Education has long been a focal point of struggle in South Africa: the 1976 Soweto uprising, which set in motion the chain of events that resulted in the end of apartheid, was led by schoolchildren. In the 1980s, the contribution of youngsters to the liberation struggle took a starker turn: ‘No Education before Liberation’ became the watchword of many.
As coverage of the Arab Street’s awakening continues to dominate headlines, I find myself making further connections between the Middle Eastern, East Asian, and South African experiences. One intriguing common thread pertains to the role of the middle classes.
In my previous blog post, I talked about the political pressure caused by the very large number of unemployed youth in Nigeria. Without wanting to predict the future, I examined how this problem could either pose a systemic threat, or alternatively, create positive pressure on Nigeria’s leaders to start tackling the twin problems of unemployment and social exclusion.
During his inauguration speech last December, newly-elect President Alpha Condé of Guinea Conakry declared “La Guinee est de retour! (Guinea is Back!).” A lot can be said in response to the question “back from where?” A short answer, though, would be “back from a tortuous and checkered five decades of post independence misrule”.
A few weeks ago, I delivered the convocation lecture at the Federal University for Technology in Owerri on the theme,“Nigeria’s youth: Turning challenge into opportunity”. While preparing for the lecture, I pulled up some numbers. Some of them really startled me.
I'm spending a few months based in South Africa – so it's been principally through the lens of that country's vibrant newspapers that I have been viewing the Arab spring, watching as a seemingly frozen authoritarian political order undergoes a thaw.
We are increasingly—and more openly than ever—grappling with what to do about the problems of politics and government accountability. Much emphasis and faith seem to be placed on the role of information and transparency. Using information interventions to enable civil society to hold their governments accountable seems so eminently sensible that it’s become an end in and of itself, an “already known” and ticked box. Is it?
Recently, I was asked whether I thought Nigeria’s problems would be solved if only we managed to fight corruption effectively. I responded that this alone would not be enough. That while important for sure, other problems needed to be tackled as well. The next day a headline in one of the papers read “World Bank says corruption not Nigeria’s Bane.” After I had looked up what "bane" meant, I realized my response had been misunderstood.
In my previous blog post, I examined how the system of oil revenue distribution in Nigeria is likely to weaken accountability and the results focus at all levels of government. Some of my colleagues actually wanted me to be more forceful than I was and close the door on the argument. However, I did not want to do so, for having lived in Nigeria for almost three years now, I have observed signs of change.
What does the demand for good governance mean to an ordinary citizen living in a remote village in the developing world? For a woman in Bangladesh, social accountability means she can state “when I open the tap every morning, water should flow from it.” Could a villager in Cameroon in similar circumstances demand such a service of the state?