Is It Spring Again?


March 25, 2019

The source of the article: Slate

Don’t look now, but a wave of youth-driven pro-democracy movements is having an impact across Africa.

There is something going on across Africa. While the world’s media has been focused on the U.S.–North Korea nuclear talks or the tumult in Venezuela, two of the world’s longest-standing dictators decided to take a step back from forthcoming elections amid mass protests.

This marks what many believe to be a new era in two large and geopolitically important countries. The protests surprised the international community and observers of Algerian and Sudanese politics, as the countries had largely avoided the mass rallies held across the Middle East and North Africa during the Arab Spring in 2011.

The people of Sudan took charge against their war criminal president in December, in a protest sparked by fuel price hikes that soon became nationwide movement for Bashir to step down. Employing street demonstrations, graffiti, and social media under the leadership of youth groups like Girifna and professional associations, Sudanese protesters achieved a unity that persevered in the face of crackdowns from security forces that have killed 57 people since December, according to Sudan’s Doctors Syndicate. They successfully brought rural and conservative populations alongside urban and social media–savvy youth, while mobilizing an unprecedented number of women to participate. After trying everything to break up the protests, Bashir reshuffled the government and decided to step back from his plans to amend the constitution so he could run for another term in power.

Then, in February, Algerian President Bouteflika’s announcement that he would seek a fifth term as president sparked anger among Algerian citizens and initiated a grassroots movement in several cities after anonymous calls appeared on social media for people to protest. Protests were soon joined by thousands of students, professional organizations, and the mass participation of Algerian women. The protests occurred spontaneously and outside of the country’s traditional political power structures. Despite a harsh response from security forces, the protests have achieved unexpected success. They grew in geography, numbers, and diversity, and were strategically followed by mass tactics of noncooperation like general strikes.

They swayed parts of the military to abstain from oppression. Last week, Bouteflika was forced to announce that he will step down, but the announcement came with a muddled compromise of the scheduled April 18 elections being postponed. Though we can expect strikes and street protests to continue, this “buying” of time can be used by three dominant groups within the ruling elite—coalitions of parties around the former president, the business community and the military—to regroup and make sure their hand-picked candidate is the front-runner of the election. Even then, popular demands for change are there to stay.

While two oppressive leaders may be close to leaving power, it is still too early to celebrate. The recent history of the Arab world, from Egypt to Syria, proves that dictatorships are best viewed less as one individual occupying an office than a systemic disease that tends to be resistant to popular uprising efforts and finds new ways to survive, transform, and surprise even its own people with its cruelty and oppression.

But Algeria and Sudan seem to be only the tip of the iceberg—over the past several months, some of the longest-standing African autocracies have had their foundations shaken. For example, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Joseph Kabila’s reign of 18 years seems to be wobbling after his hand-picked candidate narrowly won the disputed elections. In Swaziland and Zimbabwe too, unlikely players—namely labor unions, civil society organizations, and professional associations—are shaking the status quo of Africa’s last standing autocratic monarchy and ZANU-PF’s four decades of rule, respectively.

For a decade and a half, our organization, CANVAS, has worked with pro-democracy groups in authoritarian countries. This research has concluded that three main elements lead to successful uprisings: the leading role of youth movements, unity and diversity, and long-term strategies not only to win but to consolidate the path to democracy.