Regime change is common in Africa, but it tends to come from the barrel of a gun and not because of street demonstrations, says Achille Mbembe, an historian at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg. This means there are few organizations with the power to challenge the authority of rulers, to organize dissenters, and to articulate alternative ideas of government that ordinary people would be willing to give their lives for.
“Civil society organizations are often weak because they are divided along ethnic lines, and many nongovernmental organizations are simply revenue-generating activities, so they are not very helpful in building the values of a deep civil society,” says Mr. Mbembe.
The current debate among Ivorians over how to handle the current leadership crisis in Ivory Coast between incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo and apparent election-winner Alassane Ouattara is a typical example of how many members of African civil society look for their answers from international organizations like the United Nations and the African Union, and not from within their own societies.
“In Ivory Coast, the debate is whether there should be a military intervention to overthrown Gbagbo. They are all wanting foreign intervention to solve the problem. If we start resolving election disputes, the whole of the continent will be at war with itself, because each election is contested bitterly. People want someone to give them freedom, not to pay for it themselves.”