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

Poverty and Instability in Yemen
For the successful transition of governance in an already impoverished state to take hold, basic security and stability through shared political will and access to participation must occur. For the countries swept up in the Arab Spring will each face multiple barriers to progress and implementation of new democratic forms of government. Each country has a uniquely manifested identity struggling to emerge in the aftermath of the waves of reform that have radically changed the Arab world.

The Republic of Yemen is still teetering in this revolution, and earlier this month, United Nations agencies appealed for humanitarian aid in Geneva. They reported that more than half of Yemen’s population of more than 25 million is in need of some form of assistance.

Yemenis already face difficulties in survival and achieving basic security as Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the world. It is one of the least developed nations and is one of the most dry regions in the world. It ranks 140 out of 182 countries on the U.N. Development Programme Human Development Index (2009.) Nearly 42 percent of the population is poor and one in five is malnourished.

It has been two years since Yemen’s long-ruling leader Ali Abdullah Saleh agreed to step down in response to the Arab Spring protests. The transition has not been harmonious and has now all but stuttered to a standstill. Threats and violence have spread and become more frequent and there have been increased attacks by Al-Qaeda across the country recently. The election of an interim president was supposed to have initiated that drafting of a new constitution ahead of presidential and parliamentary polls in early 2014.

However, like other states struggling in this Arab Spring, leaders in the transition have been unable to agree on a way ahead forward and living conditions have deteriorated further as security has devolved under extremist attacks. The situation has been so unstable that the U.N. Security Council has threatened sanctions against former regime figures and “political opportunists” impeding the process.

For Yemen’s poor and needy, this means further delays in progress and assistance will be expected. This coupled with a growing population needing more services and more access to participation will only increase the urgency in this humanitarian crisis.

About two-thirds of the population lives in rural areas with the majority of families dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods. Agriculture is a vital economic sector, and it provides employment in a country with an unemployment rate of 37 percent. According to a recent UNICEF report, Yemen has the world’s fourth-fastest growing population. This means the country’s poor availability of natural resources leaves it unable to meet the needs of a population that is increasing by more than 3.5 percent annually.

People in rural areas are not only poor, but they are impoverished because they do not have adequate access to basic needs such as land, safe water, health care and education. Without an effective government to provide aid and establish programs for development, what progress made is risked and more lives stand to be threatened or made vulnerable by security failures and governmental incompetence.

Talks have recently stalled and the nation faces a transition period of two more years. Unless the leaders of this new government can quickly find a way to move forward and agree upon the next steps for the nation, Yemen risks backsliding into further violence and political deterioration with more lives lost.

Nina Verfaillie
Feature Writer

Sources: Rural Poverty Portal, Hurriyet Daily News
Photo: NBC

At the onset of 2011, discontented Tunisians ejected former president Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali from his ruling seat, ending his 23 year-long strict one-party rule. The revolution, the first of many throughout North Africa and the Middle East, was sparked by Mohammad Bouazizi, a 26-year-old vegetable vendor who set himself on fire in protest of high unemployment, police corruption and political repression. Nearly three years later, the demands of Tunisian revolutionaries have still not been met. The largest demand of the uprising was jobs, particularly for young graduates.

Tunisian youth unemployment is at 17 percent, but for young adults with a university degrees, it is actually 30 percent. Seeing no response from the government that they had hoped to move to action, some Tunisian youth are demonstrating a disturbing trend of radicalization. Islamist groups recruiting fighters for conflicts in regional areas from Libya to Syria, promise those who join them food and compensation for their services. Growing numbers of young Tunisians are being recruited to Jihad groups.

For now, Jihadi violence in Tunisia is minimal. Two political assassinations and 30 members of the security forces were killed this year. There is however, growing concern that hundreds of young volunteers, possibly even several thousand of them, have been recruited through a widening network of Salafist mosques and then trained to fight in Syria, with the potential to return home to cause more trouble. Since the ousting ofZine el-Abidine Ben Ali, who had forcibly secularized the country, fundamentalist Salafi groups have sprouted in almost every town. The Salafist mosques provide open spaces for inquiring youth who are lured by charismatic preachers offering a stirring mix of camaraderie and talk of holy war and self-sacrifice in the name of God. They draw thousands of young men and women to their mosques, where they recruit volunteers for missionary work in Tunisia, but also for jihad.

Recruits, many of whom drop out of high school, are organized by a network of facilitators who supply cash, cars and safe houses. The travel through Libya, where they receive military training, and then make their way to Turkey, the main entry point for rebels entering Syria. Two teenage Tunisian boys who recently tried to join the fighting in Syria were told at the Libyan border to turn around, that “the fight is in Tunisia right now, we want to create an emirate there.” The boys were instructed to blow themselves up among a group of tourists at the tomb of Habib Bourguiba, the Tunisian post-independence leader, in the town of Monastir. One did, the other was caught before he could detonate the bomb attached to his body.

The Tunisian police and military forces are working hard to dismantle the Jihad groups forming inside their borders, but they are failing to address the issue at its roots. Would Tunisian youth be enticed by talk of Islamic Holy War if they were employed, contributing members of their society? With depressingly high unemployment rates and continued political repression many young Tunisians see little hope in their future. The Jihad recruitment is an outlet which provides a means of taking some control of their lives and a sense of purpose, no matter how extreme it may be.

– Paige Veidenheimer

Sources: New York Times
Photo: The Star

Revolution in Chiapas: An Unstoppable Force
When thinking about poverty and hard times, it’s important to remember that no matter how bad one might think they have it, there are always people around the world who have it worse. One group of people who have to deal with extreme poverty and repression are the indigenous populations in Mexico and Central America.

Many indigenous people are from the state of Chiapas, which contains the largest population of indigenous people and is also the poorest region of the country. For the poorest state to have the most indigenous people is far from a coincidence. They seek to preserve their traditional ways of life and are often discriminated against by their own nation. Battles between the indigenous population and the Mexican state have gone on for decades and unfortunately continue today.

The Zapatista movement (an armed revolutionary group based in Chiapas) began in 1994 and has been in a declared war against the “Mexican state” ever since. During this time, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was signed between Mexico, the United States, and Canada, which ended up taking many jobs away from local farmers in Mexico while throwing millions into poverty. It also revoked Article 27 of the Mexican constitution which granted land rights to the indigenous. After the article was revoked, these indigenous people were driven off their lands by the government.

While the Chiapas have taken steps to improve the lives of the indigenous population and maintain their fundamental rights, more still needs to be done. A big step forward took place in 2009 when the state adopted the Chiapas-UN Agenda. The deal put a strong focus on improving health and education while also dealing with poverty and the environment. The state amended its constitution in the process. While each president promises to lend a helping to these communities, too often they fall short.

One looks at the indigenous people and it will become obvious that their ideology has never died and the people will always reach for their goal of demolishing deprivation and injustice within Chiapas. Their continued revolutionary ways set an example for the rest of the world that corruption, poverty, injustice, and environmental devastation will not be tolerated as the underdog will continue to push forward until justice is served.

– Taylor Rae Schaefer

Sources: Occupy News Network, United Development Programme
Photo: LibCom

Social Revolutions
More than two years ago, social media helped Egyptian activists organize massive street protests that lead to the end of President Hosni Mubarak’s reign. With billions of people logging onto Facebook, Twitter and Youtube everyday, it is no wonder that social media has become a celebrated and useful fixture in the voice of the people. However, as quickly as revolutions are sparked, third-party antagonists and governments are sure to falsify what is posted on these sites in an attempt to silence people of opposition. In Egypt, sites that seemed beneficial at the start of the revolution have transformed into venues used to spark violence, hate and oppression revealing the dark side of social media used in social revolutions.

During the Tahrir Square uprising in early 2011, networking websites, like Twitter and Facebook, allowed anti-regime activists to organize mass rallies while providing platforms to articulate political demands. Today, those sites allow a rampant slew of messages focused on provoking anger, hatred and in some cases unsubstantiated rumor. Since the revolution, provocative photos or videos appeared on social media venues which, after eliciting angry reactions, were later proved entirely false or highly exaggerated.

The anonymity of the cyber world is partly to blame for the abuse of social media worldwide and begs the question of validity regarding how effective social media is when used in a full blown revolution. A prominent Egyptian political analyst, Ammar Ali Hassan, notes that one of the main downsides of online social media is the ability of anonymous parties to create fake websites or social media accounts and to issue statements on behalf of political figures or groups that are in fact false. Another explanation of the unbridled use of social media comes from Adel Abdel-Saddiq, social media expert at the Cairo-based Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies. Abdel-Saddiq believes that a significant problem is the lack of legal oversight of social media platforms in Egypt, where “laws against libel and slander only apply to traditional media – i.e., television, radio and newspapers – but not to the Internet.”

– Kira Maixner

Photo: Policy Mic