Akintunde Oyebode: Revolution 2.0 (YNaija FrontPage)

The lessons from Egypt were immense. It is now obvious that ordinary people can deliver extraordinary results.

Whenever Wael Ghonim visits Nigeria, I will be honoured to buy him a drink for two reasons. Firstly, I have stolen the title of his book for this week’s article; secondly, he inspires me.

Before 2010, Wael Ghonim was a “nobody” except outside the offices of Google, where he was the Head of Marketing for Google in Middle East & North Africa. His initial foray into online activism was a Facebook page he set up for the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Mohammed ElBaradei, who was seen as the great hope of Egypt. He soon realized the need to remain politically neutral and started another page called “We are all Khaled Said” in memory of a young Egyptian boy tortured and murdered by the police in Alexandria. The page had over 400,000 friends, and was used to coordinate a series of small protests against the Egyptian Government led by Hosni Mubarak. Like most remarkable stories, the Egyptian revolution got an unlikely push, this time from Tunisia.

At the time young Egyptians started to express their discontentment with the government, a Tunisian man also decided to take control of his destiny in nearby Tunis. On 17 December 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a street vendor, set himself on fire, in protest of the confiscation of his wares and the harassment and humiliation that he reported was inflicted on him by a municipal official and her aides. His action set the stage for the Tunisian revolution, and later, the Arab Spring.

In the heat of the Tunisian revolution, there were doubts about the Egyptian online movement. According to Ghonim, someone said, “No one will do anything and you’ll see. All we do is post on Facebook. We are the Facebook generation, period.” His response was to change the name of the planned protest from “Celebrating Egyptian Police Day – January 25” to “January 25: Revolution against Torture, Poverty, Corruption, and Unemployment”.

He did what many of us only dream about; he took an extended leave from his attractive job, and returned to Egypt on the eve of the protest. He was arrested soon after and spent almost two weeks in solitary confinement, before the regime released him in a move to appease the protesters and quell the riots. On 11 February 2011, Hosni Mubarak stepped down as President of Egypt, and it seemed the job of people like Wael Ghonim was done.

In the months that followed, it became obvious that the revolution’s strength was also its biggest weakness; the lack of apparent leaders. During the protests, the government was unable to quell the riots because there were no leaders, no rallying points to dismantle. As the military took over, albeit temporarily, it became obvious there was a leadership vacuum that would be difficult to fill.

In June 2012, Egypt held the second multi party presidential election in its history. The leading candidates, Mohammed Morsi (the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood) and Ahmed Shafiq (the last Prime Minister under Hosni Mubarak), were akin to choosing between a rock and a hard place. This was evident as only 43.4% of registered voters turned up to vote. In the end, Mohammed Morsi was elected President of Egypt. The popular choice, Mohammed ElBaradei withdrew his candidacy in protest against the road map of transition and called it a “travesty” to elect a president before a new constitution has been drafted.

The lessons from Egypt were immense. It is now obvious that ordinary people can deliver extraordinary results. It is also clear that radical change must be accompanied with a viable alternative to governance; it is pointless to go through a bloody change only to hand power over to another breed of tyrants. However, the biggest lesson from Egypt is perhaps something we rarely believe; the power of the people is greater than the people in power.

Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.


Comments (6)

  1. Local knowledge is overrated. Will you say Soyinka or Anyaoku lack local knowledge? I think he should have contested as the consensus candidate of the liberals, and he would have at least been in the run-off.

    We must learn from these events. Among us, who are those able to take advantage of a realignment of the power base? Not many, perhaps none.

    These are interesting times, I'm convinced we are here for a reason.

  2. The Guinness that lets you write like this every week? Perhaps I should take up drinking too.

    ElBaradei is interesting but it could be argued that it was his lack of "local knowledge" that locked him out of a presidential run. I'll agree that spontaneity helps revolutions but even Lech Walesa propped up others into government before he aspired to the presidency-Insidious force.

  3. Medex – blame that on Guinness.

    Interesting argument, one we should continue over drinks. Look at Egypt as an ecample, despite the spontaneous revolution, people like ElBaradei did not make the most of the opportunity. In a few years, the country might be right back at 2010. The most effective revolutions might be spontaneous, but it will only bring real change when there's a platform waiting to take advantage like Lech Walesa did in Poland.

  4. "Before 2010, Wael Ghonim was a “nobody” except outside the offices of Google"- Shouldn't that be "except inside the offices of Google".

    Ghonim's story is a bit amusing to me- a Google employee famous because of a Facebook page? 🙂

    Okay, those aside. I'm torn with this article-"radical change must be accompanied with a viable alternative to governance"? Really? A viable alternative to governance is antithetical to the idea of radical change. A revolution like we saw happen in Egypt et al was spontaneous, like it or not, it was a product of crowd mentality. No one was seeing beyond low-hanging fruits i.e. removal of those in government.

    For viable alternatives to governance to emerge, it must either be stumbled on or the revolution must be inspired and directed by another force, no less insidious than the one it seeks to remove.

  5. Madam Halima Faliliatu, this is a politics blog. If you want to sell business ideas, please try the Forbes blog!

    Akintude, I think Nigerian's are aware that they are more powerful than the government. The problem is unlike Tunisia, our government has been smart enough to steal but live us alone. Goodluck breached that arrangement by increasing fuel prices and when he saw that Nigeria was on the verge of a revolution, he pulled back.

    Given the current rate of looting, I predict that in the near future, the government wont be able to afford to maintain the lifestyles of the various power brokers. It will then impose punitive taxes on the people and in response, the people will revolt.

    1. I am inclined to agree with this. Interesting times. Definitely.

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