If you wake up and find your neighbour is an overnight success, know he has not been asleep.
The events in North Africa have been brewing for at least a generation. We are witnessing the closing act, or rather, the climax before the intermission, because you can guarantee that these countries, especially Libya, will not return to business-as-usual anytime soon.
After all democracy only comes long after the revolution has eaten its children.
Interestingly the three states set on fire in the last two moths are those with the highest Human Development Indicators (HDI) in the region.
The HDI is a statistical measure of the quality of life of a population using access to health, education and other social services as indicators.
Relative to other countries on the continent the populations of these countries were well off.
The wealth disparities – another source of unrest, in these countries are less extreme than elsewhere on the continent.
But you know what they say? If you had your head in the freezer and feet in the furnace on average you would be okay.
The suggestion has always been that poverty and the large wealth inequalities are the breeding grounds for discontent and eventual upheaval. The poor majority seeing no future ahead of them are easily incited to violence and mayhem.
Historians further suggest that to forestall revolution political elites need to create a middle class – owners or property, jobs and professions, who then stabilize society by urging less violent means of conflict resolution and hence democracy.
But the political elite have a dilemma that if they grow a middle class they will start agitating for their rights and jostling for political power. Basically its too much work engaging a middle class, in the short term its much easier to run rough shod over the people.
The ruling classes in the North Africa have gone a step further, thanks to massive oil revenues and provided infrastructure and social services, keeping people from agitating for their rights.
That worked well for them during the cold war. But fissures started showing with the falling of the Berlin wall and the rapid spread of telecommunication technologies starting in the 90s.
To understand how improved communications is shaping the world one needs to understand truth.
We determine what is truth or not, through six basic filters.
Without going into detail, without information our truth is coloured by what others do (consensus), what has been happening (consistency), what a respected institution dictates (authority) and revelations passed down by authorities. However with more information scientific knowledge, truth tested to experiment, dominates and may endure.
So suddenly after years of authoritarian rule through secular state’s like Ben Ali’s Tunisia, Muammar Gadaffi’s Libya and Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt, their people who were blind but can now see, realize they deserve better.
And we are not just talking about their rights, but their standard of living as well. For years they have been fed on the propaganda that they are better off than other people on the continent or even around the world. Now they know better and have worked out that the only way to get what belongs to them is to oust their atrophied leadership.
Also through sources previously unknown to them they learn that their leaders are not feeling their pain. They always knew their leaders were rich but have been shocked to discover that their leaders have been stashing away billions of dollars in Swiss accounts, gambling in Monte Carlo and have yachts moored on the French Riviera.
And suddenly too, they can connect with other dissenting voices not only in their neighbourhood or region but countrywide and worldwide as well.
And suddenly again, their first class health care, education, free state provided flat and job for life mean nothing.
The octogenarian leaders of the third world would be well served to read up on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Often depicted as a pyramid, at the bottom of which are the physiological needs of food, water, sex etc, on the next level the safety needs – shelter, clothing, job etc. After these levels have been attained things get murky because physical things can not satisfy the need for love, self esteem and self actualization. When people reach this stage they start agitating for freedom.
So in a sense the leaders of North Africa have become victims of their own success. They could not see beyond providing for the physical needs of their citizens – the economics, and their myopia has caught up with them.