Uprising, imperialism and uncertainty

First published in Pambazuka News – Issue 524


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Will the protests across Africa result in real social and political reform, or just a changing of the guard, asks Sokari Ekine.

In addition to the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya — all of which remain in various revolutionary stages — protestors have taken to the streets in Zimbabwe, Senegal, Gabon, Sudan, Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Benin, Cameroon, Djibouti, Cote d’Ivoire and most recently in Burkina Faso and Swaziland. Some protests have been single ‘days of rage’, others have lasted a few days or weeks. There are many similarities between the uprisings but also differences, often related the level of organising prior to the uprisings, for example the strength of trades union and student movements, political activism and so on; levels of repression and overall frustration of youth in particular with high unemployment and lack of freedom; the belief that civil disobedience can work; and the willingness to persevere not for days but for weeks on end.

Social movement scholar George Katsiaficas describes the mass movement of citizens uprising against their governments as ‘the eros affect’ — people coming together out of solidarity and revolutionary love for one another with a shared self-understanding. This contrasts with the enemy — authoritarian regimes which act out of hate, fear and repression of the masses. Katsiaficas points out that uprisings like the ones taking place in Africa at the moment often take place regionally, such as in Asia in the 1980s and 1990s — in Bangladesh, Taiwan, Indonesia, South Korea, Nepal, the Philippines, Burma, Thailand — and in Eastern Europe. It is also worthwhile considering the outcomes of these previous waves. How different are these countries today? In most cases there has been little real change in the power structures — different faces, same people. The post Tahrir Square uprisings in Egypt speak to the complexities and difficulties in achieving real social and political change and it is a long way from clear how Egypt or Tunisia will look in one, two, five years time.

In [/url=http://www.africavenir.org/news-archive/newsdetails/datum/2011/03/31/democratic-uprisings-brutally-suppressed-in-many-african-countries-interview-with-firoze-manji-pa.html?tx_ttnews%5BbackPid%5D=12&cHash=0002b1f1368d68974db63ec0f3f3d579]an interview with The Real News[/url], Pambazuka editor-in-chief Firoze Manji made the important point that there is far more to the uprisings than just the removal of dictators — there is collective discontent with the whole post-colonial project. Independence and democracy have in reality proved to be myths in the minds of the people:

‘But the real, real thing is and real common thing that everyone faces has been 30 years of structural adjustment programs, 30 years where all social services have been privatized, 30 years where there has been massive accumulation by dispossession. You have the peasantry losing land. You have people migrating to the cities. You have a huge decline in income. And what we have most seriously is not just dispossession of land and of resources and services, but also a dispossession politically.’

I think we have reached a point now when political activists from across the continent and allies need to ask how can we support each other in these uprisings — crossing regions and national borders? How can we in the diaspora support our sisters and brothers at home? How do we create a Pan-African network of solidarity — students, workers, trade unionists, queers, land rights activists and civil society in general which can give support to national movements, possibly in the same way that leaders of the 1950s and 60s independent movements supported each other in their struggles.

COTE D’IVOIRE

Last Wednesday the UN Security Council unanimously passed a resolution ordering sanctions against Laurent Gbagbo, which would impose a travel ban and the freezing of his assets. As the week progressed, the battle between Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara became more entrenched whilst UN [UNIC] and French Special Forces, in a similar move to those in Libya, went from protecting civilians to actively engaging forces loyal to Gbagbo and in the process killing civilians.

Nearly a week after the UN resolution, Gbagbo who has stubbornly refused to accept defeat is on the verge of surrendering as he is surrounded by Ouattara forces with no way out. According to Reuters, Gbagbo is negotiating his departure with the UN and by the time this is published this may have been agreed. I hope he will be arrested and called to account for his actions. At this juncture it is highly unlikely that his surrender alone will end the conflict. Just a few days ago the bodies of 800 people were discovered in a mass grave and thousands had fled the town of Duekoue. It is not yet clear whether Ouattara or Gbagbo forces are responsible for the massacre.

Although the Obama administration response to Cote d’Ivoire has been relatively muted, the US president has openly supported Ouattara as the rightful winner of the elections. However, blogger Bombastic Element reports that some US Republicans are openly supporting Gbagbo in what appears to be motivated by Islamophobia.

‘First it was Pat Robertson, now Republican senator James Inhofe took the senate floor yesterday, pleading Gbagbo’s case and presenting his version of Cote d’Ivoire’s rigged election math to CSPAN cameras.

‘We are no fans of Quattara, but in pitching their buddy Gbagbo and his line about rigged election results, Robertson and Inhofe, blinded by Christian camaraderie and the fact that Quattara is a Muslim, are selling snake oil to a Libya fatigued American public, who is just now tuning in to watch.’

Whether Gbagbo leaves or not, Cote d’Ivoire has been thrown over the precipice. Thousands of civilians have been killed, in protests, crossfire or purposefully hunted down and massacred. Hundreds of thousands more have been internally displaced or fled as refugees to neighboring countries. ECOWAS and the African Union have failed the Ivorian people — in the end they did nothing of substance and should be thoroughly ashamed. As for French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, he is turning out to be a prime war-monger.

BURKINA FASO

Street protests across Burkina Faso began in February following the death of a student in police custody:

‘Unprepared for the scale of public protest which had spread throughout the country and involved all sectors of society, the regime began to waver and the country saw one of its most serious crises since the revolution. Thousands of people came out in the streets of Ougadougou and the provinces when news came that Norbert Zongo had died in a car “accident”. People attacked symbols of state, including the headquarters of the presidential party, the Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP). More than 20,000 people turned out for the funeral of the slain journalist on 16 December and public emotions ran high for several months after his death.’

But President Blaise Compaore, whom it is believed was complicit in theassassination of revolutionary leader, Thomas Sankara, is also having to deal with a rebellion by his own army officers.

SWAZILAND

Radical Africa blog reports that students in Swaziland are planning a ‘North Africa’ style uprising beginning on 12 April. The announcement was made by student leader and exile, Pias Vilakati. Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations (SCCCO) and Swaziland National Union of Students (Snus) will lead the protests. Thegovernment of Swaziland has learned nothing from its counterparts in Tunisia and Egypt instead they have threatened to arrest online activists who set up a Facebook page in support of their actions. Swaziland reports:

‘The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), the premiere media freedom organisation in Swaziland, has criticised the Swazi Government’s attempts to censor free speech on the Internet, in particular in Facebook groups.

‘MISA says, ‘Such threats only serve to instil further fear among citizens who are already constrained and unable to express themselves freely through the traditional media, which is heavily censored by the government.’

Apart from the attempts at censorship, this is such a ludicrous action by the government to prevent people from organizing, as it assumes that without social media uprising cannot or will not take place. It goes hand in hand with the ‘technoholics’ who continue to attribute revolutionary actions with social media — Twitter, Facebook and blogs. The blog also reports on the Swazi Observer’s ‘trying to instill fear’ by reporting the government will deploy security forces across the country’s schools on 12 April to ‘protect teachers and pupils’.

LIBYA

As the US announces it is withdrawing from the bombing campaign, many believe they are simply switching their intervention to supplying the rebels with arms and training on the ground. For many though, the Libyan rebels are fast loosing credibility. Lenin’s Tomb writes:

‘Can I just risk a modest proposition? NATO, the CIA and the special forces belonging to the world’s imperialist states are not forces of progress in this world. Does anyone disagree with that? If not, then it follows as surely as night follows day that the successful cooptation of the Libyan revolution by NATO, the CIA and special forces is a victory for reaction. It’s no good hoping that the small, poorly armed, poorly trained militias of the east of Libya, who are now utterly dependent on external support, will somehow shake themselves free of such constraints once – if – they take power. Even if they eventually get some of the Libyan money that has been frozen by international banks, as UN Resolution 1973 promises, it will have come all too late to have been decisive.’

The Angry Arab has given up on the Libyan rebels altogether:

‘It is no more a Libyan uprising I was as excited as anyone to see the Libyan people revolt against the lousy dictator, Qadhdhafi: a tyrant who one should hate with an extra measure of eccentricity because–like Saddam–he is particularly obnoxious and repugnant as far as tyrants are concerned. But I can’t say now that I support the Libyan uprising: it is no more a Libyan uprising. The uprising has been hijacked by Qadhdhafi henchmen, Qatar foreign policy agenda, and the agenda of Western government. Count me out.’

In response to an Al Jazeera report that Libyan rebels are receiving covert training from the US, Arabawy echoes the Angry Arab in this post on the hijacking of the Libyan revolution by western imperialist forces. [Video]

‘This is catastrophic. The biggest imperialist force on the planet, NATO, is bombing Libya “in the name of revolution,” CIA operatives are active on the ground, Western“military advisers” become visible in Benghazi, as US and Egyptian military specialists are reported by Al-Jazeera to be training the revolutionaries.

‘The Libyan revolution is being hijacked in front of our eyes… This is counterrevolution…’

DJIBOUTI

The president of Djibouti, Omar Gelleh, changed the Constitution so he could run for a third term in the 8 April elections. This has been followed by an increase in repression with dozens of arrests of opposition leaders and human rights activists.

The government of Djibouti has refused to allow peaceful protest and continues to silence critics and political opposition. A Human Rights Watch reports on the crackdowns:

‘The Djibouti government has repeatedly prevented protest rallies since it violently dispersed a peaceful demonstration on February 18 and arrested scores of demonstrators and bystanders. The security forces responded with violence and arrests after demonstrators left the area designated for the rally, and marched to the national stadium.

‘The February 18 rally was called to protest an amendment to the Djibouti constitution that allows the President Ismael Omar Guelleh to run for a third term on April 8. Opposition parties also object to an opaque election system they believe unfairly benefits the president and his party.’