when, who, where and how) agenda.

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