Hundreds of Swazis have been arrested after they took to the streets on 12 and 13 April, to demonstrate against the monarchy. Swaziland’s King Mswati has presided over a ‘system of governance’ that protest organisers say has left the country’s ‘people divided, poor and powerless’. Sokari Ekine reports on southern Africa’s first uprising and provides updates on the situation in Djibouti, Algeria, Morocco, Egypt, Côte d'Ivoire and Libya.
I am at the point where I have the utmost respect for those who have or are considering engaging in some level of protest against their governments. I can only think of a few countries on the continent that don't need to be overthrown or at the very least need a complete overhaul – possibly the same thing. Swaziland is the site of the first uprisings in southern Africa, so it will be interesting to see if there is any overspill into South Africa and Zimbabwe, which have had many uprisings over the past few years.
SWAZILAND: COMMONERS, UNITE! MSWATI, YOU ARE ON YOUR OWN!
Tuesday 12 April was the planned day of protests in Swaziland. The Facebook page of Swaziland Solidarity Network Forum has been an important source documenting and reporting on the Swazi uprisings. The forum reported as early as 4 April that the Swazi government was going to target trade unionists and student organisations in the lead up to the 12 April protests.
Richard Rooney notes that: ‘Labour unions and civic society organisations in Swaziland have placed themselves on alert after what is being described “as credible information” was received that they are about to be raided by Swazi state authorities in an attempt to disrupt the “uprising” scheduled for next Tuesday (12 April 2011).’
This was later confirmed to be true as reports began to emerge of the arrest and torture of one of the activists:
‘A Swazi activist said Thursday that he had been detained and beaten as police interrogated him about plans to organise protests next week against King Mswati III, Africa’s last absolute monarch. Nkolisi Ngcamphalana, national organiser for the youth wing of the banned opposition People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), told AFP that he was detained Tuesday night and held for 24 hours. He said police beat him, placed plastic bags over his head, and then interrogated him about calls for national protests on Tuesday. “They grilled me about the April 12 uprising, and they kicked and beat me,” he said shortly after his release. “Right now they are outside my house. They are intimidating my family,” he said. “They threatened me with death.”’
On 11 April, Swazi Shado blog wrote: ‘Where is Maxwell?’, referring to Maxwell Dlamini ‘one of the main organisers’, who had gone missing. He had gone to South Africa to plan the demonstrations and was last seen at a police roadblock.
The government’s – or rather the King’s – response has been to try and intimidate people by publishing photos of the armed forces on the front page of the Swazi Observer which he partly owns.
Swazi April 12th blog provide some background to the Swazi uprising which is turning into the most organised and sustained protests outside of North Africa:
‘The only eternal and total enemy of our people is the system of governance which has rendered our people divided, poor and powerless. This system, administered by a family which labels itself “closer to god:” than all Swazis, is the Absolute Monarchy orTinkhundla. Playing One Swazi Against the Other....The monarchy plays ordinary Swazis against themselves by being perched at the summit of power. It keeps a large percentage of the population literate but untrained for quality jobs. This is the reserve of poor people from which the security personnel are hired.
‘In a country with no unemployment and no poverty, this system would fail because no sane Swazi would willingly offer himself to be used to guard the royal family’s privileged position against members his own class and family.’
@SwaziMedia posted regular updates on the April 12 uprisings: The army were deployed along with the police in the capital Manzani; the University of Swaziland was closed down and 40 students on their way to the protests were briefly detained; a group of some 200 were picked up and dumped in a forest 100 km from the city with no transport to return; many leading activists were arrested and the police reportedly used rubber bullets, water cannons and teargas to disperse protestors.
The protests continued on Wednesday with an estimate of hundreds of people arrested.
@SwaziMedia: 'Pro-democracy activists estimate number of arrests so far in Swaziland to be in the hundreds.’
‘Swazi police hunt down and continue to brutalize democracy advocates’.
StiffKitten blogger Peter Kenworthy’s post on the Swazi protests further reinforce the understanding that the uprisings across the continent are self-identifying and self-organising, as, despite the arrest of the entire leadership including Mario Masuku of the banned People’s United Democratic Movement, the protests continued throughout 12 and into 13 April:
‘After the entire leadership of the Labour Coordinating Council was arrested, the labour unions simply continued with their protest as planned. When they entered the centre of Manzini city, ordinary people from all walks of life joined them to voice out their support for the uprising.
‘Swazi security forces are trying to shut down the uprising with water cannons, tear gas and random beatings and arrests, but have so far only managed to shut down Manzini’s shops and businesses. “Freedom Square [in Manzini, Swaziland"> is under siege by the state security forces. In fact there is no business in the city today,” said Thamsanca Tsabedze from the Foundation for Socio-Economic Justice.’
A really interesting development is a threat from COSATU (Congress of South African Trade Unions) [Video">, who marched on the Swazi border demanding the unbanning of political parties, the return of all opposition leaders in exile and media freedom. If their demands are not met they will blockade the border.
DJIBOUTI: WHY NO ONE CARES
Whilst the world was watching Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt and Libya, Djibouti had an election on 8 April. With no opposition, a state-controlled media and no civil society movement, it was easy enough for President Omar Guelleh to change the constitution allowing him to run for a third term – thereby continuing 35 year rule by the same family. But this little dictatorship is strategically central to the US Africa Command (2,000 US troops are based here) and the NATO countries. Unlike in Libya, Djibouti's 1 million population can expect no support from the West in their small attempts to have a voice.
ALGERIA HAS AWOKEN
@thanku4theangertweets on the awakening of Algeria: ‘Algeria has awoken. Allah Akbar! #Algeria #Libya #Feb17 #ُُEgypt #Jan25”
@zeggar: The Algerian #students break the forbidden and defeat the authority #Algeria http://bit.ly/i8Wwlw
MOROCCO: IS THE FEBRUARY 20 MOVEMENT STILL ALIVE?
Morocco has been quiet since the few days of protests in early February. There does not seem to be any real challenge to the King’s rule and the split in the movement is over the degree of constitutional change. Mostafa Chtaini writing on MoroccoBoard believes Morocco is different from other North African countries in that the King is working towards increasing the democratic process and creating a constitutional monarchy.
EGYPT: THE ARMY AND THE PEOPLE ARE NO LONGER ONE
Egypt’s revolution is far from over as protests now focus on the Supreme Military Council (SMC) who have become increasingly repressive since taking over from the Mubarak regime. Leil-Zahra Mortada recently reported on the passing of a draft law criminalising demonstrations:
‘The Egyptian cabinet approved today a draft law criminalizing “some strikes, sit-ins, demonstrations and gatherings” as a spokesperson said. This coming at a time when the Emergency Law enforced by the Mubarak regime is still active, and brutal crackdown on liberties is more than frequent. .........The cabinet affirmed the necessity of an immediate end of all demonstrations and strikes happening nationwide after they allegedly responded to a huge amount of the demands they received. (!!!!!!!) The statement also mentioned that the government is working to respond to the demands and concerns over“policies of employment and incomes”
In retrospect it is quite possible that their refusal to take action against the protesters during the initial demonstrations to remove President Murbarak was part of plan to take over the government themselves. On Friday, 8th April, hundreds of thousands including some rebel army officers, gathered in Tahrir Square calling for an end to the SMC. The army tried to disperse the demonstrators by blocking the streets and firing live ammunition into the air. The demonstrators fought back and have since returned to occupying Tahrir Square.
Egyptian Chronicles blog post ‘Tahrir is Officially Back’ describes the protests before the army attacks:
‘Today officially was the “The purification and trial Friday”, we are insisting of purifying the country from the old Mubarak’s regime remnants and the trial is a clear demand to start the trial of former President Mubarak Hosni. We want Hosni Mubarak to get a fair trial in front of the whole world.’
She also comments on the presence of some army officers who criticized General Tantawy, head of the army and deputy prime minister:
‘The young men attacked Tantawy and called for a presidential council which I refuse more and more “as the military representative will have the final word”. They went down and mingled with the public, they were small ranked officers, some said that they were fired while others said there were other officers were in the square without their uniform. Journalists spoke about that army officer who spoke enthusiastically to the public.’
‘At 3.20am, a huge number of army special forces (sa3ka) , military police and central state security (amn markzi) supported by 20-30 army armored vehicles and tanks stormed the square, thousands of rounds of ammunition have been used, soldiers beating and attacking the civilian demonstrators , some of them were families with children.
‘Many were injured and others got arrested and many others dispersed running for shelter in the roads around were the army had forces surrounding the main entrances, many ran to hide in buildings in the area.
‘The shooting continued till 5.20 am, off course everybody in the garden city area and down town area were awaken by the shooting sounds, and went to their windows and balconies to check it out , some got their window, or balcony ceiling or A/C shot at, in an attempt to scare them back inside.
‘Around 4am, the army seemed to be setting up the scene for their own spin on events. After they dispersed the protesters we saw them go into the square, break chairs and tables, and other items, basically destroying items , burning banners and tents and then we saw them step away from the broken items and bringing in their own camera and actually taking footage (not sure if it's video or photography) of the broken items.’
Democratizing Egypt summarises a lecture by Dr Amr Hamzawy on atmosphere of fear amongst young people and the need for a new political awareness in Egypt and the concerns:
‘“We must be organized as Egyptians. We need more knowledge about politics in Egypt. The youth should care about this. We need a lot of political awareness all over Egypt. Awareness, Awareness, Awareness. We have to create awareness to make people feel secure".
‘1. Make Egyptians Feel that they have freedom of choice
2. Social Media. We can use nontraditional media in an organized way to handle our fear. Discuss our fears in a written format, verbally, online.
3. Organize events like the one we are sitting in now. Encourage people to have events in the villages. Go outside Cairo, go outside Alexandria. Have an organization to teach people about democracy all over Egypt.
’Each person has his own society, his friends, his family, his mosque. Teach them. Some people are asking for things to calm down. [Tell them that we need to ask for our rights"> Discuss with family, neighbors. People are asking for their rights.’
The similarities between the Mubarak regime and the SMC were highlighted as the army attacked protestors, detained them and subjected them to military tribunals. Just days after the mass protest in Tahrir Square, Egyptian blogger, Maikel Nabil was sentenced to three years in prison by a military tribunal for criticising the army’s torture of revolutionaries.
@ghalyshafik: The sentence of #MaikelNabil is so disgusting. Reminds us all of mubarak days. #jan25 #egypt #tahrir
Blogger Abassiouny sets out the key reasons behind the revolution one of which was the demand for freedom of speech which is now worse than under Mubarak:
‘Back in Mubarak’s days, they would have to cook something up on the guy who pissed them off. For example, in Ayman Nour’s case, they had to cook some bogus fraud charges to give him a few years in jail, they couldn’t just straight up convict him of spreading “false” information about Mubarak’s regime’s corruption and all that.’
Finally the Egyptian Blog for Human Rights publishes a letter from the army to the Egyptian newspapers not to publish anything on the military:
‘On February 22, Gen. Ismail Etman, head of the Morale Affairs Directorate of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, sent a letter to editors of Egyptian newspapers telling them "not to publish any articles / news / press releases / complaints / advertising / pictures concerning the armed forces or the leadership of the armed forces, except after consulting the Morale Affairs directorate and the Military Intelligence since these are the competent parties to examine such issues to protect the safety of the nation.’
As of Wednesday 13 April, the arrest of protestors by the army in Tahrir Square continues:
@LeilZahra: ‘Leil-Zahra Mortada - back in the square. We r cordoned off the street. No explanation given.group of soldiers just walked by. Seems still Lookin for ppl#tahrir’
‘I just got a call from #tahrir. There is another wave of arrests. Call ppl u know there & tell them to get out.’
‘I'm already in adjacent streets, still running into soldiers with "civilians" they look like they r looking for someone.’
‘Speaking to a shop owner, he says he saw someone point people out. Saw ppl standing alone yet in the masses being fished out.’
Early Wednesday morning @SultanAlQassemi tweeted: ‘Breaking Al Jazeera: Husni Mubarak's two sons have been detained for 15 days for questioning.’
CÔTE D'IVOIRE: GBAGBO STRIPPED OF DIGNITY AND POWER
Captured dictators have a certain look. Disorientation, confusion, they are often caught in their underwear or looking wretched after days spent hiding in bunkers. Koluki’s post ‘When Dictatorship Falls from Grace’ pictures the transformation from bejewelled smiling dictator to pathetic man caught in his vest, ‘stripped of dignity, stripped of power’.
The capture of Laurent Gbagbo by French special forces is only the first step in ending five months of conflict. First there are disagreements on who really caught Gbagbo, the French in a ‘Neo-Colonialist Coup d’etat’, the UN or Alassane Ouattara’s forces and of course the question does it matter who was behind his capture?
‘So, what is the essence of sovereignty when it is increasingly being mocked by a so-called international community that only steals from Africans who cannot protect themselves? Under no circumstance must one nation use its military against another nation which is not at war with it. At least, this is the theory which the U.S., France and Britain have been so good at deriding.
‘Presently, French Special Forces are reported to have arrested the president of Ivory Coast, Laurent Gbagbo. The French News Agency reports that it was Alassane Ouattara's rebel forces that arrested President Gbagbo, but BBC's correspondent in Ivory Coast, Mark Doyle, believes the French military was in the lead’
However the French deny they were involved, claiming they only played a supportive role to Alassane Ouattara’s republican forces. President Sarkozy continues to show signs of megalomania in his self-important, self-assigned role of Africa’s saviour. NewsTime Africa reports that he has offered €400 million aid package to Cote d’Ivoire just 24 hours after the capture of Gbagbo.
Then there are various reports that the French committed crimes ‘against humanity’ in the process of capturing Gbagbo. There are also deep concerns on what happens to Gbagbo – will he be protected, arrested, tried for war crimes and if so by whom?
The UK Independent reports that the International Criminal Court (ICC) is set to investigate Laurent Gbagbo for war crimes. In an interview with CNN, Kenyan Prime Minister, Raila Odinga – who must be influenced by his personal friendship with Gbagbo – has asked he not be tried publicly by the ICC, the excuse being his trial might add to the existing religious and ethnic divisions. Clearly the conflict is far from over and there is much work needed to rebuild the country but dictators who commit war crimes and selfishly refuse to accept election results thereby causing the deaths of thousands of people must not be allowed to go free.
At the time of writing he remains in the Golf Hotel in Abidjan under UN protection. He has since called for his followers to lay down their arms and stop fighting and according to this report, some members of his militia have begun surrendering. Nonetheless there are probably thousands who remain armed.
Nii Akuetteh, African political analyst, provides an excellent historical analysis of the past four months war in the country. In this interview, he explains that fault-lines exist which can be traced back to colonial occupation and independence thereby making reconciliation extremely difficult.
Akuetteh emphasises that Gbagbo has used intimidation and xenophobia as a weapon against his enemies, and committed war crimes. At the same time, however there are suspicions that forces loyal to Ouattara have also committed war crimes against civilians.
As in many countries on the continent, explanations based on religion and ethnic differences and even settler communities, are insufficient and simplistic. They do not account, for example, for the struggle for access to land and employment – particularly in the cocoa farming sector, which is by far the largest resource-based occupation. All of these are further compounded by exploitative working conditions and poverty.
LIBYA: FRENCH AND BRITISH LOOK TO HUMANITARIAN AID
The French and British governments are discussing the possibility of intensifying the bombing campaign. Germany has opted out but says it will opt in again if the action is on ‘humanitarian’ grounds. How the word ‘humanitarian’ has been manipulated in the Libyan campaign! No doubt very much aware of this, Libyan twitter users have been highlighting Gaddafi forces’ attack on the city of Misurata:
@Liberty4Libya: ‘NATO, do Misurata school children have to go through min 4.45 http://goo.gl/1dWWT @NATO #Libya’
‘This is what happens to the children of Misurata if left to Gadafi (Carnage)http://goo.gl/1dWWT #Libya’
@ShabbaLibya: ‘Mass Peaceful Demos in ALL of #Libya at sunset on Thurs Apr 14th & Fri Apr 15th in support of all those kidnapped and killed by Gaddafi’
The French are complaining of NATO forces ‘not pulling their weight’ and President Sarkozy is due to meet British Prime Minister Cameron on 13 April for further talks. These two countries seem to be the only two seriously engaging with Libya.
@Liberty4Libya: ‘NATO allies not pulling their weight in Libya, should do more to destroy Gaddafi's forces - French minister’
Finally @EnoughGaddafi announces peaceful protests planned for 14 and 15 April.
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