Maxima AcuñaNews about native peoples fighting for the rights to their land is, sadly, nothing new. For many years, the indigenous populations of many nations around the world have struggled to keep their rights to their land. They are often ignored by their own country’s governments as well as international entities. However, that didn’t stop Maxima Acuña from fighting against the powerful Newmont and Yanacocha Mining Companies in defense of her land.

The Case

Maxima Acuña’s battle started one day when the Peruvian Mining Company Yanacocha, through the Newmont Mining Company, claimed rightful ownership of her property. Acuña’s land, as well as four lagoons near it, were the new grounds for the Conga mining project. While Conga was projected to be one of the most ambitious gold extraction projects, it didn’t sit well with the farmers that live around the land.

For the successful extraction of the materials, four critical lagoons would have to be “sacrificed” as they would be turned into waste pits or be completely dried out. Since 2011, the Newmont Mining company has been trying to claim the rights to her land. Maxima and her family were told to move as they were on official mining grounds. But, there was no way Maxima Acuaña would go out without a fight.

The Brutality of the Authorities

Because of her refusal, Yanacocha and the Newmont committed several acts of brutality and abuse of power against Maxima Acuña and her family. On more the one occasion, armed men destroyed her home and crops. They sent death threats and even “beat her and one of her daughters unconscious.” Despite all of this, Maxima refused to leave her land. The local authorities accused her of invasion of private land and sentenced her to three years in prison with a $2,000 fine. Luckily, through the help of an environmental NGO called GRUFIDES, Maxima Acuña was released from her sentence and granted legitimate property rights.

With the majority of the local population opposing the Yanacocha and the Conga project and the unconditional support of Grufindes, Maxima Acuña had the means to fight the mining companies. GRUFIDES fights for the environmental rights that were ignored by the Conga Project. With their help, Maxima Acuña was able to overturn the court’s decision. This huge win was not only for her but also for the farmers protesting the Conga project and protecting the lakes. Maxima Acuña now had the support of the local and even the international community.

The Lesson of Hope

In 2016, she became the winner of The Goldman Environmental Prize, making her case known in America. In March 2019, Maxima Acuña and her family won a vital appeal against the Newmont Mining Company against the company’s abuse. The motion guaranteed a fair trial for both parties, something big for Peruvian Farmers.

For many years, the abuse against indigenous farmers has been a topic that many choose to ignore. However, Maxima Acuña’s case is not the first and won’t be last. Her case shows that the fight is not over yet. Even with all the stakes against the environment, even the big companies can overthrow a fighting spirit.

Adriana Ruiz
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Social Change
Social change is an instance in which people reform the conventions of society. The behavior and attitudes of people determine the direction and significance of change, while the environment or society influence these behaviors. Here are 10 facts about social change.

10 Facts About Social Change

  1. Modernization and Technology: Social change is a combination of many factors. Different events, technologies or people can affect the behavior or norms within society. Modernization and technology have been two of the largest driving forces of social change throughout history. The Industrial Revolution in many countries forced governments to become more liberal as their citizenry became more valuable and leveraged for more rights at work.
  2. Social Order and Coordination: Social norms are central in social order or social coordination. Social norms are informal laws that dictate a group’s or society’s behaviors. A social norm can range from wearing a suit to work or holding the door for someone behind you to voting in the presidential election. Social change does not occur without a significant number of people coming together and changing the traditional behavior within a society.
  3. Social Justice: Social change often looks to change social norms that negatively affect social justice. Social justice is the idea that every aspect of society can achieve justice and equity rather than in only certain cases or for some individuals.
  4. Causes of Social Change: There are different types of social changes. Since social changes are whenever a group changes social behavior and consciousness, many factors can cause such an outcome. War, protests, strikes and nonviolent demonstrations are all ways social change comes about.
  5. Negative Social Change: Social change is not always a positive form of change. An extreme example is the Nazi regime and its persecution of the Jewish population that occurred because of a change to Germany’s social norms. It is up to people to choose which form of change is worth pursuing.
  6. Length of Time to Instigate Social Change: Often change takes place over many generations. The breaking down of social norms requires time to turn new ideas from fringe to conventional. Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela and Gandhi are prominent social figures. These men exemplify the multiple generation struggle, as all of them inherited a society in need of change and utilized the time to achieve social justice.
  7. Importance of Nonprofits: Nonprofits are vital in social change. Nonprofits are often the driver of awareness, bringing solutions to communities affected by a lack of progress. Groups like Oxfam International strive to uplift the poverty-stricken and decrease poverty around the world. By working in more than 90 countries, the organization has affected millions of people. The group looks to provide clean water and food to those without such necessities and diminish the effects of climate change in developing countries. In many of its efforts, it also looks to increase the economic well-being of developing countries to ensure their citizens are provided with enough resources to live and flourish.
  8. Theories About Social Change: Sociologists and anthropologists have studied social change and social norms extensively. These significant studies have led to many different theories of the causes and reasons for social change. Many see Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim and Max Weber as the most influential sociological thinkers, each offering differing theories on the progression of society. All three focused on the division of labor and how that affected social progress. Durkheim argued that with an increase in population, there is more competition for resources. To obtain social harmony as opposed to constant competition, people will look to specialize their skills and find new ways to make a living. Marx also analyzed the division of labor and the effect of work on people and society. Marx, however, believed that people often look to meet their human needs, and are in a constant struggle with the market or their owners of production to obtain financial security to live. Marx believed that life was a constant struggle between classes and that social change emerges from this struggle. While Marx believed that class solidarity would lead to social change, Weber believed that society required a charismatic leader to spark such change. Weber emphasized a transition to rational thought, and because rationality usually comes with collaboration, Weber believed bureaucracy would be essential to change.
  9. Difficulty to Instigate Social Change: Traditions are often difficult to change and violence is a common response to social movements. People in power often do not want to relinquish their power and the traditional system often provides the parameters and rules for those people to rise to that position. As a result, they see a change to the system as a threat to their status. What started as peaceful protests against an extradition bill has turned into months of clashes between protestors in Hong Kong. Pro-democracy activists began protesting in March 2019 against a bill that would extradite citizens of Hong Kong to Beijing. Activists saw this bill as an encroachment on their autonomy and held demonstrations to voice their opposition. After multiple peaceful demonstrations, police responded with force against protestors, and this use of force caused protestors to increase the intensity of their protests. Since the beginning of these protests, there have been constant clashes between protestors and police, including batons, rubber bullets, tear gas and even the shooting of multiple protestors with live rounds. Protestors have attacked businesses and police. Awareness and pressure are powerful deterrents to violence on both sides.
  10. Nonprofits for Peaceful Change: There are groups all around the world working for peaceful change. The Borgen Project is just one among many groups that look to uplift the impoverished and oppressed peoples of the world. Bill Gates, the former CEO of Microsoft, started the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to promote public health around the world. Bill and his wife Melinda look to provide millions around the world with resources and education to live healthily. The Foundation strives to reduce inequities in healthy by providing resources and education to countries with insufficient health care programs.

These 10 facts about social change show that change is constant within society and that with the level of technological advancement, the rate of societal change will only increase. With so many groups working for social justice and their ability to reach more people with their message, the time is right for societies around the world to become more inclusive. Inspired by social justice figures of the past, there has been an emphasis recently on the peaceful pursuit of social change. The number of groups striving for social justice around the world encourages people to live without conflict, without injustice or prejudice and to receive the necessary resources to live a healthy, fulfilling life. With technology as a spark for social change and the technological advances of today, there is the possibility of creating a world where uplifting those in need, even in different countries, is the norm.

– Jared Hynes
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts About Human Rights in Venezuela
People have long associated the current humanitarian crisis in Venezuela with the autocratic governance of late President Nicolás Maduro and decades of socioeconomic downfall. Gross political corruption persists in Venezuela that constitutional violations show. These began in 2017 and have barred acting president Juan Guaidó from assuming the duties of his office. In September 2019, The UN Human Rights Council dispatched a team to the country to investigate alleged human rights abuses, including state-sanctioned killings, forced disappearances and torture. With this information in mind, here are the top 10 facts about human rights in Venezuela.

Top 10 Facts About Human Rights in Venezuela

  1. The Situation: Deteriorating social and economic conditions in Venezuela have incited a refugee crisis in the country. Since 2014, more than four million Venezuelans have fled (a figure which excludes unregistered migrants). Displaced by violence and corruption, Venezuelan migrants struggle to obtain legal residence, food security, education and health care resources in the nations they flee to. These bureaucratic hurdles and unstable living situations force many to return home.
  2. Maduro and Corruption: The dismantling of Venezuela’s National Assembly in March 2017 was the Maduro Administration’s first attempt of many to silence political opposition. The move stripped the opposition-led parliament of its legislating powers and immunity—important checks against potential exploits by the executive branch. Research from Amnesty International confirms that Maduro’s government used torture, unhinged homicides and extrajudicial executions to maintain support in the years following this constitutional scandal.
  3. Protests and Arrests: Nationwide protests and demonstrations began in 2014 in response to human rights violations and a buckling economy. According to the Penal Forum, authorities have arrested more than 12,500 people between the years 2014 and 2018 in connection with protests. Security personnel and government-backed militias often use excessive force—tear gas, firearms, asphyxiation, severe beatings and electroshock, etc.—against protesters and detainees in order to quell resistance efforts.
  4. Censorship: Maduro’s regime has used censorship of mainstream media to control Venezuelan civilians and eliminate its critics. A pervasive fear of reprisal effectively denies Venezuelans their freedom of expression and speech.  During times of global scrutiny, the government has blocked online news broadcasts, VPN access and streaming services to curb bad press and anti-government organizing. The government staged an information blackout in February 2019 in response to a clash between the military and aid convoys at the Colombian border.
  5. Political Bribery: The Venezuelan government has used political bribery to keep Venezuelans compliant. The government has used its monopoly on resources to withhold food and other basic goods from dissenters and reward supporters with the same incentives. In 2016, Maduro launched the government-subsidized food program, Local Food Production and Provision Committees (CLAPS). Through this insidious program, Venezuelans received monthly (oftentimes late or empty) food shares in exchange for having their voting activity tracked.
  6. Human Rights Crisis Denial: In February 2019 Maduro denied claims to the BBC that the country was undergoing a human rights crisis. He has repeatedly used the same rhetoric to reject foreign aid and unassailable evidence of health and welfare shortages in the country, by equating the acceptance of aid with the fall of his regime. That same month, there were disputes over $20 million in U.S. and European aid shipments at the Colombia-Venezuela border.
  7. Venezuela’s Inflation Rate: The International Monetary Fund forecasts Venezuela’s inflation rate will reach 10 million percent in 2019. Food scarcity and hyperinflation have led to millions of cases of malnutrition and premature death, especially amongst children.
  8. Doctors and Hospitals: Twenty thousand registered doctors have left Venezuela between 2012 and 2017 due to poor working conditions and growing infant mortality rates. Hospitals are unhygienic and understaffed, lacking the medicine and medical equipment to accommodate the excess number of patients. Tentative water sources and power outages make most cases inoperable, presenting a liability to doctors and causing untreated patients to become violent.
  9. Death Squads: In June 2019, the UN reported that government-backed death squads killed nearly 7,000 people from 2018 to May 2019. Maduro attempted to legitimize the killings by using the Venezuelan Special Police Force (FAES) to conduct the raids, which he staged through family separation techniques and the illegal planting of contraband and narcotics. Again, Maduro devised this strategy to threaten political opponents and people critical of the Maduro government.
  10. Human Trafficking: A 2016 report conducted by the U.S. Department of State condemned Venezuela’s handling of human trafficking in the country, in both regards to sex trafficking and internal forced labor. Venezuela lacks the infrastructure to properly identify and assist trafficking victims due to governmental corruption and rampant gain violence which facilitates human trafficking and forgoes accountability. Traffickers often trick or coerce Venezuelan migrants into the sex trade. In fact, 10 percent of 1,700 recorded trafficking victims in Peru between 2017 and 2018 were Venezuelan.

The top 10 facts about human rights in Venezuela should read as a call to action. Global aid agencies and national governments are currently working to bring humanitarian aid to Venezuelans and the growing Venezuelan migrant community. While the current political climate complicates internal relief efforts, spreading awareness about the state of human rights in Venezuela is the first step in addressing the crisis.

Cuarto Por Venezuela Foundation is a nonprofit organization conceived in 2016 by four Venezuelan women living in the United States eager to alleviate the situation at home. The Foundation works to create programs and partnerships to deliver comprehensive aid to Venezuelans in need. In 2018, the organization shipped over 63,000 lbs. of medicine, food and school supplies to Venezuela (four times the number of supplies shipped the previous year). Additionally, its health program has served nearly 40,000 patients to date through vaccination and disease prevention services.

– Elena Robidoux
Photo: Flickr

Save the State Protests

Liberia, or officially the Republic of Liberia, is a small country located on the western coast of Africa. Coming from a rich history of international involvement, the nation holds the title of the first African state to declare independence and, therefore, is the oldest African modern republic. The Save the State protests are currently gripping Liberia.

On June 7, 2019, in the capital city of Monrovia, ongoing tensions and disappointment in the current regime reached a head, resulting in the largest anti-government protest since the end of the civil war in 2003. This was the first of the Save the State protests, which a coalition of politicians, professionals, students and regular citizens called the Council of Patriots organized.

The main goal of the demonstration was to protest high inflation rates and governmental corruption. These two points of frustration have been amplified during the current presidential administration, as these were the two major campaign promises behind the 2018 election of President George Weah. However, these issues merely represent the breaking point of decades-long tensions and it is necessary to understand the socio-economic situation in Liberia which has caused so much unrest, especially as protests continue.

A Damaged Economy

Liberia has continued to feel the effects of two civil wars that took place between 1989 and 2003 and resulted in the death of a quarter of a million people. The wars crippled the Liberian economy by 90 percent and the economy has struggled to fully recover ever since. It suffered another blow with the outbreak of Ebola from 2014 to 2015 that claimed the lives of thousands.

After these crises, foreign aid flowed into the country to help in the restoration of the economy and offer assistance to those struggling in the aftermath. But, as international funding began to dissipate – most recently with the withdrawal of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in 2018 – the country has struggled to develop on its own.

The country continues to rank among the poorest nations in the world, according to the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook. The fact that inflation reached a record high of 28.5 percent in 2018 and an International Monetary Fund growth rate projection of only 0.4 percent in 2019 compounds this.

Disillusioned Voters

The socio-economic situation of sustained, long-term poverty and poor living conditions due to rising prices and financial mismanagement have escalated since the election of President Weah. This is as a result of the lack of changes he made following his campaign promises. His connection to the people of Liberia as a former football star who achieved international acclaim initially spurred people’s excitement for his presidency.

However, hope for improvement has soured as prices continue to rise, fiscal growth continues to slow and the president’s personal wealth appears to be growing. This dissatisfaction brewed alongside a huge scandal where $102 million in new banknotes was allegedly missing. Although no one found evidence to support this claim in an investigation, people cited accuracy and completeness as major issues in the central bank’s records.

As 64 percent of Liberians continue to live below the poverty line and the people have planned more Save the State for the coming months, it is clear that long-term poverty engenders long-term instability and, therefore, a constant state of tension. This kind of unstable environment becomes a powder keg for tensions to erupt, making the future of these peaceful protests uncertain.

Despite President Weah’s opposition to the demands of the protestors thus far, their message remains clear: they want to save their state and improve the lives of their compatriots. It is a prime example of citizens wanting their voices be heard.

– Alexandra Schulman
Photo: Flickr

Crisis in VenezuelaIn March 2013, after a 14-year rule, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez died of cancer. He was succeeded by Vice President Nicolas Maduro. Since then, the oil-rich but cash-poor South American country has been in a political and economic crisis. Here are 10 things you should know about the crisis in Venezuela.

10 Things to Know About the Crisis in Venezuela

  1. Inflation rates are at an all-time high. The biggest problem in the day-to-day lives of Venezuelans is due to the record high inflation rates. Throughout the Chavez presidency, the inflation rate had fluctuated between 10 and 40 percent but never higher. Since Maduro took office inflation rates have grown exponentially. In 2018, the inflation rate hit 1.3 million percent and is projected to reach 10 million in 2019. With inflation being so high, it becomes impossible for Venezuelans to buy basic necessities.
  2. Minimum wage is as low as $6 a month. On top of the high inflation rate, the minimum wage is now $6 dollars a month. Nearly 90 percent of the country’s population is living in poverty and unable to buy basic goods. Additionally, the number of active companies in Venezuela has dropped dramatically, minimizing the number of jobs available to citizens.
  3. More than 3 million people have fled the country. Over the last five years, the crisis in Venezuela has forced more than 3 million people out of their homes. Most of these refugees have claimed that the lack of rights to health and food were among the main reasons for them to leave. These migrants, who made up roughly 10 percent of the Venezuelan population, have fled to neighboring countries including Chile, Colombia and Brazil.
  4. There are currently two presidents. Since 2019 started, political tensions in Venezuela have escalated. In early January, President Nicolas Maduro was sworn in for a second term, following an election period of boycotts and opposition. The results of this election led to a new wave of rallies throughout the streets of Venezuela, particularly the capital city of Caracas. These boycotts culminated with the elected leader of Venezuela’s National Assembly, Juan Guaido, naming himself interim president.
  5. The rest of the world is very split over who to support. The most unique part about Guaido declaring himself interim president is that several countries around the world immediately acknowledged it as legitimate. The United States, much of Europe and several South American countries recognize Guaido as the rightful interim president of Venezuela. However, Russia, China and most of the Middle East still recognize Maduro as the president. Additionally, some countries, including Italy, are calling for a new election to determine the rightful president.
  6. Oil output has declined dramatically. Venezuela has over 300 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, making it a leader amongst the world’s oil-rich countries. Oil production dropped in 2002 after Chavez was first elected, but soon after, it rose back up to regular rates and has been steady since. Since 2012, however, there has been a consistent decrease in oil output. In January 2019, President Trump announced that the U.S. will not import oil from Venezuela for the time being, in hopes that economic pressure will lead to correcting the political crisis.
  7. There have been countless mass protests across the country. The crisis in Venezuela has sparked riots and rallies across the whole country. In 2018 alone, there were more than 12 thousand protests, according to the Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict. These protests, starting in 2002 after Chavez came to power, have only escalated in violence since.
  8. Officials have resorted to excessive use of force. In April of 2017, Maduro ordered armed forces to put a stop to what had been weeks of anti-government protests. In the two months to follow, more than 120 people were killed, 2,000 were injured and more than 5,000 were detained. Since then, multiple citizens have been killed or injured when police and protesters have clashed.
  9. Maduro’s administration denies that it is in a human rights crisis. Despite the statistics pointing to the crisis in Venezuela, Maduro and his administration have not acknowledged the human rights crisis. Additionally, the administration has not recognized the shortages of food and medication, and, as a result, it has not accepted international humanitarian assistance. Despite the lack of official recognition, the current state of Venezuela has been regarded as the worst humanitarian crisis in recent memory in the Western Hemisphere.
  10. The crisis is taking a toll on the overall health of the country. Since 2014, the number of malaria cases in Venezuela has more than quadrupled. After years of remaining steadily below 100 thousand cases, there are now more than 400 thousand people living in Venezuela with malaria. This is because there is a dramatic shortage of anti-malaria drugs for all strains. Medical facilities are struggling with a shortage of 85 percent for medications. At least 13 thousand Venezuelan doctors were among those who have fled the country. A lack of proper medical care is making the people of Venezuela more susceptible to treatable diseases such as tuberculosis.

The crisis in Venezuela is worsening by the day. There are countless people being forced to leave their homes, jobs and families in hopes of finding a safer place to live. While the country awaits political intervention and foreign aid, there are still ways for people overseas to give help. Many nonprofit organizations, including The Better World Campaign, are doing their part in helping the humanitarian crisis. These groups are always looking for volunteers and donations. Spreading the word about the situation in Venezuela, raising awareness and mobilizing others to donate is also a great way to help, even from afar.

Charlotte Kriftcher
Photo: Flickr

Human Rights Violations in ChinaSince Xi Jinping began his presidency in March 2013, widespread human rights violations in China have been documented as government constraints have deepened. Such issues also became more apparent after Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo died in police custody in 2017. Some violations include increased internet censorship, lack of women’s and workers’ rights, repression of minority groups and imprisonment of human rights defenders. Here are 10 facts about human rights violations in China as well as what is being done to combat these issues today.

10 Facts About Human Rights Violations in China

  1. Authorities control citizens’ internet use by blocking social media sites and restricting news publications. Any news reporting that “slanders the country’s political system” is typically shut down. The government also adopted Blue Shield filtering software to document websites visited by users. A Cybersecurity Law was implemented in June 2017, requiring all internet companies working in China to regulate content for Chinese citizens.
  2. The government only allows five officially recognized religions in approved religious sites. In February 2018, a revised Regulations on Religious Affairs was established. The revision invests all control over religious activities to the government, including finances, personnel appointments and publications. The law also states a goal of restraining “infiltration and extremism” which could enforce a limitation on religious freedom for Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims.
  3. Although labor laws allow trade union organization and elections of trade union committees, the government still controls these rights. Workers cannot vote for trade unions while the right to strike usually goes unacknowledged. According to various human rights groups, China violates workers’ freedom of association. This is due to China’s prohibition of independent union organizing and Trade Union Law. This law requires the All-China Federation of Trade Unions to maintain communist leadership.
  4. In 2017, China ranked 100 among 144 countries for gender parity for the ninth year in a row. According to The Party Congress, there is a substantial absence of women in chief political positions. Females in China are more likely to experience domestic violence, sexual assault and harassment and workplace discrimination which can increase their chances of becoming impoverished. However, it is difficult for women to overcome such barriers since the government does not favor women’s rights activism.
  5. Uighurs, Tibet and Tibetan-populated areas endure higher poverty rates, displacement, discrimination and crucial human rights issues. According to the U.N. Special Rapporteur, the situations of Tibetans and Uighurs is deeply problematic. Similar to most Chinese citizens, ethnic minorities do not have the right to freedom of religion, expression and peaceful assembly. Over 150 Tibetans have and continue to protest repressive laws by self-immolation.
  6. Authorities continue to conduct politically motivated prosecutions. After a national crackdown in July 2015, over 250 human rights protesters were detained, nine of which were convicted of “subverting state power.” Some detainees admit to being tortured or forced to confess. Though many have since been released, they continue to be isolated and monitored. Lawyers of protestors are often harassed and intimidated by authorities.
  7. About 500,000 individuals are currently detained without trial, charge or access to legal aid. The government uses Re-education through Labour (RTL) to arrest individuals without a trial. Usual targets of RTL include petitioners, protestors and those practicing an unrecognized religion. “Black jails” and mental health institutions are types of illegal detention that are utilized by authorities.
  8. China is currently the leading executioner in the world. For decades, China imposed the death penalty for nonviolent crimes and unfair trials. In March 2017, the President of the Supreme People’s Court said that capital punishment was only applied “to an extremely small number of criminals for extremely severe offenses.” However, China’s statistics on death penalties remains classified and authorities fail to release numerical data.
  9. China is accepting help from the U.N. in addressing human rights issues. In 2016, the government formed the policy paper, New Progress in the Judicial Protection of Human Rights in China. The policy paper addresses the country’s human rights issues and suggests potential developments. After inviting the U.N. to support the initiative, the U.N. agreed and made visits to China.
  10. Human Rights in China (HRIC) works to promote human rights and hold the government accountable. HRIC is an NGO that uses advocacy and policy engagement to give citizens voices and improve human rights protection. Its advocacy program aids individual casework and long-term reforms. By advocating both domestically and globally, HRIC promotes international NGOs, the business community, multi-stakeholder groups and results-oriented government engagements.

China’s goal is to remove 60 million people from poverty by decreasing air pollution and improving health standards and its judicial system by 2020. The U.N. and organizations like the HRIC provide hope for more human rights protection in the future. Though China is working to form and implement related policies, it is important that the government allows activists and lawyers to support minority groups and give all citizens a voice in order to end human rights violations in China.

– Diane Adame
Photo: Flickr

The Power of Protests in Africa
In the past decade, popular protests in Africa have become an increasingly important tool for youth to speak up against the ineffective and unjust authoritarian leaders often trying to extend their rule. 
These demonstrations and revolutions have a sort of infectiousness to them. This is partly because of social media and the increased ability to organize and communicate that the internet brings. It’s also partly because these protests serve as inspiration for each other.

It began with the Arab Spring

Many trace this new fervor for protests in Africa to the Arab Spring. One man’s self-immolation fuelled the flames of a revolution that would be felt across the continent. The Arab Spring refers to the series of demonstrations that occurred in the Middle East. It started in 2010 as Tunisians protested the 23-year-long rule of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali which was plagued by economic hardship, corruption and oppression.

Similar movements occurred in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain. Several of these uprisings resulted in overthrowing dictators. Ben Ali fled Tunisia and the country held its first democratic elections in 2011. Similar results occurred in Egypt with the removal of Mubarak, as well as in Libya, where the infamous Gaddafi was executed.

Mixed Success of the Protests

Since the start of the Arab Spring, however, all of these countries have been wrought with political upheaval, a lack of resources and violence. The social and political freedoms the protestors fought for haven’t been realized as many of these countries are still under authoritarian rule.

This illustrates the mixed success of such protests in Africa. As the momentum of popular demonstrations continued, the Senegalese protesters succeeded in preventing their president from bidding for an illegal third term. More recently in Burundi, anti-government protesters aimed to do the same with President Pierre Nkurunziza. Unfortunately, he was able to run and win a third term.

Protests in Africa

Stories of protests in Africa are often very similar. Long-lasting poverty and the lack of economic opportunity is typically present. It breeds the frustration with the ineffective and unjust leadership necessary to spark revolutions. So unemployed and dissatisfied youth turn to the streets to make their demands heard. The increase in demonstrations, says Eleanor Whitehead of Al Jazeera, reflects “growing intolerance for ineffectual leaders with an appetite for extending their time in power.”

Protests in Africa are by no means scarce. Yet these events rarely make their way into mainstream media coverage or academic study. South Africa may be the one exception, but looking at these African revolutionaries can help counteract the Western narrative of Africa.

This same story continues to repeat itself across the continent as protesters continue to demand political reform. The results can feel hopeless as most revolutions don’t lead to any direct change in leadership or conditions. With each retelling, however, and with each new uprising, there are little victories that can provide other opportunities for future reforms. These protests in Africa are mechanisms for the public to begin holding their leaders accountable.

Take the 2017 Kenyan elections. After the incumbent president won, the court annulled the election, saying it was “neither transparent nor verifiable” as noted in an election report by Jason Burke in The Guardian. In the end, this had no bearing on the results of the re-election, but it was a historic decision nonetheless.  

This decision showed the increased strength of the judicial system in Kenya, a system capable of reigning in the power of the president. It set a precedent of requiring fair elections in the future and it can serve as an inspiration to the rest of the continent. However, this ruling probably wouldn’t have been possible without the rioting after the 2007 election and the outcry by the opposition in 2013.

– Liesl Hostetter
Photo: Flickr

Lessons from Anonymous: Using Social Media to Help End PovertyIn 2010, the Internet activist group known as Anonymous lent its technological expertise to Arabs who were protesting injustices in the countries they lived in. This aid let to an event known as the Arab Spring, in which the governments of several Arab nations were overthrown by their people. The ways that Anonymous utilized technology to help protesters are important lessons for activists trying to enact global change on both how not to use technology to enact global change and how to properly use social media to help people who live in poverty or under a repressive regime find their voice.

How should technology not be used by the modern activist?

Even though Arab people were aided by the help from Anonymous, Anonymous employed several methods which modern protesters should not use, because they rely on destroying the computational infrastructure used by a country and would risk generating bad publicity if they were used. One such example, known as black faxing, is a method in which Anonymous faxed black pieces of paper to various government agencies to cause the fax machines used by those agencies to run out of ink.

Anonymous also committed distributed denial of service attacks, in which members of Anonymous overloaded key web servers in a given country to prevent government officials from accessing network resources on the Internet. Anonymous carried out these disruptive activities so that members of the government would not be able to communicate, which made it much easier for the protesters to overthrow the government.

These methods should not be used by modern activists because they are more likely to be viewed as an act of cyberterrorism and not as a legitimate form of protest. Such methods would cause people to focus on the methods used by the protesters rather than the societal issues that the people using these methods were protesting.

What positive lessons can the modern activist or protester learn from Anonymous?

In addition to the use of technology for disruption, Anonymous also used technology to help the Arab protesters mobilize within their country and communicate with the outside world. The main tools used by Anonymous to connect the protesters with each other and with the outside world were social media platforms. Anonymous also helped protesters use proxy servers so that they could communicate with the outside world without the risk of being detected by their government. Anonymous used social media to help ensure that the voices of the protesters were heard by the world.

Anonymous used social media to help support the Arab Spring

Anonymous helped protesters in Egypt by reposting information that people in Egypt gave to them on Twitter, and by helping people in Egypt bypass firewalls set up by the Egyptian government. Anonymous also helped protesters in the Arab world by setting up IRC servers where protesters could virtually meet to organize and to plan their protests. Anonymous teamed up with Telecomix, another “hacktivist” group, to help people in Arab countries who were protesting their government connect to the Internet even after the government blocked Internet access.

People protesting against poverty, child soldiers, human trafficking or any other issue could learn from Anonymous and use social media to help people who are affected by such issues communicate with others or to help activists fighting against such injustices safely communicate with each other.

– Michael Israel

Photo: Flickr

The Elders Support Zimbabwe Through a Letter to SADC
The Elders, a group of global leaders unified by Nelson Mandela, have urged the heads of state of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to support Zimbabwe through an upcoming transitional period.

In a letter to the SADC, they point out that Zimbabwe is “on the verge of an important transition.” The advocates behind the letter, including Kofi Annan, Graca Machel and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, note that with the support of the SADC, Zimbabwe could experience a shift to democratic leadership and a boost to their economic and social development.

Zimbabwe has been rife with protests recently as a result of displeasure with President Robert Mugabe’s rule, as well as various economic problems that have developed in the country.

There are cash shortages throughout the country, the government is planning to reintroduce bond notes as legal tender and civil servants are lacking several months of pay. Civilian anger about these facts has led to multiple protests that police have broken up through the use of batons and tear gas.

Government authorities are attempting to subdue civilian protests, many of which have been organized through social media, by drafting a law that will punish civilians with up to five years jail time for “abusive” use of social media.

The Elder’s letter comes at an auspicious time considering the current tumult within Zimbabwe. Additionally, the letter prefaces the upcoming SADC group summit in Swaziland.

In the letter, not only do the Elders support Zimbabwe but they also make clear that aid to Zimbabwe will be beneficial for the nation as a whole and should, therefore, be something that SADC thoroughly consider in their impending meeting.

The letter states, “The Elders believe the upcoming summit is an important opportunity to reflect on how best SADC can help Zimbabwe manage the complex challenges ahead.”

Jordan Little

Photo: Flickr

Ai WeiweiChinese artist Ai Weiwei is well-known for using his art to protest against human rights abuses committed by the Chinese government.

Ai’s concern, however, is not limited to his home country. He has lately made several efforts to support refugees and protest the conditions they find themselves living in.

On the Greek island of Lesbos, Ai recently set up a studio to highlight the plight of refugees. “The island has been the main point of entry into the EU for hundreds of thousands of refugees over the past year and the studio would produce several projects with themes related to the refugee crisis from him and his students, Ai told reporters,” said a January 2016 article in the Guardian.

Ai noted the lack of awareness of the situation and willingness to act in Europe and the rest of the world. “The border is not in Lesbos, it really [is] in our minds and in our hearts,” Ai said.

In Copenhagen, Ai closed down his exhibition in response to new laws and reforms. These laws aim to discourage refugees from seeking asylum by delaying family reunification and by allowing Danish authorities to seize refugee’s valuables. “The law has provoked international outrage, with many human rights activists criticizing the delay for family reunification as a breach of international conventions,” as reported by the Guardian.

“The way I can protest is that I can withdraw my works from that country. It is very simple, very symbolic – I cannot co-exist, I cannot stand in front of these people, and see these policies. It is a personal act, very simple; an artist trying not just to watch events but to act, and I made this decision spontaneously,” Ai told the Associated Press.

Perhaps most publicized and controversial of his recent efforts was a reenacted photo of deceased Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi. In this photo, Ai posed in the position of Kurdi’s dead body. Ai described to CNN his emotional experience of posing for the photograph: “I was standing there and I could feel my body shaking with the wind – you feel death in the wind. You are taken by some kind of emotions that you can only have when you are there. So for me to be in the same position [as Kurdi], is to suggest our condition can be so far from human concerns in today’s politics.”

Ai continued to express his frustration with the lack of action and compassion for refugees: “…you see all those politicians that are not really helping, and trying to find all kind of excuses. To refuse and to even put these refugees in more tragic situations.”

For this effort in particular, Ai Weiwei received significant criticism. Various news publications and art critics derided the photo. For instance, a headline in the Spectator labeled it “crude, thoughtless and egoistical,” and an article in the Guardian discussed the danger of the photo having a “very real possibility of diluting a worthy cause.”

While the criticism may be valid, to expect Ai Weiwei to stop trying may be very mistaken. He plans to continue to raise awareness and support for the refugees. “As an artist, I have to relate to humanity’s struggles…I never separate these situations from my art.”

– Anton Li

Sources: CNN, The Spectator, The Guardian 1, The Guardian 2, The Guardian 3
Photo: Washington Times