‘Three months ago Gaddafi was a friend, today he is the leader of a pariah and failed state.’ As the US, France and Britain pursue military action to remove Libya’s Gaddafi from power, Sokari Ekine has her doubts that it is democracy they are supporting. (Plus updates from Swaziland, Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Uganda and Kenya).
Last week Barack Obama, Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron resorted to the usual Machiavellian tactics in their joint statement to pursue military action in the removal of Colonel Gaddafi – deception, misinformation, hypocrisy. Three months ago Gaddafi was a friend, today he is the leader of a pariah and failed state. Calling Libya a ‘failed state’ is like the kettle calling the pot black. Libya has the highest standard of living in Africa and unlike the US or UK, it has a high standard of healthcare, education and social infrastructure. As Noam Chomsky comments, the US is fast becoming a failed state – a danger to its own people – as the 45 million Americans living in poverty will attest too. In the US people die from a lack of adequate public services such as healthcare, and a racialised unjust criminal justice system. Homelessness is rampant and millions live in sub-standard housing and with hunger.
True, serious human rights violations and horrible things are happening in parts of Libya. But US forces continue to commit atrocities and massacres in Afghanistan and northern Pakistan. In Yemen, security forces kill unarmed people almost daily as President Saleh insists on staying in power – and the US is happy with this. In Bahrain, US-backed Saudi troops shoot on protestors. What makes Libya so special that it needs the ‘three terrors’ to defend it with the aim of regime change?
Given the recent revelations in the UK Independent exposing the link between corporate oil interests and the invasion of Iraq I have a number of questions for Obama, Sarkozy and Cameron: Can you confirm or deny whether you have had any conversations with each other and or with oil company CEOs in the past three years concerning Libyan oil? Can you confirm or deny whether you had any conversations on the deployment of special forces in Libya prior to 1 January 2011, in which oil and regime change were discussed?
Even in those countries where the US and its allies have claimed to support the uprisings such as Egypt and Tunisia, it is notable that to date, although the dictators have gone, the regimes remain in charge – so for the US little has changed. In a recent interview, Michel Collon of InvestigAction discusses US strategies in Africa. One of those strategies is the military occupation of Africa through AFRICOM. From this position it is clear that the propaganda of the ‘theatre of Libya’ has huge significance, as it offers access to a country that intersects with Europe [NATO">, the Middle East and Africa – and one that has oil.
‘It is not true they are supporting democracy – it’s a comedy. They like dictators when they obey them and they hate dictators when those dictators want to be independent’.
SWAZILAND: THE BEGINNING OF THE END
Swazi human rights lawyer, Thulani Maseko gave a short interview [Video"> which goes a long way to understanding the political history of Swaziland and how the country came to this moment.
Writing in the Daily Maverick, Manqoba Nxumalo describes the Swazi uprisings as falling far short of expectations given the nature and sustainability of those in north Africa. I disagree. Uprisings cannot be compared or set against one another but must be seen within their own regional and national politics and history.
Nxumalo criticises the ‘progressives’ for announcing the day of protests, saying this allowed the state to organise and unleash a violent response and for being ‘cry babies’ expecting the world to come to their assistance. I think these criticisms are harsh, but clearly the organisers have much to reflect on and lessons to learn if they wish to continue the change they have started. The Swazi police have been brutal in their attacks on the protestors even before 12 April, which may explain the low turnout on the day – but I doubt that has tempered the will of the organisers.
Stiff Kitten’s Peter Kenworthy reports that Swaziland’s Foundation for Economic Justice ‘aims to build a mass-based democratic force through civic education on democracy and rights.’ From their perspective the protests were a beginning of a change in the country:
‘“People are still seething and calling for regime change. They have been driven back to their places by fear, but are still continuing with activities and programmes aimed at rendering government ungovernable,” Tsabedze insists....The democratic movement has learnt a valuable lesson in the last couple of days, he says, especially about having to expect the worst from an increasingly desperate regime. “I think in the future the democratic movement will have to ensure that the information machinery is well oiled and that people are well mobilized and ready for any challenge.”
‘Maxwell Dlamini, one of the organisers of the protests and President of the Swaziland National Union of Students has been arrested and tortured and forced to sign a statement admitting to the possession of explosives. There is an ongoing campaign for his release. Meanwhile there are rumours that King Mswati is on his way to the Kings wedding in London taking with him 50 people at a cost of some $600 per night.’
In neighbouring Cote d’Ivoire, witnesses to some of the massacres are beginning to speak about what happened. One of those cities was Bloléquin where on 30 March, an unknown number of people were murdered. Below is an account from a young man who survived:
‘His father came to Bloléquin from Burkina Faso 20 years ago. The family worked on a cocoa plantation. Seated near Marc were other survivors – all with bandages covering gunshot wounds, including his father and a 10-year-old child who was shot in the face; a bandage covered part of the boy’s mouth but one could see from his eyes he was smiling.
‘“Begging for mercy”
‘“We were sleeping - it was about 4am,” Marc told IRIN. “There was fighting when the Forces Nouvelles [FN, pro-Ouattara soldiers"> came to the town, then the FN withdrew and pro-Gbagbo groups took over. They came to the sub-prefecture building [where we had sought refuge from our nearby village weeks earlier">. They were saying they’d heard some foreigners were there and they ordered us all out.
‘“Everyone was afraid and crammed into a hallway. A group of men behind us were forcing us forward towards an exit but people stopped; they were afraid because in front too there were armed men. I and some others slipped into rooms off the hallway to hide. Some of my family members were lying in the hallway and bodies just kept falling on them.
‘“All I heard was gunfire, screaming and crying. People were begging for mercy. Those who were shooting said nothing - they just fired and fired. Those attacking us were Gbagbo’s militia and Liberians Gbagbo deployed in the country.
‘“Once the armed groups left, the FN came to the sub-prefecture building and they hollered: ‘Are there any survivors?’ That’s when we got up and they told us to start walking; they would pick us up in a vehicle. We started to walk. We walked to Toulepleu [65km away">. Our feet, our entire bodies hurt. Then the FN came, put us in a vehicle and took us here to Danané and helped us get medical care.
‘“A number of people survived. Some have returned to Burkina, others to Mali. We are just here, waiting. We’ve got nothing. Everything we ever had we left behind. But we hear that there are Guéré [an ethnic group who survivors say are allied to the attackers"> around Bloléquin, in the bush, armed. They are still there.”’
Since the November 2010 elections the conflict has displaced an estimated one million Ivorians. There are at least 100,000 refugees on the western border and Liberia and possibly up to 2000 on the eastern and Ghanaian border. Aconerly Coleman explains on her blog, the economic impact of the conflict on the country and region. Seasonal migrant workers from neighbouring countries, face unemployment which is exacerbated by xenophobic attacks from supporters of Laurant Gbagbo.
68 per cent of Ivorinan workers are in the agricultural sector – bananas, palm kernels, sugar, cotton, rubber, timber, corn, coffee and cocoa make up 40 per cent of GDP.
‘Côte D‘Ivoire is the world‘s number one producer of cocoa. Since the election on 28 November, about 475,000 tons of cacao beans have been placed in storage due to a ban on shipments by Ouattara and European Union sanctions. In the first week of March, Gbagbo nationalized the cocoa industry, imposing an export tax. Meanwhile, smuggling of cocoa beans into neighboring Ghana has continued in spite of the power struggle between Laurent Gbagbo and Allasane Outtara and their respective allies.
‘The cessation of corn exports from Côte D‘Ivoire to Niger would further undermine Nigeriens‘ weak food security – especially if corn harvests and exports from Nigeria, Benin, Ghana and Burkina Faso are decreased this year due to drought. Niger‘s food security and high unemployment rates are pre-existing driving factors for transnational immigration within West Africa. The potential food insecurity and food inflation would only exacerbate the food crisis that affects Nigeriens.’
NIGERIA: DESPITE A SUCCESSFUL ELECTION, THINGS BEGIN TO FALL APART
Amnesty International had reported over 100 election related deaths prior to the elections on 11 April, including three children. In Nassarawa State security forces fired at anti-government demonstrators killing two children; the All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) candidate for Governor and seven others including one child were killed outside a mosque in Maiduguri, Borno State; a political candidate and MOSOP activist was murdered in Eleme, Rivers State; other political candidates were killed in Niger, Ebonyi and Lagos States. Despite these deaths, the country – as represented on Twitter, Facebook, Nigerian blogs and by pundits – was optimistic and expressed the belief that something significant had changed in Nigeria. For once Nigeria had managed to hold ‘free and fair’ elections. Yes there were reports of rigging and even a video showing one woman in rigging action, disappearing ballot boxes later found in people homes and such, but on the whole both the National Assembly and Presidential elections so far are relatively free of widespread fraud - most of which took place in the Niger Delta including the President’s home state,
For Blogger Akin Akintayo the changes were many:
‘There are so many subtle changes too, godfathers are not delivering their constituencies like before, people are not selling their votes, the one-party state is being rolled back and even INEC; the Independent National Electoral Commission has revamped its website. There is change happening in Nigeria, but not like many had expected to see.’
Tolu Ogunlesi of NEXT described the change as:
‘…an “awareness-transformation” on the part of citizens. Various interlinked factors including technology (mobile phones, social networking, a computerised voter database), the 2008 Barack Obama story (of change, and limitless possibilities), the North African uprisings and a general yearning for good leadership after 12 unimpressive years of civilian rule have combined to enlighten, inspire and empower Nigerians and to transform their understanding of what genuine democracy is all about (power in the hands of the people).’
But not everyone was elated or convinced of any change and rightly so. After all Goodluck Jonathan represents nothing more than a continuum of Olusegun Obasanajo’s presidency, which was in itself a continuation of militarised rule dressed up in a fraudulent democracy. Ike Okonta’s article on Pambazuka on ‘The death of progressive politics in Nigeria’ holds true and we should not be delusional on the basis of a slightly less fraudulent election process.
This 11-year old’s take on one of the major candidates speaks volumes:
In the 24 hours prior to the presidential elections, tweeters began reporting outbreaks of violence in parts of the Niger Delta. 24 hours after the polls closed, reports of outbreaks of violence in the north of the country began to emerge. Supporters of the CPC candidate Mohammed Buhari, took to the streets in Kaduna, Sokoto, Gombe, Bauchi and Kano. Already claims of figures as high as 48,000 people have been displaced in Bauchi and slowly numbers of wounded and dead are being reported. Although Buhari has condemned the actions of his supporters, he has also lodged a complaint stating the results were false and claims he has evidence of rigging which is bound to fuel the violence.
The use of the #NigeriaUprising hastag on Twitter to describe the protests on the street is an interesting one. It marks a departure from previous violence which has been rightly or wrongly depicted as being driven by the violence of poverty in the form of religious and ethnic prejudices. Tatalo Alamu takes an almost biblical approach by warning of the wrath to come which should leave the Northern elite – political and traditional leaders shaking in their sandals.
‘This is not an exultant crowd waiting for a political emancipator. This is a traumatized mob waiting for a messiah. There is a feral frenzy to these fellows; there is the manic glint of the politicized fanatic in their eyes; there is an all consuming raw anger which is implacable in its thirst for vengeance; there is a wild and merciless ruthlessness of resolve which does not recognize the template and rubric of law and order, or its corollary of logic and rationality.......... But the rest of the country must also fear. .... Because of its traumatized antecedents and psychic disposition, this crowd is not rooting for a political saviour but its anointed messiah.’
Blogger Sulieman takes a similar but less dramatic view.
‘…the targets of the uprising are the so-called leaders in the North – the political, military and business elite as well the traditional institutions that have held the region back and truncated any attempt to educate the people and free them from the yolk of illiteracy and poverty. In the same manner that sit tight rulers in North Africa and the Middle East are being toppled by popular movements in the Arab Spring uprisings, the protests in northern Nigeria can be viewed as rebellion against a backward and anachronistic feudal system.’
The north of Nigeria has been living in a political, social and economic wilderness submissive to ancient feudal system of wealth and patronage. “Nigeria: A nation divided” is a visual representation of the inequalities across the country [Via Akin"> The masses have had enough and in the minds of many, Mohammed Buhari spelled that hope which is now dashed.
- BURKINA FASO: Army mutiny continues
Police joined army officers in a mass protest against the government of Blaise Compaore. Traders burned down government buildings and ten of thousands of Burkinabes demonstrated in cities across the country.
- UGANDA: Ugandan government closes down Twitter and Facebook following anti-government protests led by opposition leader Kizza Besigye.
- KENYA: Protests against rising food prices.
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