THE BLOG
26/01/2012 18:09 GMT | Updated 27/03/2012 06:12 BST

Can the Arab Spring Spread Across the Rest of Africa?

As the north African leaders were facing the music for their years of misrule, Uganda's Yoweri Museveni had a stern warning for the opposition in his country.

The new BBC World Service programme, BBC Africa Debate launches tonight and will be asking whether there is need for an 'African Spring'.

It's a year since the events in several North African countries resulted in the removal from power of some of the longest serving rulers in the Arab world: Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia and his Egyptian counterpart Hosni Mubarak.

As the north African leaders were facing the music for their years of misrule, Uganda's Yoweri Museveni had a stern warning for the opposition in his country.

"There will be no Egyptian-style revolution here", President Museveni declared at a press conference. "We would just lock them [protesters] up, and in the most humane manner possible, bang them into jails and that would be the end of the story."

As protests over the government's failure to deal with spiralling fuel and food prices engulfed the capital Kampala, many social and political commentators on African affairs began to draw parallels between Egypt and Uganda.

Some predicted, perhaps simplistically, that Museveni would be the first sub-Saharan African leader to be toppled in a people-led uprising.

There were strong similarities between Egypt and Uganda. Both Museveni and Mubarak had been in power for 25 and 30 years respectively. They had a huge number of unemployed youths. Their both countries held regular elections; these polls were most of the time disputed. In both Egypt and Uganda, public demonstrations are highly restricted and the military is deeply entrenched in the countries' political affairs.

The Egyptian uprising came on the heels of the Tunisian one which saw the back of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

Like in Egypt, nearly all the socio-political and economic grievances, that forced the Tunisian vendor Mohamed Bouazizi to set himself on fire on 17 December 2010, exist in most parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

Yet despite the 'Ugandan style' rumblings that we witnessed in several other African countries, none of the protests have amounted to anything significant one year on. Why?

Some African-affairs analysts argue that sub-Saharan Africa has already experienced its own 'Spring'. According to Ghanaian-born scholar Prof George Ayittey, sub-Saharan Africa witnessed its 'African Spring' long before last year's uprisings in the Arab world. Ayittey argues that the wind of change that blew away most of Africa's post-independence leaders in the early 1990s was in fact an 'African Spring.'

In that sense, an African Spring might not be required - a perspective some leaders as well as some Africa commentators share. In their view, development comes before democracy, and for them the apparent chaos that followed the North-African upheavals should be a warning to all those advocating regime change.

Some have blamed the apparent lack of the will for regime change on endemic poverty. They argue that the people of Tunisia and Egypt were able to sustain the protests because they are better off economically. With a large educated middle class, they could afford to stay away from work without worrying about their next meal.

Most sub-Saharan Africans live on less than a dollar a day, and simply lack the hunger to fight for their democratic rights.

One year on, sub-Saharan Africa is still home to some of the world's longest-serving and oldest leaders. Nineteen of them have been in power for a decade or more. So while the events in north Africa inspired protests in the south, they haven't had any significant impact yet.

What is not in doubt, however, is that the Arab Spring has prompted several African leaders to put in place some 'safeguards'. Ugandan opposition activist Anne Mugisha says, "Every time we organise a protest, the police are always a step ahead of us - they've got informers everywhere and will not let anything to chance."

The Ugandan authorities have invoked the law of treason to outlaw 'unauthorised' public assemblies. Like in Sudan, the police force has since adopted a "zero tolerance" approach to public protests. Last week several opposition politicians were briefly detained together with the Ugandan opposition leader Kizza Besigye as they attempted to hold a rally in the capital Kampala. Police was deployed around the homes of prominent opposition politicians to prevent them from leaving their homes.

During violent protests in Malawi, President Bingu wa Mutharika vowed to use any measure he could think of to quell the demonstrations.

An 'African Spring', if ever one takes place, will certainly face a number of challenging obstacles.

BBC Africa Debate will be broadcast on radio and online on bbcafrica.com from 19.00 GMT on Friday 27 January.