Saturday September 10 2011

Will the Arab uprising spread to sub- saharan Africa?

Libyan National Transitional Council fighters

Libyan National Transitional Council fighters flash the victory sign at a checkpoint on the road from Tarhuna to Bani Walid. PHOTO BY AFP. 

By Mwaura Samora

Monitor Correspondent


The power of dictatorships comes from the willing obedience of the people they govern, if the people can develop techniques of withholding their consent, a regime will crumble,” Dr Gene Sharp, the author of From Dictatorship to Democracy, once said. These words will forever be immortalised by the spectacular downfall of not only Hosni Mubarak, but also the fall of long-serving Libyan strongman Col. Muammar Gaddafi. While Gaddafi’s admirers have blamed Gaddafi’s fall on Nato neo-colonialism, it has inspired downtrodden people across Africa.

In Zimbabwe, watching the triumphant rebels overrun Gaddafi’s compound in the capital was a huge moral boost for the citizens of that nation who have been in a protracted struggle against the suppressive ZANU-PF regime. “This is a victory for Zimbabweans. This is a message to other surviving dictators that they cannot hold down people forever,” Knowledge Magwenzi, a staunch supporter of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, told The Zimbabwe Mail.

“There is hope for oppressed people in Africa who have resigned themselves to believing the dictator was immortal,” Magwenzi said. But few Zimbabweans had the courage to celebrate publicly, preferring to exchange messages via social networks and other discreet platforms.

Many still recall how, early this year, Munyaradzi Gwisai, a political activist and lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe’s law school, and other political activists, were arrested and charged with treason for arranging a meeting to celebrate the ousting of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

With events unfolding up north, heightened by the rumours that the cornered Libyan leader would be seeking sanctuary in Zimbabwe, the country’s state media has avoided showing footage of the North African uprisings. And President Robert Mugabe has labelled Nato a “terrorist organisation”. His generals, most of whom have vowed never to allow a Tsavangirai presidency, have been issuing thinly veiled threats warning Zimbabweans against any attempt to imitate the Arab uprisings.

In February, 46 people were arrested for allegedly planning to topple the government through street protests. Although all of them were charged with treason, which attracts death sentence, 38 of them were acquitted.
The Libyan ambassador in Harare, Taher Emalgrahi, and his staff irked the ZANU-PF side of the coalition after pledging loyalty to the National Transition Council (NTC) and hoisting the red, green and black flag of the rebels.

The Zimbabwe government reacted by declaring the action illegal and ejecting the entire diplomatic team from the country. But the ambassador was far from apologetic, prophesying that the Harare regime would face Libyan-style revolt in the very near future if it continued suppressing the people.

“What is happening in Libya is the new trend of democracy which started in Tunisia and Egypt early this year. I don’t want to talk of Zimbabwean politics, but there is now democracy flowing throughout the continent and it can happen in any country,” Mr Emalgrahi said a fortnight ago. “We told the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that we cannot ignore the events back home and we had to hoist the flag of freedom,” he said.

Besides being a comrade in arms with Mugabe in criticising the West, Gaddafi has also been bailing out the financially crippled Zimbabwean economy through aid and handouts. In failing to recognise the NTC, Zimbabwe has joined the African Union which more often than not treated the deposed Libyan despot with velvet gloves.

However, over 20 African countries have recognised the NTC including Nigeria, Ethiopia, Tunisia, Burkina Faso and Ghana. But Mr Mugabe is not the only leader whose nights have been deprived of sleep by the unprecedented fall from grace of the man once described as the “Don Vito Corleone of Libya”.

President Museveni, a long-time ally of Gaddafi, last week banned an opposition victory parade planned to be held at the Clock Tower in Kampala in honour of the triumphant rebels.

The “solidarity rally” was meant to show backing for the Libyan opposition, which has spent six months fighting against the 42-year-old regime. “We know that like Col. Gaddafi has been doing, President Museveni is equally using the institutions of the state to persecute any form of opposition,” Mr Mathias Mpuuga, an opposition Member of Parliament for Masaka Municipality, told journalists. “But this rally at Clock Tower will go ahead. We do not need police permission but we will inform them”.

Libyans living in Uganda have pledged their loyalty to the NTC long after the Libyan ambassador abandoned his posting to join rebel authorities in Benghazi early this year.

Mr Mpuuga, who is also the coordinator for Activists for Change, was quoted by the press as saying the president should “hang up his political boots because Ugandans are fed up with his regime” and because “a state that does not respect the rule of law, a people paralysed by fear and a weak opposition are the result of years in power by President Museveni”.

Presidential Press Secretary Tamale Mirundi rubbished the idea that the Ugandan leader could be deposed in the same manner as his north African ally. “The two countries are different,” he said. “Uganda has a different political system from that of Libya. Have you ever heard of elections in Libya? You need to carry out a system analysis to understand that Museveni cannot be overthrown that way,” Mr Mirundi said.

President Museveni himself has reiterated his opinion that the Nato raids on Libya were a Western invasion of Africa. “Gaddafi had his own mistakes, he came here and organised my chiefs without telling me. We cancelled that meeting,” President Museveni said. “But Gaddafi built a mosque for us. As a leader, he had mistakes, but those Europeans have more mistakes and problems. They think the rest of us are fools except themselves. When there are riots in Africa, they call them pro-democracy and in London they call them criminals,” he said.

Although the two leaders have had their differences in the past, many analysts have observed that the fall of Gaddafi has robbed Mr Museveni of one of his most important allies in the club of Africa’s long serving leaders.

Long before the drums of war fell silent in Ivory Coast, seeds of discord were already taking root in the tiny West African nation of Senegal. The masses were displeased with President Abdoulaye Wade’s attempt to use his majority in parliament to manipulate the constitution to pave way for his son’s ascension to power.

Despite spirited efforts by the police to crush the demonstrations with teargas, rubber bullets and water cannons, the protests spread rapidly from central Dakar to three major towns in the hinterland as well as Paris and Montreal.

Although the octogenarian leader succumbed to the people’s power and withdrew the law, the protesters have continued to protest against the president’s intention to run for a third term in next year’s general elections.

“People are not dumb,” says Sanou Mbaye, a London-based Senegalese writer and critic. “We were just waiting for a detonator. Everywhere else people are rising up — Tunisia, Egypt, Libya... But nothing was happening here. This is the drop of water that made the vase run over”.

Some of the most vocal voices behind the anti-Wade protests have been those of young musicians, led by popular rapper and pro-democracy activist Omar Toure. The firebrand hip-hop artiste, widely known by his stage name Thiat, believes the ideal future president of Senegal must blend the politics of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez with the youth of Gambian strongman Yahya Jammeh.