Egypt’s Africa Lesson

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map of africaAcross Africa, autocratic leaders and tyrants who are clinging to power are quietly squirming in the wake of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation and departure from Cairo on Friday. They are on notice, now that the land of pharaohs has shown that a revolution can be televised, Facebooked and tweeted in intriguing detail to the entire world and that citizens do not need guns to effect change.
 
Bernard Tabaire, a columnist for Uganda’s Monitor newspaper writes: “Because [President Yoweri] Museveni is likely to rule Uganda for 30-plus years, one hopes he is paying attention to the situation the other end of the Nile. The ills that have occasioned a backlash against Mubarak, especially corruption and lack of decent economic opportunities for younger people, exist in Uganda.”
 
The headline of an editorial in the same newspaper blazed: “Ben Ali and the silly lies that our dictators tell themselves.” Citing Ben Ali’s “combative speech blaming foreigners and local terrorists of fomenting unrest” in Tunisia, the editorial states, “This lie assumes that the people these despots actually rule have no interest at all at a personal or collective level in how they are led. That cannot possibly be true.”

Mubarak’s unceremonious fall from power on Friday after 30 years of autocratic rule set Egyptians dancing in the streets of Cairo and world markets ralliying on easing risks to emerging markets. The end of Mubarak’s rule offers new hope for a rebound in bruised investor confidence in Egypt.
 
Earlier in the day, young Egyptians had planned to prostrate themselves in front of the Presidential Palace when news came that Mubarak was on his way out of Cairo, having ceded power to the military. Mubarak’s demise marks the second success of the people’s revolution in North Africa this year, following last month’s toppling of Tunisian President Ben Ali.

In the annals of history, the victorious uprising in Egypt could be said to have borrowed a page from the 1952 revolution that brought a young army captain, Gamal Abdel Nasser, to power following the overthrow of King Farouk. It also reminds us of the French revolution in 1789, in which unarmed women invaded the Palace and told Louis XVI that “we are here by the will of the people and shall not leave even at the point of bayonets.”

Africa’s leadership is taking notice. In Angola, Defense minister Cândido Van-Dúnem Friday called for restraint, no violence but respect for fundamental freedom and human rights in Africa and the world. “In the current world, we should always enhance these values,” he said, commenting on unrest in Sudan, Somalia, Côte d’Ivoire, Tunisia and Egypt.
 
Across the continent, meanwhile, ordinary Africans are turning to social media to press their own case, express their feelings and to fight their unyielding leaders. ”From the streets of Tunisia through the soil of Egypt…the revolution has been established,” one tweeted on Friday.

In Sudan, young people are using Twitter and Facebook to organize demonstrations against President Omar Bashir, whose ruling National Congress Party maintains full hegemony over the state and decision-making process. President Bashir’s vow to allow opposition parties to become part of a broad-based government after the South’s independence, has been met with a tepid response.
 
Newspaper reports say Sudanese authorities on Friday dispersed a small demonstration staged by a group of mothers whose children remain detained after ten days for taking part in protests against the government.
 
Farther south, in Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe is in a tight spot after saying this week that he would abolish the government of national unity. Senior members of his Zanu PF party have told him there is no “sunset clause” terminating the troubled coalition government.
 
It was the first time his own party members had contradicted him, showing how power is slowly slipping through his fingers. Mugabe lost the election two years ago but managed to cling on with support from his compliant army. Since then, he has been doing his best to frustrate his coalition partners.
 
From Côte d’Ivoire, the United States on Friday officially accepted as ambassador a man appointed by President Laurent Gbagbo’s opponent, Alassane Ouattara, the internationally recognized winner of the Nov. 28 presidential election. Ouattara has been denied access to the presidential palace even though he won the election.

Gbagbo on Thursday deployed police to ransack the regional BRVM stock exchange in Abidjan after rumors that the headquarters were due to relocate. The exchange covers the eight West African countries in the CFA franc zone: Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo.

The West African central bank, the BCEAO, also operates in the same monetary zone and has given control of state accounts to Ouattara. The European Union has slapped sanctions on Gbagbo’s allies.

Just as the upheaval in Egypt has taken a toll on the country’s economy, the Ivory Coast’s economy is quickly deteriorating. Ouattara has called for a month-long ban on cocoa exports to financially corner Gbabgo and pressure him to step down. Ivory Coast is the world’s top cocoa exporter. Prices of cocoa have shot up in the international market.