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Revolutions from Tunis to Ouagadougou

For the past three decades, neoliberalism has insisted that ‘there is no alternative’ to semi-colonialism and the diktats of the IMF and World Bank. But, writes Senegal’s Guy Marius Sagna, our people ‘have enough common sense to understand that things have to change’.

One of the themes discussed at a meeting of young Pan-African revolutionaries in Dakar on May 28 was ‘towards a new wave of struggles for a democratic people’s liberation’. Since then, the people of Tunisia and Egypt have taken their struggle to greater heights by chasing away the powers that had sold out to imperialism, whose despotism the Western imperialist media were pretending to discover.

The Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions are simultaneously an incomplete achievement and another step in a long process still underway in other African and Arab countries. A process that is taking root against the backdrop of the re-colonisation of the continent and that nourishes itself on the various struggles taking place across the continent.


Since the defeat of the Soviet Union three decades ago, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the negative impact on anti-imperialist organisations, the dominant ideology has insisted that there was no alternative to semi-colonialism, no alternative to the diktats of the IMF and the World Bank. There is no alternative to TINA.

TINA was the nickname of the ‘end of history’ theory so dear to Francis Fukuyama. But the problem lies not just in the excessive power of think tanks, which routinely mistake their desires for reality. It is compounded by the fact that semi-colonised people tend to interiorise these ideas adopted by the different African factions that are part of the Bretton Woods consensus, causing untold damage for the people of their countries. Suddenly, the anti-imperialist discourse became old fashioned. Anti-imperialist organisations began to splinter between those who decided to adapt and those who held out and marginalised themselves in electoral terms. And the people were left to choose between the two: Either dismiss the arguments of the anti-imperialists as absurd or realise that it is the actions of the IMF, the World Bank and our semi-colonial rulers that are absurd.

Should one stay the course or change it? Our peoples have enough common sense to understand that things have to change. Except that CHANGE for them primarily means CHANGING the regime. And so we have seen governments change in Cape Verde, Benin, Mali and Senegal. The principle of the handover of power was won at a high cost and it took concerted struggle to put an end to military and civilian one party rule. But the imperialists had no problem in adapting to this development.

The alternation of Democrats and Republicans in the United States, the Right and Social Democracy in France has allowed the capitalist nature of all these regimes to remain intact, despite minor reforms. So too, alternation was used to co-opt revolutions and maintain their imperialist exploitation of our countries. Regimes change but the reality becomes harder and harder – 0.5 per cent of humanity own 36 per cent of global wealth, 55 per cent survive on just 2 per cent. Thus, ‘a capitalist humanity means massive misery and homeopathic wealth!’ This results in emigration by boats, a food crisis, unemployment, crisis in all sectors, education, sanitation, agriculture…


The Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions are in fact anti-systemic movements along the lines of the Bolivarian, South American leftwing movements, which took their inspiration from Cuba to consolidate democratic and anti-liberal advances. Movements against a system that oppresses peoples and the working class in the Global South. They demand an alternative to the ongoing looting of their countries. Looting means misery for the people of the South but allows the North, severely affected by the economic crisis to maintain an acceptable lifestyle for its bourgeoisie. It allows the siphoning of 36 per cent of global wealth into the hands of 0.5 per cent of humanity.

These same neoliberal policies have fuelled the anger of the people of Iceland, Greece and Spain who chant: ‘We are not goods to be manipulated by politicians and “banksters”.’ Now it’s the Portuguese who are worried that it’s their turn to feel the IMF heat. So much misery for so many people cannot be sustained for 908 years. A situation that inevitably leads to Robespierre’s famous conclusion: ‘When the government violates the rights of the people, insurrection is for the people the most sacred and most indispensable of duties.’

The developments in Tunisia and Egypt, once touted by think tanks as model nations and success stories, are a searing refutation of neo-liberal dogma and a premonition for other countries in the South where calls for Blaise Compaore to leave are reminiscent of the slogans demanding the ouster of Ben Ali and Mubarak.


Senegalese internet users were vocal in their denunciation of Nicolas Sarkozy, the president of ‘Francafrique’, who seemed to paving the way for a dynastic succession at the G8 summit in Deauville: ‘The Senegalese speak with one voice: We don’t want the return of Faidherbe. Our country will never again be a colony or province of France. Papa President and Uncle Sarkozy are powerless. You had better abandon your despicable project and leave Senegal in peace.’

Never again?! Then why do we have ‘Orange’ instead of ‘SN Alize’ on our mobiles? Why is the national water company called Sde instead of Sonees? Why is the national railway company SNCF being called ‘Transrail’? Why has Sonacos been replaced by Suneor? And why is our currency CFA – which means ‘French colony in Africa’? Who guarantees the CFA? Senegal doesn’t need to relapse into the status of a French colony or province – it has never stopped being one! Nonetheless, the anger on Senegalese websites is a legitimate response to Wade’s misguided and monarchist ambitions.

Things are reaching boiling point in Senegal. Given the multidimensional crisis we face today, where the country is headed has become a crucial question. Every sector is in crisis – education, health, agriculture, land, food, energy, governance and financial scandals, the auctioning of our resources – we have a political and a moral crisis… And the Senegalese, like other peoples, simply refuse to accept the unacceptable.

This refusal – even if unconscious – to submit to TINA has taken several forms and leading the struggle are CPC, the main opposition party which has now become CPA, the Front Siggil Senegal and Benno which regroups the unions of teachers and health workers. The writing is on the wall – mass emigration on rickety boats, food riots, flooding in the suburbs, the postponement of elections, the scandals around the Thies project and Anoci (National Agency of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference headed by the president’s son Karim Wade), the attack against Talla Sylla (a young opposition leader) and journalists, the destruction of press offices, the revolt of the street vendors and the political impasse which ended in an opposition boycott of the 2007 legislative elections – and the National Conference of Senegal (ANS) was born.

This political impasse is not just due to an absence of dialogue between the ruling party and the opposition. It is also a result of the impotence of Social Democracy as a vehicle of Senegalese political opposition to the extent that sometimes the only opposition to the PDS (the ruling party) was the PDS (Idrissa Seck and Macky Sall – both former party members who defected)! Movements such as ‘Dafa doy!’, ‘Y’en a marre’ and ‘Yamale’ are symptoms of the sterile and pointless social democracy espoused by Benno.

The number of declarations of candidacy also highlight the weakness of what political alternatives are on offer, especially because some of them are manipulated by the presidency itself. The endless debates about ‘transition’ and ‘completion’ candidates and Benno’s inability to explain what candidacy means is another sign of the manoeuvring going on and if one is not careful, the interests of the Senegalese people will be sold out.

Our political credo, to liberate our people from semi-colonialism and collaborationism, will be compromised if we fall prey to these schemes. Many of our compatriots sympathetic to Wade’s departure wonder who will replace him as our leader. The only options on the table seem to be the ruling neoliberals and neoliberals from the opposition on the one hand, and on the other, a united or fragmented social democratic movement whose candidates present themselves as a messiah come to deliver their people. There is a serious risk that the Democratic Left will find itself isolated and pulled between different Social Democrat candidates. Why should we choose Moustapha Niasse instead of Ousmane Tanor Dieng? What left strategy is served by backing Tanor? What is the strategy in the first place?

Today more than ever, the Left must chart a new course by pushing for the unity of the Left and building on the momentum of the ‘Wade out’ campaign by working with ‘Y’en a marre!’, ‘Dafa doy seuk’!’ and ‘Yamale’. This could trigger Benno to join the struggle... Our nation has reached a critical point – there is mobilisation everywhere, sporadic clashes that presage a final battle, a big number of Senegalese have realised that mere alternation is not enough and that no single organisation or political party can win – it is time for a united left movement to set the departure of Wade into motion.

Getting rid of Wade is a necessity. The gerrymandering during local council elections is a case in point. The recent ruling in favour of the workers of JLS and Bara Tall (a national company looted by the regime) shows that everything has to be wrested from the neo-liberals. Concerted struggle is the only way to obtain anything from Wade. And it is now that we have to prepare the ground to force the regime that has resulted from the second political alternation in Senegal to accept the decisions taken by the National Conference. This is the lesson learnt from past mistakes – allowing Wade to have a free run after 2000 and the ineffectiveness of the opposition to counter him and his neoliberal cohorts.


To conclude, it is too early to say whether the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions engender states like the anti-imperialist nations in South America or whether they will model themselves on the BRIC group which are mounting a serious challenge to capitalist ‘uni-polarity’ and unbridled imperialism at the expense of poor and working peoples across the world or indeed, whether the imperialists and their local collaborators will succeed in restraining the nascent anti-imperialist, nationalist, patriotic and democratic movements taking root everywhere. We hope the Tunisians and Egyptians will succeed in their revolutions and chart an alternative course to emancipation. And that this revolutionary wave sweeps across Africa from North to South. In Senegal, the alternative has to be built by social movements and leftist, democratic and anti-imperialist political forces and trade-unions.

We need to clarify our strategy and tactics in the months ahead.

Our strategy is to unify our political family and make it a force independent from the neoliberals and social democrats. A movement that places the interests of our people and workers in the battle for power. To that end, we need a unified list for the next legislative elections, which could be done within the CNP/CNG framework, but without the social democrats and against the neoliberals.

We need to strengthen the ‘Wade degage’ and ‘Ablaye abal nu’ movements and field a single candidate emanating from the National Conference to form a transition government which will put in place a parliamentary system, order a complete audit of the budget before and during the alternation and organise new elections based on proportional representation.


* Guy Marius Sagna is a member of Ferñent/Movement of Panafrican Workers– Sénégal.
* This article first appeared in the French edition of Pambazuka News.
* Translated from the French by Sputnik Kilambi.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.