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This week’s roundup of the African blogosphere focuses on the departure of Tunisian dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali following popular uprising on the streets of Tunis, and exiled Jean-Claude ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier’s mysterious return to Haiti.

Last Friday Tunisian dictator, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali who has ruled for the past 23 years, fled the country on 14 January following a popular uprising on the streets of Tunis and to a lesser extent in cyberland. He is now hiding in Saudia Arabia, a country he should feel comfortable in, given its own history of repression and censorship. Over in Haiti, ex-dictator Jean-Claude ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier, who fled the country for exile in France in 1986, returned on Sunday night. Both dictators have much in common: A dictatorship of repression and intimidation maintained by a much-feared personal police force; the murder of thousands of people – the figure for the Duvaliers is some 60,000 – thousands of people disappeared; millions of US dollars stolen from the public purse; supported by the West until it was untenable; and subsequently given lodgings along with their stolen millions. (The Swiss government has just opened an enquiry into Ben Ali’s stash following two official complaints).

Both events have been covered extensively in on Twitter and to a lesser extent on Facebook and blogs; already there has been a great deal of hype about Tunisia being a ‘social media’ revolution. Yes, minute by minute updates of the protests were tweeted, videoed and Facebooked, but the uprising took place on the streets not in cyberland. What social media/citizens journalism has done is to enable those on the ground to publish reports in real time, globalising the uprisings and events and in that way encouraging more Tunisians to join the protests, as well as influence the view among the ‘international community’ that his leadership was no longer tenable. It has also put other Arab dictators on notice and no doubt given great encouragement to those living under other repressive Arab and African leaderships.

Please note, events in both Tunisia and Haiti are moving so fast with hour-by-hour changes so some of these reports may well be history by the time they are published.

Egyptian blogger Arabawy posts a series of links to stories on the ‘domino effect’ of the Tunisian revolution:

‘“Neoliberalism on the retreat” [in the Arab world">; “Omanis protest high cost of living and corruption”; “Protests by opposition parties and trade unions on food prices hikes in Jordan”; “Overthrow delivers a jolt to Arab region” and on Egypt: We all feel it in the air” - Mubarak must be especailly worried given the high level of political protest in Egypt both on the streets and online......

‘Mubarak must be extremely worried at the moment. He’s old, in a bad shape, and is expected to die at any moment. Is his son ready for succession? My answer is no. The whole establishment must be shaking, and I’m sure there are all sorts of emergency plans being put in place to rescue our royal family if an uprising takes place similar to the one in Tunisia (or in Egypt ’77). I’m sure everyone at the top is trembling. And for a good reason. The Egyptian people will revolt. And when they do they will show our Ben Alis no mercy for the crimes they’ve committed over the past three decades.”

A Moroccan about the world around him points out that Ben Ali has left but RCD (Constitutional Democractic Rally) remains in tact:
‘Thousands have been arrested and tortured in the past four weeks in accordance with orders given not by Ben Ali, but by military and police generals and political officials in the RCD. Ben Ali has left, but it is hardly the death knell of graft, fraud, political elitism, and economic austerity; these will still be deeply rooted in Tunisia as long as the RCD remains a political juggernaut.’

Tunisian blog portal Nawaat has the most comprehensive timeline of events over the past month, including the changes in leadership since Ben Ali fled. For example this post suggests the appointment of Foued Mebazaa as interim president may be unconstitutional:

‘Dès lors l’investiture de M. Foued MOBAZZA, comme président par Intérim parait constitutionnellement comme entachée d’illégalité.
Il ne fait aujourd’hui qu’occuper, voire squatter le pouvoir faute d’avoir été régulièrement investi de la fonction exécutive.
J’ajoute que la défaillance du Conseil Constitutionnel est d’autant plus consternante qu’elle procède d’une manœuvre intentionnelle, destinée à détourner les dispositions relatives à la durée de l’Intérim prévues par l’article 57 de la Constitution et limitée à une période de 45 jours au moins ou 60 Jours au plus.
Il est en définitive, pour le moins extraordinaire que les commensaux du régime de BEN ALI se sont révélé jusqu’au bout incapables de respecter une procédure constitutionnelle instituée par des textes qu’ils ont eux même confectionné à leurs seules mesures et voté dans des conditions exemptes de tout débat démocratique.
Aussi, la Tunisie se retrouve aujourd’hui dans une impasse constitutionnelle et un vide politique au sommet de l’Etat.
En effet M. Foued MOBAZZA n’est en fait qu’un simple occupant du pouvoir sans aucune légitimité constitutionnelle.
Je me bornerai ici dans cette analyse, à énumérer les différentes solutions juridiques envisageables pour sortir de cette crise constitutionnelle et je laisse le soin aux forces politiques tunisiennes et au peuple tunisien de réfléchir et choisir la voie politique de sortie de crise.” Ahmed MAALEJ, Tunisian Lawyer in Paris’

Ben Ali has fled but this is just the beginning and Tunisians must continue to keep up the pressure as Kabobfest points out in ‘Tunis... And the Looming Darkness’:

‘What happened in Tunisia on January 14th, was not the collapse of the regime but fleeing of its face.

‘Ben Ali’s fled because the army genenerals refused to obey a direct order to fire on the protestors. Without the army backing his reign was no longer tenable but what about the system that he had put in place since many of the Ben Ali government, including Prime Minister, Mohammed Al-Ghannouchi who aassumed power [for a whole 24 hours">, remain in government?

‘The quick take-over of Ghannouchi led the West, especially the United States and France, to immediately embrace the revolution and applaud the people’s right to self-determination for freedom and democracy, trying to force down people’s throats that this struggle for freedom was somehow about dethroning one man from power. Of course, one could argue that the West couldn’t respond in any other way in the face of a social movement with this magnitude. After all, Ben Ali and his policies have been approved of and applauded for thirty years by the United States and France in particular, citing the Tunisian setup as the best model for the Arab World to follow, with international reports mainly from entities like the World Bank, cheering the economic success. That is precisely because Tunisia has represented, for the last decade, one of the greatest models of the World-Bank/IMF design for what a neo-liberal capitalist society should look like, which is to say maximizing free trade in all sectors. That means, you open up Tunisia for giant transnational corporations to penetrate its markets, crushing all local competition in the process, where the Tunisian people are ultimately transformed from mass producers to mass consumers, unemployed and dependent on World Bank and IMF grants and loans for sustained consumption.’

Recommendations for Twitter users to follow are Tunisians @ifikra, @nawaat @yassayari and Egyptians @waelabbas @alaa @mashahed

In Haiti events are changing so fast that by the time this is published, Duvalier maybe back in France, or he might be in prison, or he may have escaped to the Dominican Republic – in short anything could have happened. The tweets began appearing on Sunday evening and have not stopped since, giving a minute by minute account of Duvalier’s arrival, waving from the Hotel Karibe, scheduled press conferences which were both cancelled, and, as I write now, on his way to the court house in a prison vehicle. This follows a report on Radio Caraibes that the Justice Department was meeting to decide if Baby Doc should be arrested.

@KatOnEarth: “Duvalier is in a Nissan Patrol with police, led by the prison transport vehicle, headed to courthouse- Tues, 18 Jan 12.23.
@public_archive: “Jean-Claude ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier arrested -12.23
@HaitianIntoProj: “Duvalier supporters are blocking the street to the hotel and screaming angrily. 12.24

@delapour inserts some humour into all of this with: Next on As #Haiti Turns:Clinton is arrested 4 destroying Haitian agriculture & forcing thousands 2 move to PAP causing them to die in the EQ - 12.14

@kiskeacity: Baby Doc' #Duvalier charged with corruption in Haiti #BabyDoc 17.11
@karljeanjunne: It's over (for today at least.) #BabyDoc is leaving the court and heading back to the hotel. #Haiti - 17.19

@ezilidanto: #Haiti government refuses to renew the passport of Aristide - 18.56

@Renewal4haiti: If indeed the int'l community is playing games with #Préval, that would be a way out of left-field reaction. #Haiti - 20.33

Blogger and freelance journalist, Media Hacker turned to the Wikileaks report ‘Rice and Brazil agree to keep Aristide out, South Africa says it will prevent him from influencing politics’ and ‘Excerpts and link to full cable on Aristide, MINUSTAH, gangs.’

Media Hacker who produces the best reports from Haiti, has an excellent timeline of ‘Haiti’s Disastrous 2010’:

‘For me, something that stands out is the number of times the UN indicates an understanding of humanitarian failures but seemingly ignores suggestions from others on how to do better – for example, that it do a better job of including Haitians and civil society in decision-making.’

On the arrival of Baby Doc, Ezili Danto trys unravel the mystery of who is behind his return, why and so on (note this post was written on Sunday 16 January). She makes the excellent point that:

‘If Air-France wanted to bring in Osama Bin Laden into Haiti, how could Haitians stop it?

‘I noted on my arrival in Port-au-Prince that no one is turned away from Haiti - it’s doors are open to anyone no matter how fraudulent their creditentials. Haiti is not under the control of Haitians. For millions of Haitians in the country and in the Diaspora, the return of Jean-Claude Duvalier has brought back horrific memories of brutality and terror for those who lived under the Duvalier dictatorships. It amounts yet another assault on the people. Earthquake, floods, cholera, fraudlent farcical elections, protests, the anniversary of the earthquake and now the return of Baby Doc. A great many people knew he was arriving Sunday night. Someone started videoing the landing of the Air France plane which brought him. He was met at the airport and the arrivals hall was full of press. The police escort and his supporters were outside waiting. Yes, they could have gathered in the time it took for those in the airport to spread the news but the media and police must have been ready.

‘To add to the confusion the OAS have recommended that Michel Martelly take the place of Jude Celestine in the run off against Mirlande Maniga whilst the CEP [Electorical council"> continue to maintain that Celestine is the run off candidate not Martelly. One cannot be sure and speculation is rife but I am not of the firm belief that President Preval is behind this or even knew of it, at least not until the last minute. One possibility is that Duvalier supporters have taken the opportunity provided by the chaos and dysfunctional government of the past 12 months to bring him back with the intention of causing further instability and therefore the possible election of their candidate. One thing is sure, whatever is taking place is not in the interest of the millions of ordinary Haitians who have borne the violence of the past 12 months.’

Finally Black Looks writes about the organisation SOIL, whose founder she met whilst in Haiti, and which is installing compost toilets in Cap Haitian and Port-au-Prince:

‘The philosophy behind SOIL which they describe as ”liberation ecology” is
dedicated to protecting soil resources, empowering communities and transforming wastes into resources in Haiti. We believe that the path to sustainability is through transformation, of both disempowered people and discarded materials, turning apathy and pollution into valuable resources. SOIL promotes integrated approaches to the problems of poverty, poor public health, agricultural productivity, and environmental destruction. We attempt to nurture collective creativity through developing collaborative relationships between community organizations in Haiti and academics and activists internationally Empowering communities, building the soil, nourishing the grassroots.’


* Sokari Ekine blogs at Black Looks.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.