Wangari Maathai Poor people tend to tolerate bad governance and fear both their perceived lack of power and their leaders, but the Arab uprisings and advent of technology will change mindsets. As protests against authoritarian rule spread throughout North Africa and the Middle East (ME), I've been asked whether similar pro-democracy protests could take place in sub-Saharan Africa too. At first glance, the conditions appear ripe. Many sub-Saharan Africans also struggle daily with the consequences of poor governance, stagnating economies and dehumanising poverty, and rampant violations of human rights. But certain factors do help explain the volatility in North Africa and the relative quiet to the South. The first is the idea of the nation itself. Because the great majority of peoples of North Africa and ME are Arabs, their cultural connections provide solidarity within and across national boundaries. The majority think less along ethnic and more along lines of national identity. In Tahrir Square, we heard the protesters chant: We are all Egyptians. That sense of national identity was essential to their success. But that national spirit, sadly, is lacking in much of sub-Saharan Africa. For decades, under colonial rule and since independence, many leaders have exploited ethnic rivalries and linguistic differences to sow division and maintain their ethnic group's hold on power. To this day, in many such states, ethnicity has greater resonance than national identity. A second factor is the role of the military. The Egyptian army's decision not to fire on protesters was key to the success of the February revolution. Sadly, we couldn't expect the same in sub-Saharan Africa, where in many --- if not most --- nations both police and army are sources of instability and rancour. Quite often soldiers are hired, paid and promoted by the man in power. More tragic evidence of this was provided last week when unarmed women expressing their opinion about the disputed election in Ivory Coast were mown down by troops loyal to the incumbent President. A third factor is the flow of information. North Africans' geographic proximity to Europe and the ability of a significant numbers to travel or study abroad have exposed them to other influences and horizons. Many have access to the latest technology and the wherewithal to use social media to communicate and organise to great effect. But the large majority of people in sub-Saharan Africa don't have access to the same levels of education, or information technology. It may be that their media are controlled by the state, or independent voices are so worried about being harassed or shut down that they censor themselves or shy away from politics. Finally, poor people tend to tolerate poor governance and fear both their perceived lack of power and their leaders. This year in North Africa enough people shed their fear of losing jobs and property, of reprisals, detention, torture and even death. Until a critical mass does the same, it's unlikely sub-Saharan Africa will emulate the kind of 'people power' we've seen in the north. Even so, many sub-Saharan leaders must be paying close attention and asking themselves: "Could it happen here --- my people rising up against me?" Some will make changes, perhaps cosmetic, to appease their populations; others may take bigger steps. One lesson I hope all will draw is that it's better to leave office respected for working for what they believed was the common good, rather than risk being driven out, repudiated and humiliated, by their own people. A wind is blowing. It is heading south, and won't be suppressed forever. In Ivory Coast, women clearly demonstrated that, slowly but surely, even Africans south of the Sahara will shed their fear and confront their dictatorial leaders. Eventually, the information gap in sub-Saharan Africa will be bridged, partly because the world is not closed anymore: TV channels and mobile phones --- all available in sub-Saharan Africa --- mean information can be transferred instantly. There is no doubt that those in the south are watching what's happening in the north. I also hope that the extraordinary events in the north encourage all leaders to provide the governance, development, equity and equality, and respect for human rights their people deserve --- and to end the culture of impunity. If its member states are slow to recognise the inevitability of change, let us hope that the African Union encourages heads of state to acknowledge that Africa cannot remain an island where leaders continue in office for decades. in conflict and war, Africa and all its peoples lose. It would be so much better to see Africa awake and have revolutions brought about by the ballot box in free and fair elections, instead of by tanks and bullets. Gulf News