Africa: The Emergence of People Power

The revolution currently sweeping through North Africa and the Middle East is a clear testimony to people’s frustration with their leaders and wake up call to dictators to relinquish power.

Eunice Kilonzo

The 2010–2011 Middle East and North Africa protests, also known as the Arab Spring, are a revolutionary wave of demonstrations and protests which have been taking place in the Middle East and North Africa since 18 December 2010. The succession of political crisis and popular revolutions has rocked the world’s second-largest and second most-populous continent all of which revolving around the democratic aspirations of African peoples. Other factors that have led to the protests include dictatorship or absolute monarchy, human rights violations, government corruption (demonstrated by Wikileaks diplomatic cables), economic decline, unemployment, extreme poverty, and a number of demographic structural factors, such as a large percentage of educated but dissatisfied youth within the population.

The IT Revolution in Africa is ushering new Revolution(Courtesy:

Interestingly, most revolutions were facilitated through social media such as Facebook and twitter. In fact, some African states have sought to ban the media networks in a bid to stop the mass spread for information and consequent action. For instance the government of Uganda last evening (14th April) moved to curtail major broadcasting houses when it banned live broadcast of news events around the walk-to-work campaign. The Uganda Communication Commission (UCC) reportedly directed radio and television stations to stop running live coverage of the events as well as internet. However, these could be said to be kicks of a dying horse as the wind of change is blowing and nothing can change its course This goes to elaborates Obama’s remarks that “suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away”.

Swaziland, a nation that has an absolute monarch: King Mswati took up to the streets on the 12th of April 2011 demanding change of guard and how their republic was being run. April 12 is traditionally a day of protest by civil society. It marks the suspension of the constitution and introduction of the rule of Swaziland by royal decree 38 years ago. Despite a banning order and intimidation by Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini, and a meeting by the Swazi regime with union leaders on Friday to call an end to protests against sub-Sahara’s last remaining absolute monarchy. Mduduzi Gina, the secretary-general of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions, said “The advisers to King Mswati III said they would get the government to engage us on the question of cutting the salaries of civil servants. But the issue of the dissolution of the current government and its replacement by a transitional government, a move towards forming a multiparty democracy was non-negotiable”. He further added that “It will be a pity if force will be used. We have applied for permission in the sense that we have reported concerns in terms of our labour relations act. We acknowledge that Swaziland is a kingdom. Mswati may remain as a monarch, but not as an absolute monarch, absolute power corrupts absolutely. We are calling for a process of democratization and the work towards a multiparty democracy.”

In Uganda, a protest is brewing as well. This protested is against the rising fuel prices dubbed: The Walk-to-Work March led by Dr. Kizza Besigye. In the recent development, the police were replaced by the army who were sent to quell the protests. On the 15th of April, the opposition leader Dr.Kizza was shot on the arm, on day two of the Walk-to-Work March. Last week, opposition leaders launched a walk-to-work campaign in solidarity with the rest of Ugandans who are suffering because of high commodity prices. The campaign took effect on Monday, a day when Dr Besigye and other opposition figures were arrested and charged with inciting violence and disobeying lawful orders.

Uganda’s Internal Affairs Minister Kirunda Kivejinja argued that “The walk-to-work demonstration had nothing to do with the current oil and commodity prices … the demonstrations were part of a hate-government campaign. It was for this reason, therefore, that police were instructed to disallow those activities.” For failure to condemn the police for shooting Dr Besigye, brutalizing the opposition leaders and people working to walk, Aswa MP Reagan Okumu warned the government of the consequences. Reagan Okumu reiterated by warning the government that “You are provoking the country into war by covering police acts. Every citizen has a right to complain when things are not good. There is a crisis and majority of Ugandans are suffering.” the manner in which Dr Besigye and others were manhandled on Monday and his subsequent shooting in the hand yesterday was too much to bear. “Shooting Dr Besigye will not solve the problems the country is facing. You can kill Dr Besigye but you will not shoot the crisis the people are facing,” said Alice Alaso. While the government told Parliament that causes of inflation were beyond their control, Ms Alaso warned: “Hungry Ugandans will be difficult to manage. The sooner the government listens and deals with the root causes of the problems, the better. People will continue walking to work until government responds to the high prices.”

This and the previous demand for change in the continent highlights several things, that the shift of authority from the dictators to either the people or the army shows that a people determination is unmatched regardless of any governmental blockage as it is evident with Dr. Besigye, Iman al Obeidi of Libya among others. It also highlights that the people are the greatest natural resource, a united people for a common goal can push for reforms. These series of revolution also shows the place of media in governance and in society. One Egyptian activist succinctly tweeted during the protests saying, “We use Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate, and YouTube to tell the world.”

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