Wednesday, March 09, 2011
Unity of purpose will save the Arab Spring revolutions
When an authoritarian regime is swept aside by a revolution, there is a natural tendency for all forms of constraint to be rejected. This may be one reason why crime rates are so high in post-apartheid South Africa.
Immediately after a revolution there is a period of confusion. The unity of purpose on the part of the revolutionaries, the single minded determination to remove the dictator and his regime, is replaced by innumerable ideas of what to do next, ranging from out and out change to all aspects of political life, to a desire to get back to normal life without the dictatorship.
The revolutionaries have many ideas, typically leaning towards self-government and anarchy (in its correct sense). On the other hand, the Civil Service remains in place, and there is a real need for it to function in order to continue running the infrastructure - water, food production, energy, waste collection and such services as the population is used to. If this period of disorder persists, there is a high probability that a strong man (it is usually a man) or strong party to emerge and restore order.
The new incumbent tends to clamp down on what it perceives as disorder. This can then lead to a control motif in the government's actions. They seek to control public opinion through the press, to control political dissent through arbitrary arrests and imprisonment, to develop a secret police, and to develop a network of informers. They may even use the same institutions that ran the pre-revolutionary regime. There is a vicous cycle to control, since the more control is attempted, the stronger the resentment against control, and the more control force has to be used.
So there exists a malign cycle of dictatorship, revolution and dictatorship. How can humanity step outside the cycle?
The key is in unity of purpose. Revolutions succeed because all groups have a common objective - to rid the country of the present dictator. After success, everyone falls back into their old narrow concerns and self-interest, and the revolution falls apart, or is hijacked. They may be united in the desire to have free elections, but here again a plethora of political parties show up, competing with each other, and allowing well resourced parties with links to multinational corporations to win and dominate Parliament.
The way out of this cycle is to maintain the unity of purpose after the election by addressing big economic problems.
In the Middle East/North Africa arena there are three factors that can provide this unity of purpose: unemployment and water scarcity.
Unemployment, especially youth unemployment, is a common feature of most of the countries affected by dictatorship. Water scarcity is also a feature of these lands. The area also has a rich resource
The solution is to start a massive New Deal in constructing an infrastructure to manage water efficiently. All roofs will be converted to rainwater collecting systems, linked to storage tanks. Water filters and purifiers will be provided both for collected rainwater and for grey water emerging from use. Sewage systems will be upgraded, and supplemented with dry sanitation systems where possible, especially in rural areas.
Solar desalination will be installed in coastal areas. The sea hypersalination problem associated with desalination will be met by creating salt beds. Some of this salt may have a market value, and excess can be put into dry storage underground.
Water can be applied to drip irrigation designed to increase food production, since food price rises are a major problem throughout the world.
There will be a programme of afforestation, starting in coastal areas, especially where there is an onshore prevailing wind. The relevance of this is that forestation will eventually have a moderating effect on the regional climate, reducing the need for air conditioning, which will save energy. The trees will provide forage for animals, fruit, leaves (which can assist in dry sewage systems) and wood.
The area has a huge solar power resource. In coming years, Europe and North Africa will be linked with a HVDC supergrid to distribute solar energy across the region. MENA countries can start installing Photovoltaic electricity generators on roofs and in the desert, developing expertise in the technology.
This economic programme turns economics on its head.
The Western economic model would rely on inward investment from trans-national mega-corporations to supply a bit of high paid work, some of which wealth will be supposed to trickle down to the rest of the economy, apart from those who are unfortunate enough to miss out on work.
The new model is to create work in forming the basic hardware that lies at the foundation of all economies - water, food, energy, and waste management.
If the completed revolutions turn their attention to this new economics, they will find a unity of purpose (not least in opposing the economic dinosaurs who will oppose it tooth and nail), leading to a stable, equitable economy and society.