Protests inspired by the movements in Tunisia and Egypt have already spread to Algeria and Iran, with journalists quick to follow suit. Meanwhile, in the West African nation of Gabon, thousands have taken to the streets of the capital, Libreville, in protest against the rule of Ali Bongo Ondimba. The son of long-standing strongman Omar Bongo, Ondimba is accused of siphoning over $100 million from the tiny, oil-rich country between 1985 and 1997. The lack of mainstream media coverage does not hide the violent repression that the people of Gabon have faced. While the popular grievances and nature of the regimes certainly differ north and south of the Sahara, the recent African revolutions have had significant symbolic influence throughout the continent. Emphasising the point, one protester in Gabon held a banner reading: “In Tunisia, Ben Ali left. In Gabon, Ali Ben out.”
Predictably, official reactions to the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions South of the Sahara have been muted. But it is early days yet. Africa, like the rest of the world, might still be coming to grips with the significance of this extraordinary display of people-power. Certainly, Mugabe, Museveni (Uganda), Biya (Cameroon) and Bongo, along with Africa’s other autocratic rulers, cannot ignore it for much longer. Emmerson Mnangagwa, Zimbabwe’s defence minister and close ally of Robert Mugabe, has already issued an ominous warning, declaring earlier this week:
“Those who may want to emulate what happened in Tunisia or what is happening in Egypt will regret it because we will not allow any chaos in this country.”
As Mugabe’s ZANU-PF ruling party is likely to announce fresh elections later this year, such threats from the Zimbabwean military are to be expected. Contrary to Egypt’s military, which until the recent uprising, were kept out of domestic politics, the Generals and “securocrats” behind Mugabe have often masterminded violent intimidation campaigns around elections. But these references are explicit, and Mubarak and Mugabe have more in common than not. Both are war veterans who have clung to power for over 30 years, maintaining an authoritarian, police state under the mantel of democratic legitimacy. Both have driven their people to abject poverty and desperation while their families and close allies have benefited exponentially from the fruits of power.
While the economic and political conditions for uprisings of the sort we have seen are important, civil society – peoples’ ability to organise a broad base movement outside of the traditional politics of opposition – is playing a vibrant role. It is highlighting the fallacy of the often stated idea that African societies are characterised by the lack of a distinct public sphere. Popular belief states that the majority is still governed by patrimonial politics and the prevalence of tribal ties, while pro-democracy and human rights agendas are criticised as Western imports. Such thinking leads to what Mamdani calls a “bifurcated state” that still segregates citizens and subjects.
The theory may have historical import but we have already seen in Egypt an spectacular dismissal of the much-flouted myth of Arab exceptionalism. The fact that the people of Egypt, not long ago denigrated as one of the most apathetic and submissive of nations, emerged in their millions in defiance of a brutal and ruthless regime, throws a massive spanner in the notion that Arabs, as opposed to the rest of the world, are uniquely adverse to democracy. The notion is as perverse an idea as the theory that Africans still posses some sort of antiquated communal logic that makes them more susceptible to neo-patrimonial forms of governance.
The very hybridity of voices that came, and stuck together under a universal cause was one of the most inspirational factors of Egypt’s revolution. The Kefaya movement (translates from Arabic as “enough”) is one such example. Coming to public attention in 2004, it defined itself as a “loose knit of diverse political trends” including Marxists, Islamists, Nasserists and Liberals. Despite deep rooted ideological differences, they united in acts of civil disobedience to call for the end of Mubarak’s rule and “withdraw their long-abused consent to be governed.” Theirs is a useful example for splintered opposition movements elsewhere.
The use of internet-based social media tools to mobilise diverse sections of society under broad-based movements in Tunisa and Egypt has been well documented. Wael Ghoni, the Google executive widely credited as a catalyst for the 25 January demonstrations in Egypt through his use of Facebook and Twitter, calls it “revolution 2.0”. Yet we should not be deluded into thinking that revolutions can – or must – be virtualised. The Egyptian uprising was the result of years of accumulated anger and frustrations, and the culmination of a long series of very real protests – in which many were killed, imprisoned and tortured – that have grown over the last 10 years despite lacking a broader means of organisation. Under a regime that held a tight monopoly over mainstream media, the internet provided a much-needed mobilisational platform in Egypt. Yet, while the widespread availability of the internet is still wanting in much of Africa, basic mobile phone technology is already playing an equally important role in other parts of the continent.
Africa is regularly portrayed as politically divided between an “Arab” north and an “African” south; of mutually exclusive spheres of influence. Yet this colonial construct has long been discredited by schools of post-colonial thinkers. In fact, a significant feature of the anti-colonial struggle in Africa was the convergence of pan-Africanism and pan-Arabism as advocated by Gamal Abdel Nasser and Kwame Nkrumah. Nasser maintained that Egypt had historically occupied the centre of three concentric circles: the Arab, Muslim and African worlds. He argued, on that basis, that Egypt could not remain indifferent to liberation struggles in sub-Saharan Africa.
Such ideas were pivotal in influencing a common, anti-colonial bond that unified the Arab and African liberation struggles of the last century. They must now be resuscitated from the necropolis of narrow national discourses today if we are to envision a more pluralistic and democratic vision for Africa.
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
Hundreds of people surrounded the fences this weekend. Hera Lorandos spoke to women who have suffered inside.
Laying out the case for Labour's leadership of a Progressive Alliance, Jeremy Gilbert argues that far from posing a threat to the Left, the Progressive Alliance offers a golden opportunity to end Tory rule and build a 21st century government committed to social justice
The Greens have stood down in Brighton Kemptown to clear the way for Labour, and the Lib Dems won’t stand in Brighton’s other seat, Green-held Pavilion. Davy Jones, who would have been the Green candidate in Kemptown, says this shows the way forward
The snap general election represents a unique opportunity to defeat this terrible government. We believe that visual artists have a crucial role to play!
Drax is the UK's biggest source of CO2 emissions – and we're paying for it, writes Almuth Ernsting
For the past 3 years, Barby Asante and members of London-based artists' collective, sorryyoufeeluncomfortable, have been responding directly to the vision of James Baldwin. Ahead of the nationwide release of a new film about the American activist and author, they reflect on the enduring relevance of Baldwin in Britain today.
Housing campaigners' gains in Bristol are spurring on a national movement to build a renters' union, writes Stuart Melvin
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
Civic strike paralyses Colombia’s principle pacific port
An alliance of community organisations are fighting ’to live with dignity’ in the face of military repression. Patrick Kane and Seb Ordoñez report.
Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports
On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.
Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns
The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections
In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines
Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace