The lack of media coverage on Côte d’Ivoire doesn't mean the situation has improved, writes Sokari Ekine, in this week’s review of protests across the continent, which also features Egypt, Libya, Mauritania and Zimbabwe.
Two African countries are presently on the verge of civil war. One is being reported minute by minute by international media, twitter and on blogs. The other is just beginning to emerge from the margins of international consciousness. Unlike Libya, Cote d’Ivoire has no strategic importance and the possible loss of its main resource – cocoa – doesn't have the world financial markets and governments in a panic.
But for Cote d’Ivoire’s subsistence cocoa pickers, farmers and the country’s economy, cocoa is a lifesaver and very much worth fighting over. Alassane Ouattara had called for a temporary ban on cocoa sales in the hope this would force Gbagbo out of office. In response, Laurent Gbagbo has now ordered the government to seize control of all cocoa purchases and exports. Cocoa prices in Nigeria and San Tome have risen in the past few months and no doubt these countries will benefit from Cote d’Ivoire’s loss.
In a further escalation of the attacks on Ouattara and his supporters, the UK Guardian reports that gangs of youths have ‘ransacked’ the homes of ministers and other allies of President Alassane Ouattara who remains under UN protection as Laurent Gbagbo seems to be determined to take the country to civil war.
Last Friday, six women were killed and many more were injured by forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo. This was not the first time that the women, supporters of Alassane Ouattara, had demonstrated peacefully and there was no reason to think that they would be shot at. IPS reports:
‘Sirah Drane, 41, who helped organise the march, said she was holding a megaphone, preparing to address the large crowd, when she saw tanks arriving.
‘"There were thousands of women," she said. "And we said to ourselves, 'They won't shoot at women.' ... I heard a boom. They started spraying us. ... I tried to run and fell down. The others trampled me. Opening fire on unarmed women? It's inconceivable."’
Local media are reporting the killings differently. Soir Info reports the women were ‘female militants’ who clashed with ‘Defense and Security Forces’. Notre Voie [pro Gbagbo"> reports the ‘entire story is nothing but subterfuge to disparage the Gbagbo administration’.
The killings finally elicited a response from the US via Twitter from State Department spokesperson, PJ Crowley. Personally I think such a terrible event deserves more than a Twitter response from the US State Department, though Hilary Clinton later came out with a statement condemning the killings – but nothing as yet from President Obama.
The AU has proved itself to be completely inept and irrelevant to the continent’s crisis – possibly because many of the heads of state are themselves shaking in their boots at the thought of their own masses taking to the streets. The five mediators – Abdel Aziz (Mauritania), Jakaya Kikwete (Tanzania), Jacob Zuma (South Africa), Blaise Compaore (Burkina Faso) and Idriss Deby (Chad) – produced a third report, dated 7 March. They talk of shock at the situation and urge restraint from all parties – the usual meaningless niceties.
One response to the panel statement is scathing and likens the panel’s intervention to that of the US appointing itself mediator in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict:
‘That AU has expressed non-negotiable support for the foreign bin Ouattara and his band of rebels against President Gbagbo and the Ivorians in the unfortunate saga unfolding in the land of Ivory Coast.
‘What do we have here: A belligerent party in the conflict insists that the rival party in the belligerence must meet it on its turf - on its terms. What can you make of the waste of time and resources? ......The charade here reminds one of the spectacle of the USA appointing itself a mediator in the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel/USA. is it a wonder that "peace" remains elusive in that case? [Rather, Israel/USA party in the belligernce does NOT really desire 'peace' in that conflict. Belligerence and war are -desirable to USA/Europe (as a way of keeping resource-rich Arab/Palestinian countries destabilized while shipping crude and buying arms from the west) and a lucrative lifeline to resource-poor shrill Israel ..">’
A friend suggested one of the reasons for the lack of media attention on Cote d’Ivoire was due to the limited number of Twitter users and other social media in the country. This may influence the type and amount of information coming out of the country, but it is certainly not a reason for the lack of media coverage. One active Twitter account is that of Toussaint Alain, an aid to Laurent Gbagbo, who in one tweet accuses Ouattara of engaging in ‘satanic rituals in the service of political ambition’:
‘Alassane Ouattara ou la politique des corps brûlés. Rituels sataniques au service d'une ambition politique.’
Another, @marticotivoir writes he hopes the country does not descend into another Rwanda:
‘ne laissons pas la Côte d'Ivoire partir en vrille et devenir demain le Rwanda de l'Afrique de l'Ouest. pardon, LMpistes, réagissez’
It is becoming impossible to keep up with Tweets from Libya and Egypt. Al Jazeera has created a special Twitter dashboard which illustrates the numbers. On Monday 7 March, there were 1,391 for Egypt and 2,933 for Libya. Below is a brief roundup of North African bloggers.
Arabawy reports on the various protests across Egypt by workers calling for the removal of institutional ‘dictators’ including the offices of the State Security. He also reports on army ‘thugs’ attacking protestors trying to storm the Ministry of Interior – home of the state security forces. Revolutionaries found thousands of files on citizens kept by the SS.
Egyptian Chronicles writes about the ‘Night the Capital of Hell Fell Down’:
‘As I hinted in the previous two posts about Alexandria SS HQ and 6th of October SS HQ, protesters decided to protest only at the Nasr City SS HQ at 4 PM especially after knowing that the officers there are systematically getting rid from documents that can incriminate them. Some people say that the shredding and burning documents process started with the resignation of Shafik and the collapse of his cabinet while others say that that this systematic process was taking place since the fall of Habib Al Adly and his men.’
Alive in Egypt follows this up with a call on the military to stop those attempting to burn the archives of the Hosni Mubarak regime:
‘I call upon the high council of the military forces to fight firmly against all unlawful elements that attempts to burn the archives/records, the archives/records of the corrupt, defunct government. I wish that the military forces would take a firm stance against these individuals even if they were amongst the unlawful police officers and others who are trying to cover up what their hands and the hands of the previous government committed, even if this requires that portions of Egypt’s reserve army be summoned. Egypt has a huge defensive, reserved force. It is upon the military and the high council the summoning of half the reserves that will be able to maintain security, to help the army maintain order, and to render judgment upon all those acting in unlawful manners, even if they were amongst the corrupt police officer forces which frowns at the security and order of Egypt.’
In Libya, UNHCR reports of continued threats and attacks against migrant workers from south of the Sahara. Colonel Gaddafi along with Morocco’s King Abdullah had both made deals with Italy and Spain respectively to police the movement of African and Asian migrant workers. In Spain this meant that those trying to get to Spain had to take the longer and much more dangerous boat route from Mauritania to Spain. There was a case in 2005 when some 500 migrants were dumped in the Sahara without food and water by Moroccan police. This one case was exposed but I dont think it is unreasonable to suspect that this was not the first. In Libya, migrants who were caught have been imprisoned in the south of the country in horrendous conditions. In these circumstances one has to consider Europe’s desperation to secure her borders as a motive behind any support for the revolutionaries in Libya.
Pan African News [Gerald Perreira"> posts the only article I have read which is sympathetic to Muammar Gaddafi’s ‘counter-revolutionary revolt’. He criticises what he calls the ‘Westoxicated analysts who have nothing but a Eurocentric perspective to draw on’. Some of the questions he raises need to be considered but this does not in my mind equate with supporting a man who has been in power for 40 years and has made deals with Europe to oppress and torture fellow Africans. As I understand it ‘Jamahiriya’ was supposed to mean the people’s democracy. Somewhere along the way this has disappeared. Some of the questions are: If unemployment in Libya is 30 per cent why are there so many foreign workers? The writer states that ‘there are many complexities to the current situation’. So why does he take such a simplistic view of migrant workers and levels of unemployment?
He questions the view that the ‘revolt’ is due to economic reasons because:
‘…the country has the “highest standard of living in Africa” “the young people are well dressed, well fed and well educated”...Every Libyan gets free, and often excellent, education, medical and health services. New colleges and hospitals are impressive by any international standard. All Libyans have a house or a flat, a car and most have televisions, video recorders and telephones. Compared with most citizens of the Third World countries, and with many in the First World, Libyans have it very good indeed.’
This may well be true but it goes to show that people want and need to feel they have some control over their lives – that they can voice their opinions freely and be a part of the political process. That they can decide how their communities are run.
What is really baffling is the writer goes on to name some of the titles bestowed on Gaddafi by other Africans such as ‘King of Kings’, ‘Brother Leader’, ‘Guide of the Revolution’ as evidence of his ‘revolutionary’ credentials and role as speaker of Africa. Building a grassroots movement with dictators and rulers at the top is not my idea of a people’s revolutionary democracy and is hardly moving towards radical transformation.
Finally he goes on to state that the mercenaries fighting for Colonel Gaddafi are actually ‘freedom fighters’ – they fight ‘to defend Gaddafi and the Libyan revolution’. This I really find hard to believe. If Gaddafi was so altruistic why has he acted as a proxy policeman for Europe? Why has he imprisoned thousands of Nigerian and other West African migrants in roasting boxes in the southern Sahara? As ‘Africa’s King of Kings’ why did he not embrace these migrants and let them enjoy the revolutionary gains of Libya?
Possibly this quote made last year by the revolutionary Colonel explains why (UK Guardian):
‘We don't know what will be the reaction of the white and Christian Europeans faced with this influx of starving and ignorant Africans,’ the Libyan leader told a Rome meeting attended by Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister. ‘We don't know if Europe will remain an advanced and united continent or if it will be destroyed, as happened with the barbarian invasions.’
Of course it is not beyond the realms of possibility that he was misquoted. The writer is right to be skeptical of a Eurocentric analysis but the narrative of present day Gaddafi as revolutionary King of Africa is equally questionable. Criticism of Gaddafi’s regime is not an endorsement of US and European policies towards Africa especially when we consider militarisation polices such as AFRICOM, ‘no-fly zones’ and Europe’s anti-immigration policies. It’s not an either or. Their rhetoric on democratisation is hypocrisy as the last outcome the US and Europe hope for is one where countries are no longer controlled by the dictates of the west.
The Arabist posts an informative graphical representation of the ‘social and power networks around Muammar a-Qadhafi’. It’s a work in progress and will be updated as more information becomes available. He also posts a similar one showing the Egyptian Military Council.
The Moor Next Door reports on Mauritania, where the organisers of the recent protests have published a list of seven demands on Facebook. (Read the blog post for a fuller explanation.)
‘The evacuation of the military [back"> to its noble mission and its removal [withdrawal"> from politics.
The true and complete separation of powers: legislative, judicial and executive.
The strengthening of national unity and the establishment of a national agency to fight against slavery and its legacy.
Radical constitutional changes to include the reform of the electoral system.
The reform and effective implementation of the Transparency Act.
The abolition of the post of “Hakem” and the granting of administrative powers to elected mayors.
The election of directors in audiovisual facilities and major state institutions and their non-appointment or dismissal by the unilateral decision of the President.’
39 of the 45 social justice activists have been released from Mugabe’s prison and the campaign to release the remaining six who are charged with treason continues. The six detained are: Gender activist Antonater Choto, Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU) leaders Welcome Zimuto and Eddson Chakuma, Labour activist Tatenda Mombeyarara, International Socialist Organisation co-ordinator and labour lawyer Munyaradzi Gwisai, and Anti-Debt Campaigner Hopewell Gumbo.
Anarkismo has posted an update as follows:
‘…the legal rights of the six are already being violated and they are being severely punished before the court has ruled guilt or not. The men have been placed in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day and are allowed out in two 30 minute sessions a day. The women are being subjected to hard labour. Even the state prosecutor conceded that solitary confinement and hard labour were a serious violation of the activists’ rights (but denied the allegations).
‘But the state itself is showing signs of the campaign’s pressure. The magistrate has said of the remaining 6 that the discussion by Gwisai, Choto, Gumbo, Zimuto, Mombeyarara and Chakuma focusing on the possibility of doing what had been done in Egypt in Zimbabwe was not just “idle talk” but there was a conspiracy. Yet the Magistrate said the report of the State’s one witness (a police officer who attended the meeting surreptitiously and who had allegedly observed all the 45 suspects committing the offence) was fictitious.’
Never deterred, WOZA (Women and Men of Zimbabwe Arise) arose on Monday 7 March in five separate protests against the continued arrest and torture of their members, as well as an early celebration of International Womens Day:
‘Higher numbers of riot police were deployed at the previous target of WOZA protests – The Chronicle. However they quickly heard the loud singing and ran up several city blocks to respond. The song that carried a strong message – Kubi kubi siyaya – noma kunjani – besitshaya; besibopha; besidubula, siyaya. Roughly translated “the situation is bad but we will still get where we are going, even if the beats us, arrest us, or shoot to kill us, we will get there”. One police officer ordering one of the protests to disperse said – what rights are you talking about? – you are lying, you want to start a revolution!
‘After they dispersed the protests, about 40 uniformed and plain clothed police officers picked up every single placard and newsletter, exposing two of their colleagues who had tortured members. One police officer came across a man holding the placard. He asked the man to show him it and asked why he was writing on it. The man said he needs scrap paper to write something down. The officer took it and proceeded to carefully fold this A2 size placard into the smallest piece imaginable and put it in his pocket telling the man, holding such a thing is not allowed.’
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* Sokari Ekine blogs at Black Looks.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.
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