MAANDAMANO: Failed attempts to Replicate Arab Spring Model in the March 2023 Uprisings in Africa

Tweheyo Charles- Columnist

OPED- Maandamano is a Swahili word meaning protest. It was widely used by Azimio’s RailaOdinga in the highly publicized mass action in attempts to topple Dr. Ruto’s government in Kenya, as I earlier explained in an article titled Kenya Today: The Crisis of Failure to Learn from History, published on March 19, 2023 in many platforms. In the first article, I predicted an impossible journey for Raila to attain success from the protests.

This came true as he twisted his objectives from assuming the presidency to staging such protests every Monday until the government brings the cost of living down.This particular article is a continuation of the debate on the cropping attempts across Africa by some selfish political elites to satisfy their individual interests enrooted in the sense of entitlement, greed and envy.

The current mass political uprisings in African countries; Kenya, South Africa, Senegal, Tunisia et al.,have been connected to the worsening socio-economic and political conditions. Like a series of uprisings that enveloped several largely Muslim countries, including Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Egypt in 2010 and 2011, Algeria and Sudan in 2019, later named Arab Spring; leaders have tried to involve people in these uprisings with the ultimate purpose of toppling governments in their respective countries. But their attempts are failing.

As a loosely related group of protests, the Arab Spring ultimately resulted in regime changes in several countries. However, it should be noted that not all these protests were ultimately successful. At least if the end goal was to instate good governance, for many countries, the period since has been hallmarked by increased instability and insecurity.

Given the significant impact of the Arab Spring in some countries, many political actors have tried to replicate the same model in a bid to topple leaderships in their respective countries but have failed. For example, Djibouti, (2011), Mauritania & Morocco (2011-12), Tunisia (2018 & 2021), Egypt (2019) among others have not been successful. As days forerun decades, time has fore-ran hope tomany political elites in Africa for a possible resurrection of such uprisings in 2023 though signals already indicate failed attempts. Take an example of the failing attempts in African countries where mass protests were organized in March, 2023-Kenya, South Africa, Senegal, Tunisia et al.

This struggle for power will likely continue because the ingredients of the on-going mass protests are completely different from those of the Arab Spring protests in various ways.

1. The Nature of Preparation.Theinitial protests that succeeded in the Arab countries were presented as people-centered initiatives which had been organised from the grassroots level by the ‘protesters’ themselves. The latter are clearly organised by political elites who contend to occupy various positions of political power either as a result of self-entitlement or perceived historical injustices. In the current political wave across the continent, a renewed Arab Spring is still far away although the continent is not yet secured from socio-economic issues that call for their genuine involvement in the process to make Africa better.

2. Clamping down the internet through tough laws and abrupt disconnections. After the Arab Spring effect of 2010 and 2012, many countries in Africa introduced policies that regulate the use of the internet and social media. It was evident that the efficient use of social media and internet played a big role in the effective networking and organisations of the mass political action in the Arab Spring. The replication of this model has subsequently failed in the most recent cases where attempts have been witnessed because the political actors in power managed to learn from history. Social media crack down through shutting down the internet and through policies that charge social media and internet taxes have played a vital role in limiting the destructive connections of uprisings in Africa.

3. Effective use of Police, Military and the Intelligentsia to detect and prevent acts of socio-political contamination. Failure to manage the situations in the earlier protests made them succeed. This was a source of lessons for those in power and it has saved other states from these mass protests happening again. Various states have popularly applied tactics like preventive arrests and immediate response to clamp down unrest as they commence and before spreading. Hence able to control them.

As observed, different societies will and should take different approaches to management of their respective socio-political, economic and cultural matters. But the idea that extreme authoritarianism can be replicated from place to place as a digitally enhanced system of destabilising political systems in other states is a dangerous delusion.

Africa is currently facing an increasingly empowered and funded wave of active political elitism determined to shape the trends of the 21st century political apparatus to their interests against the will of the majority of African citizens. The sooner this wave is diffused, the better for the continent. The establishments that consistently sponsor the continued disorganization of socio-political and cultural apparatus of Africa are clearly an extension of the hilarious colonial suppression of Africa’s interests and the political elites being used by these establishments are neo-colonial agents. They have embarked on the destruction of our continent but they should be aware that our society is our future.

It may be easy for them to forget that this series of large-scale political and social uprisings can help in changing political systems but they are not an end in themselves. Any efforts to better the economic systems of our countries cannot be staged in mass uprisings.

Tweheyo Charles

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