In south of the Sahara, echoes of the northern revolutions
October 24, 2011
Protesters in Swaziland, partly inspired by the North African revolutions, calling for political reforms in their Southern African kingdom. Photograph: Reuters / Siphiwe Sibeko
As the death of former leader of Libya Muammar Qadhafi marks a new turn in the North African uprisings that started in Tunisia months ago, the so-called `Arab Spring` stirs hopes and anxieties across the continent. Will popular upsurge in the north help spur reform south of the Sahara? UN Africa Renewal`s Ernest Harsch ponders the trends
As the “Arab Spring” of mass protests for democracy that is roiling much of North Africa and the Middle East slips past mid-year, activists and power holders across Africa continue to follow the unfolding revolutions — and ponder their impact on other parts of the continent.
In a number of other countries citizens watch the massive people`s movements of the Arab world with great sympathy — but are thankful they do not need to take similar risks because their own political systems are now sufficiently open to allow them some voice.
Addressing African countries in late May, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reminded them that in North Africa it was a lack of freedoms “that led young people to take to the streets demanding change and fulfilment of their legitimate aspirations for better lives.” The message is clear, he added: ensure “sustainable political progress.”
In June, while hailing the changes in Tunisia and Egypt as a “new advance” in Africa `s decades-long march towards democracy, Jean Ping, chairperson of the African Union Commission urged all African governments to see “the popular uprisings” as an occasion to recommit themselves to the AU`s democracy agenda. In March, just months before she died, Kenyan human rights activist Wangari Maathai declared, “A wind is blowing. It is heading south, and won`t be suppressed forever.”
Fanning the sparks
Shortly after the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt captured international headlines, groups of militants in several sub-Saharan countries tried to follow those examples. In Sudan , protest calls over Facebook brought hundreds of students into the streets of Khartoum and other towns. Thousands demonstrated in Djibouti to demand ouster of the incumbent president. Small pro-democracy protests organized over the Internet were held in Luanda , Angola , but were broken up by security forces. In Gabon , Nigeria and elsewhere, opposition leaders, trade unionists and other critics frequently spiced their public declarations with North African references, either to encourage their supporters or to frighten the authorities.
Echoes of the northern revolutions featured in several larger-scale movements. In late February students in the Burkina Faso city of Koudougou protested the death of a fellow student following police beatings, chanting “ Tunisia is in Koudougou!” and “Burkina will have its Egypt !” Their actions spread nationally and contributed to a succession of labour strikes, merchants` demonstrations and army mutinies that began to wind down only in early June. In Swaziland , online calls brought thousands of students and unionists out for pro-democracy rallies in various towns in April. Activists were motivated by long-standing local grievances, but also cited the inspiration of North Africa .
In Senegal , the government introduced parliamentary legislation that would have lowered the threshold for victory in next year`s presidential election from more than 50 per cent in the first round to just 25 per cent. An alliance of civic organizations and opposition parties promptly organized large, boisterous protests in Dakar and other cities on 23 June. Within hours the president reversed his position and withdrew the bill.
Despite such rhetoric, the events in Senegal point to a key difference from the political situation that prevailed in much of the Arab world. Senegal , like numerous other sub-Saharan countries, already has a functioning democratic system, and organized political forces ready to defend it. By contrast, the authoritarian rulers of Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Libya, Yemen and other countries tried to dig in their heels against popular demands for democratic reform — and ended up provoking revolutionary responses.
Thanks to popular pro-democracy movements in the 1990s, most military and one-party regimes were pushed aside in sub-Saharan Africa . A big majority of states now have regular multiparty elections. A dozen presidential contests were held in 2010, and 17 are scheduled this year. While some of these systems still fall far short of accepted democratic norms, in quite a few countries elections do offer alternative avenues for political change and expression of grievances. As a result, while citizens may still take inspiration from events in the north, they see less need for confrontational methods.
“For the most part in recent times, we Africans have taken our requests for democracy to the polls, not the streets,” noted John Dramani Mahama, vice-president of Ghana , in a commentary about the Egyptian upsurge. Mr. Mahama added, however, that in some African countries elections have “not resulted in any real change. And ultimately, that is what sparks all revolutions: the urgent, non-negotiable need for sustainable change.”
Yet, a number of Africa `s more authoritarian governments have shown repeatedly that they are willing to resort to severe repression to stave off challenges. Several reacted in alarm at the first hints that some of their citizens might draw encouragement from events elsewhere. Whatever the conditions in particular African countries, the underlying problems are not that different from those that contributed to the revolutions in the north, observers point out. People throughout Africa have similar grievances and aspirations.
The time for the continent`s rulers to adapt is now, African Development Bank President Donald Kaberuka told ministers of finance assembled in Addis Ababa in March. “Events in North Africa ,” he said, “are indeed an urgent reminder of the challenges of inclusive growth, of job creation, of opportunities for the young, of leaving no one behind.” Despite the numerous advances of North African economies, he observed, recent growth did not create enough jobs, while “the predatory, dynastic nature of the state” hindered reform, led large sectors of the population to feel disenfranchised and ultimately sparked revolution.
From the activist side, Ms. Maathai also advised the continent`s leaders not to be slow in recognizing “the inevitability of change.” Africans would much prefer to “have revolutions brought about by the ballot box in free and fair elections.” But if that option does not become more widespread, “slowly but surely, even Africans south of the Sahara will shed their fear and confront their dictatorial leaders.”
Source: Africa Renewal: www.un.org/africarenewal
People`s Daily Online: `Arab Spring: Turbulence or Revolution?`
Monday, October 24, 2011
Article by An Huihou from Beijing Daily: “Arab Spring: Turbulence or Revolution?”; headline as provided by source
The social and political turbulence of the Arabic world has lasted for 10 months since its outburst in December 2010, and has caught the attention of various parties since it began. The United States are worried that the turbulence would agitate the Arabic people`s existing anti-American and anti-Israel sentiment, so it made the initial move, with the mass media under its control, to broadly hype “Arabic Spring” and “Arabic Revolution” in order to determine the nature of the turbulence in the Arabic world as such.
Its purpose is to guide the turbulence to a democratic movement that opposes autocracy and strives for democracy in hopes that the pro-Western democratic liberals will grow and mature in the turbulence and seize opportunity to build new pro-Western governments, overthrowing the old ones it has long been unpleased with.
The turbulence was interpreted and characterized by different countries and forces according to each of their own standpoints, interests and policy orientations. China`s media, after going through some short-term confusion on the cognition of this matter, called it Arabic social and political turbulence. But as the situation develops, some have accepted the concepts of “Arabic Spring,” and “Arabic Revolution.”
There are five reasons why it is better to describe the current wave of changes in the Arab world as social and political upheavals. First, it is a wave of social and political upheavals with various causes and multiple aims. They were initially sudden grassroots movements without any clear guidelines, and it was after the upheavals occurred that the Islamic forces, diplomatic forces, tribal forces, elites, political parties, and Western powers, particularly the United States, have stepped in and actively exerted influence over the upheavals in their favor.
Second, the discontent people of Tunis and Egypt toppled the old regimes through protests, which do share some characteristics with revolutions. However, the upheavals in Bahrain and Libya were caused by religious conflicts and tribal conflicts, respectively. The upheaval in Yemen was caused by tribal conflicts, the conflicts between southern separatist groups and the central government, and the intervention of Al-Qaeda. Furthermore, Syria is plagued by social, political, religious and ethnic conflicts. The situation in the Arab world varies from country to country.
Third, there are 22 Arab countries in the world, of which two did not undergo any upheavals, and the majority quickly put down the upheavals. Only five countries -- Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria -- were severely affected by the upheavals, accounting for less than one-fourth of the total number of Arab countries.
Fourth, major Western countries have successively been involved in and even manipulated the serious unrests in the countries.
Fifth, the unrest has fully exposed a variety of contradictions facing Arab countries, and Arab elites will inevitably explore ways to solve the contradictions in order to achieve an actual revival of Arab people.
Great unrests and transformations will likely become the main themes of the Arab world for a long period of time. Real revolutions are likely to take place in some countries during the course of history. People expect that a new Arab world of prosperity, strength, civilization, progress, independence and dynamics will emerge in the world in the aftermath of such unrests and transformations. The goal cannot be fulfilled in the near future.
It is still early to assert the emergence of the “Arab War” or the “Arab Revolution.” It remains to be seen that whether newly established regimes in the countries have democratic, Islamic or nationalistic characteristics, as well as what policy directions they will take. The signs of revolutionary institutional transformations have yet to emerge in the regimes.
(Description of Source: Beijing People`s Daily Online in English -- Internet-only English version of Renmin Ribao, the daily newspaper of the CPC Central Committee. URL: http://english.peopledaily.com.cn)
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Arab Uprisings Source for Sub-Sahara African Hopes, Dictators Watch With Unease
Friday, February 25, 2011
“Africa eyes Arab uprisings with hope, while dictators squirm” -- AFP headline
DAKAR, Feb 25, 2011 (AFP) - Across sub-Saharan Africa, countries weary of repression, poverty and corruption look north to the revolutions sweeping the Arab world with hope, while the strongmen that lead them look on with unease.
From Angola to Zimbabwe, a long list of African countries have been under the iron grip of one man for over 20 or 30 years.
But are the yawning gap between wealthy elites and the hungry masses and years of repression south of the Sahara enough to unleash a wave of popular anger as seen in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya?
“The popular revolt in North Africa will inspire sub Saharan Africa from Angola to Burkina Faso, from Nigeria to Eritrea to take the torch of freedom, defy the consequences and march forward,” says leading Nigerian rights and political activist Shehu Sani.
“So whether the popular uprising will happen in southern Sahara is not a question of if, but when.”
However Sani and other observers agree that while the kindling for revolution is stronger in sub-Saharan Africa than north Africa and the Middle East, ethnic and religious divides make it hard to form a common front.
North Africa enjoys “homogenity in terms of race, culture and religion -- all these make it easier to mobilise as opposed to sub-Saharan Africa where there is fragmentation,” says Nigerian academic Eze Osita.
Despite these differences opposition leaders across the continent are calling for their supporters to follow the Arab example and revolt while rulers scramble to contain the fallout.
Equatorial Guinea enforced a “media blackout” on events surrounding the fall of the Tunisian and Egyptian leaders.
In Angola, an anonymous call for a mass protest saw the ruling party - in power since independence in 1975 - warn that “serious measures” would be taken against protesters.
In Zimbabwe, where 87-year-old Robert Mugabe has ruled since 1980, a former lawmaker and 46 other people were arrested at a meeting discussing the protests in Egypt.
Even in less repressive countries such as Mozambique or Burkina Faso, and lauded democracies such as South Africa and Senegal, poverty, unemployment or lack of electricity have sent protesters to the street.
Key to the fall of the Tunisian and Egyptian presidents, observers say, were the use of social networks to mobilise youth outside of traditional parties and unions, as well as the neutral attitude of their armies.
In sub-Saharan Africa armies are often subservient to the powers-that-be and the reach of the Internet is much lower than in the Maghreb.
“...The problem is that the army is not always republican, but submits to the will of the head of state,” said Patrick N`Gouan, head of an Ivorian civil society movement CSCI.
His country is a case in point: After a disputed presidential election the army backed strongman Laurent Gbagbo, who refuses to cede power to his rival Alassane Outtara, the internationally recognised victor.
In Uganda, where President Yoweri Museveni has been in power since 1986 and was recently re-elected under dubious conditions, the army “is highly partisan and often behaves like a political militia,” Frederick Golooba Mutebi, a professor at the Makerere University Institute of Social Research, told AFP.
Mutebi also argued that sub-Saharan Africa, and Uganda in particular, has a smaller educated middle class and that north Africa is much more urbanized than sub-Saharan Africa.
“The infrastructure for starting and sustaining such an uprising is much stronger there. Whether it`s through the Internet or other communication tools, the protesters in Egypt are constantly in touch with each other ... That level of infrastructure doesn`t exist here,” Mutebi told AFP.
Takavafira Zhou, an analyst with the state-run Masvingo University in Zimbabwe, warns that the Arab uprisings may have another effect, giving strongmen a chance “to increase dictatorship to consolidate their position in power.”
(Description of Source: Paris AFP (World Service) in English -- world news service of the independent French news agency Agence France Presse)
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