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Learning From Egyptian Revolution
What if people in the United States came to understand "revolution" as something more than a campaign slogan in a presidential election campaign?
Ahmed Salah's new book, You Are Under Arrest for Master Minding the Egyptian Revolution (a Memoir), early on characterizes its own title as an exaggeration, but over the course of the book works to substantiate it. Salah was indeed as involved as anyone in building public momentum in Egypt over a period of years, culminating in the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, though all of his accounts of in-fighting among various activist groups necessarily have other accounts from each individual involved.
Of course, master minding a revolution is not like master minding a construction project. It's much more of a gamble, working to prepare people to act effectively when and if a moment arises in which people are willing to act -- and then working to build on that action so that the next round is still more effective. Being able to create those moments is itself more like trying to control the weather, and I think must remain so until new democratic forms of media become truly mass media.
Salah starts his story of movement building with the enormous criminal action that for the first time in many years inspired people in Cairo to risk taking to the streets in protest: the U.S. attack on Iraq in 2003. By protesting a U.S. crime, people could also protest their own corrupt government's complicity in it. They could inspire each other to believe something could be done about a government that had held Egyptians in fear and shame for decades.
In 2004, Egyptian activists, including Salah, created the Kefaya! (Enough!) movement. But they struggled to exercise the right to publicly demonstrate (without being beaten or imprisoned). Again, George W. Bush came to the rescue. His lies about Iraqi weapons had collapsed, and he'd begun spouting a bunch of nonsense about war bringing democracy to the Middle East. That rhetoric, and communications from the U.S. State Department, actually influenced the Egyptian government to exercise a bit of restraint in its oppressive brutality. Also riding to the rescue were new means of communicating, in particular satellite television channels like Al Jazeera, and blogs that could be read by foreign journalists.
Kefaya and another group called Youth for Change that Salah led used humor and theatrical performance to begin to make it acceptable to speak ill of Mubarak. They created fast, small, and unannounced public demonstrations in poor neighborhoods of Cairo, moving on before police could arrive. They did not betray their secret plans by announcing them on the internet, to which most Egyptians did not have access. Salah believes foreign reporters have overstated the importance of the internet for years because it was easier for them to access than street activism.
These activists stayed out of electoral politics in what they saw as a hopelessly corrupt system, though they studied the Otpor movement in Serbia that brought down Slobodan Milosevic. They organized despite serious risks, including government spies and infiltrators, and Salah, like many others, was in and out of prison, in one case using a hunger strike until he was released. "Although the general public tends to doubt," Salah writes, "that placard wielding activists can change anything, Egypt's security apparatus treated us like barbarian invaders. . . . State Security had over 100,000 employees devoted to monitoring and eradicating any group that challenged Mubarak's rule."
Momentum for greater public resistance ebbed and flowed over the the years. In 2007 it was given a boost by workers going on strike and people rioting over the lack of bread. The first independent labor union in Egypt was formed in 2009. Various groups worked to organize a public demonstration on April 6, 2008, during which work Salah recognized a new and important role played by Facebook. Still, struggling to notify the public of a general strike on April 6, activists got a boost from the government which announced in state media that nobody should participate in the planned general strike on April 6 -- thereby informing everyone of its existence and importance.
Salah describes many difficult decisions over the years, including choosing to work with the U.S. government and to travel to the United States to urge the U.S. government to put pressure on Egypt. This risked ruining or did ruin Salah's reputation with people who quite correctly doubted U.S. good intentions. But Salah notes important instances when phone calls from Washington may have allowed protests to happen.
At one point in late 2008 Salah speaks with a U.S. National Security Council official who tells him that the war on Iraq "tarnished the idea of 'democracy promotion'" so therefore Bush wasn't going to do much to promote democracy. At least two questions leap to mind: Should murderous bombing give a bad name to actual nonviolent democracy promotion? and When in the hell did Bush ever before do much for democracy promotion?
Salah and allies tried to convert huge lists of Facebook friends into real world activists without success. They fought with each other and grew frustrated. Then, in 2011, Tunisia happened. In less than a month, the people of Tunisia (with neither U.S. help nor U.S. resistance, one might note) overthrew their dictator. They inspired the Egyptians. This was the weather getting ready to blow a storm through Cairo if someone could figure out how to surf it.
The online call for a day of revolution on January 25th was posted by a former Egyptian police whistleblower living in Virginia (which is also, as I recall, where leaders of the Egyptian military were meeting at the Pentagon at the time -- so perhaps my home state was on both sides). Salah knew and spoke with the whistleblower. Salah was against such quick action, but believing it inevitable due to online promotion, he strategized how to make it as strong as possible.
Whether the action was inevitable or not is unclear, because Salah also went out and questioned people in the streets and couldn't find anyone who'd heard about the plans. He also discovered that people in poor neighborhoods were more likely to believe the government propaganda that came over the only news media they had access to, whereas the middle class was spitting mad at Mubarak. An incident in which police had murdered a middle class young man showed people that they were at risk.
Salah also found that most people who said they would take part in a protest said they would only do it if everyone else went first. They were afraid to be the first to step into a large public square. So, Salah and his allies went to work organizing numerous small groups to begin protests in unannounced locations in middle-class neighborhoods and small streets where the police would be afraid to come after them. The hope, which was realized, was that small marches would grow as they moved toward Tahrir Square, and that upon reaching the square they would collectively be large enough to take it over. Salah stresses that, despite the existence of Twitter and Facebook, it was word of mouth that did the job.
But how would one duplicate that sort of organizing in a place as large as the United States, with the middle class spread across the soul-numbing sprawl? And how would it compete against the highly skillful propaganda of U.S. media outlets? Salah may be right that activists in other countries who have heard about the "Facebook Revolution" and tried to duplicate it have failed because it wasn't real. But a form of communication that can drive a revolution remains greatly to be desired -- with hints at it, I think, visible, not so much in social media, as in independent reporting, or perhaps in the combination of the two.
Salah looks at how the Mubarak government hurt itself by cutting off phones and internet. He discusses the uses of violence within the generally nonviolent revolution, and the use of people's committees to maintain order when the police fled the city. He touches briefly on the incredible mistake of handing a people's revolution over to the military. He doesn't say much about the U.S. role in supporting the counter-revolution. Salah does note that in mid-March 2011 he and other activists met with Hillary Clinton who declined to help them.
Salah now lives in the United States. We should be inviting him to speak in every school and public square. Egypt is a work in progress, of course. The United States is a work not yet begun.
By Linn Washington, Jr.
The consequential changes sweeping across Europe, from immigrants impacting demographics to an increasing embrace of right-wing ideologies, are not surprising to Professor Donald Muldrow Griffith, an American who has lived in Berlin, Germany for over three decades.
By Linn Washington, Jr.
Mohamed Yeslem Beisat, an ambassador for the Western Sahara, knew he faced a serious uphill struggle when began his position in Washington, D.C. years ago as the representative for his country that is located on the northwest coast of Africa.
To: The U.S. Congress
Uphold your Constitutional responsibility and your duty under the United Nations Charter and the Kellogg-Briand Pact, basic human decency, and a minimal ability to learn from past mistakes by blocking all funding for another war on Libya.
Why is this important?
The illegal 2011 overthrow of the Libyan government subjected the people of that nation and surrounding nations to violence, weapons proliferation, chaos, and desperate insecurity. In no way will compounding the problem with the same approach again improve matters in this case or establish good precedents.
How it will be delivered
In Washington, D.C.
Bill Fletcher Jr. has worked for several labor unions in addition to serving as a senior staffperson in the national AFL-CIO. Fletcher is the former president of TransAfrica Forum; a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies; an editorial board member of BlackCommentator.com; and in the leadership of several other projects. Fletcher is the co-author (with Peter Agard) of “The Indispensable Ally: Black Workers and the Formation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, 1934-1941”; the co-author (with Dr. Fernando Gapasin) of “Solidarity Divided: The crisis in organized labor and a new path toward social justice“; and the author of “‘They’re Bankrupting Us’ – And Twenty other myths about unions.” Fletcher is a syndicated columnist and a regular media commentator on television, radio and the Web. You can find him at billfletcherjr.com
He wrote the article Obama Morocco and Saharawi Self-Determination.
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No more veterans!: November 11 or Armistice Day Began as a Time to Contemplate Peace, Not to Celebrate War and Warriors
By Dave Lindorff
By Dave Lindorff
President Barack Obama is on track to go down in history as one of the, or perhaps as the worst and most criminal presidents in US history.
Let’s have a moment’s
Silence for Cecil (Ses’-al),
But not yet.
During that silence
Let us think about why
Message to The United Nations, European Union, United States, and all Democratic and Free countries
There are growing concerns that the government of Egypt intends to execute Egypt’s first ever democratically elected President, Mohamed Morsi in the coming weeks. Mr. Morsi along with hundreds of political opponents received the death sentence following what major international human rights organizations described as a hopelessly flawed and politically motivated trials that ignored acceptable minimum international standards.
George Clooney is being paid by the world’s top two war profiteers, Lockheed-Martin and Boeing, to oppose war profiteering by Africans disloyal to the U.S. government’s agenda.
Way back yonder before World War II, war profiteering was widely frowned on in the United States. Those of us trying to bring back that attitude, and working for barely-funded peace organizations, ought to be thrilled when a wealthy celebrity like George Clooney decides to take on war profiteering, and the corporate media laps it up.
“Real leverage for peace and human rights will come when the people who benefit from war will pay a price for the damage they cause,” said Clooney — without encountering anything like the blowback Donald Trump received when he criticized John McCain.
Really, is that all it takes to give peace a chance, a celebrity? Will the media now cover the matter of who funds opponents of the Iran deal, and who funds supporters of the wars in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, etc.?
Well, no, not really.
It's not terrorism if it's retaliation: Chattanooga Shooting, If Linked to ISIS, is a Legitimate Act of War
By Dave Lindorff
I'm not a fan of war or of killing of any kind, but the labeling of the deadly attack by Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez on two US military sites in Chattanooga, Tennessee as an act of terror is absurd.
By Andy Piascik
For two decades, Western elites have spun a tale of how Rwandan dictator Paul Kagame heroically ended the 1994 genocide in that country. That narrative has persisted despite the fact that a great deal of evidence shows that Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) did much of the killing and has committed extraordinary levels of violence in neighboring Congo since invading that country not long after seizing power.
The recent BBC telecast of “Rwanda: The Untold Story” indicates that the truth about Kagame may finally be penetrating the mainstream. “Rwanda: The Untold Story” presents much information that contradicts the official narrative, specifically that the dramatic escalation in violence began not in April 1994 but in October 1990 when the RPF invaded from its outposts in Uganda; that RPF forces killed tens of thousands of people in the 42-month period from the invasion to April 1994; and that the RPF is responsible for the deaths of several hundred thousand more Rwandans during the three month period of bloodshed in 1994.
Hillary Clinton State Dept Emails Contain Redacted Job Description for Top Energy Diplomat; Lobbyist Gets Job
Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog
The U.S. State Department released a batch of 3,000 searchable documents formerly stored on the private hard drive and in a private email account of Democratic Party presidential candidate and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Among them: a fully redacted job description for State Department International Energy Coordinator/Diplomat-At-Large.
[For TomDispatch Readers: As you read Nick Turse’s latest striking report from the front lines of chaos in Africa, don’t forget that, in return for a $100 contribution to this site, you can ge
[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Nick Turse continues his eye-opening reportage on American policy toward Africa today with a piece about the Obama administration and child soldiers. I just wanted to remind you of one thing: his new Dispatch Book on the U.S.
40 years after Vietnam: Celebrating the End of One War, and Witnessing the Start of a New One Here at Home
By Dave Lindorff
It was 40 years ago today that the last troops from America’s criminal war against the people of Vietnam scurried ignominiously onto a helicopter on the roof of the US Embassy in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) and fled the country where US forces had killed some 3-4 million people in the name of “fighting Communism.”
Reading Nick Turse's new book, Tomorrow's Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, raises the question of whether black lives in Africa matter to the U.S. military any more than black lives in the United States matter to the police lately trained and armed by that military.
Turse scouts out the still little told tale of U.S. military expansion into Africa over the past 14 years, and primarily over the past 6 years. Five to eight thousand U.S. troops plus mercenaries are training, arming, and fighting alongside and against African militaries and rebel groups in nearly every nation in Africa. Major land and water routes to bring in the U.S. armaments, and all the accouterments of bases housing U.S. troops, have been established to avoid the local suspicions created by building and improving airports. And yet, the U.S. military has proceeded to acquire local agreements to make use of 29 international airports and gotten to work building and improving runways at a number of them.
The U.S. militarization of Africa includes airstrikes and commando raids in Libya; "black ops" missions and drone murders in Somalia; a proxy war in Mali; secretive actions in Chad; anti-piracy operations that result in increased piracy in the Gulf of Guinea; wide-ranging drone operations out of bases in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Niger, and the Seychelles; "special" operations out of bases in the Central African Republic, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo; CIA bungling in Somalia; over a dozen joint training exercises a year; arming and training of soldiers in places like Uganda, Burundi, and Kenya; a "joint special operations" operation in Burkina Faso; base construction aimed at accommodating future "surges" of troops; legions of mercenary spies; the expansion of a former French foreign legion base in Djibouti and joint war-making with France in Mali (Turse must be reminded of that other wonderfully successful U.S. takeover of French colonialism known as the war on Vietnam).
AFRICOM (Africa Command) is in fact headquartered in Germany with plans to be based at the giant new U.S. base built in Vicenza, Italy, against the will of the Vicentini. Important parts of AFRICOM's structure are in Sigonella, Sicily; Rota, Spain; Aruba; and Souda Bay, Greece -- all U.S. military outposts.
Recent U.S. military actions in Africa are mostly quiet interventions that stand a good chance of leading to enough chaos to be used as justifications for future public "interventions" in the form of larger wars that will be marketed without mention of their causation. Future famous evil forces that may one day be threatening U.S. homes with vague but scary Islamic and demonic threats in U.S. "news" reports are discussed in Turse's book now and are arising now in response to militarism rarely discussed in corporate U.S. news media.
AFRICOM is advancing with as much secrecy as it can, trying to maintain the pretense of self-governance by local government "partners," as well as to avoid the scrutiny of the world. So, it hasn't been invited by public demand. It isn't riding in to prevent some horror. There has been no public debate or decision by the U.S. public. Why, then, is the United States moving U.S. war making into Africa?
AFRICOM Commander General Carter Ham explains the U.S. militarization of Africa as a response to the problems it may in the future manage to create: "The absolute imperative for the United States military is to protect America, Americans, and American interests [clearly something other than Americans]; in our case, in my case, to protect us from threats that may emerge from the African continent." Asked to identify such a threat in current existence, AFRICOM cannot do so, struggling instead to pretend that African rebels are part of al Qaeda because Osama bin Laden once praised them. During the course of AFRICOM's operations, violence has been expanding, insurgent groups proliferating, terrorism rising, and failed states multiplying -- and not by coincidence.
The reference to "American interests" may be a clue to real motivations. The word "profit" may have been accidentally omitted. In any case, the stated purposes are not working out very well.
The 2011 war on Libya led to war in Mali and anarchy in Libya. And less public operations have been no less disastrous. U.S.-backed war in Mali led to attacks in Algeria, Niger, and Libya. The U.S. response to greater violence in Libya has been still more violence. The U.S. embassy in Tunisia was attacked and burned. Congolese soldiers trained by the United States have mass raped women and girls, matching the atrocities committed by U.S.-trained Ethiopian soldiers. In Nigeria, Boko Haram has arisen. The Central African Republic has had a coup. The Great Lakes region has seen violence rise. South Sudan, which the United States helped to create, has fallen into civil war and humanitarian disaster. Et cetera. This is not entirely new. U.S. roles in instigating long wars in Congo, Sudan, and elsewhere predate the current Africa "pivot." African nations, like nations in the rest of the world, tend to believe the United States is the greatest threat to peace on earth.
Turse reports that AFRICOM's spokesman Benjamin Benson used to claim the Gulf of Guinea as the sole supposed success story, until doing so became so untenable that he began claiming he'd never done so. Turse also reports that the Benghazi disaster, contrary to what common sense might suggest, became a basis for further expansion of U.S. militarism in Africa. When something's not working, try more of it! Says Greg Wilderman, the Military Construction Program manager for Naval Facilities Engineering Command, "We will be in Africa for some time to come. There's lots more to do there."
Someone recently told me that China had threatened to cut of U.S. billionaire Sheldon Adelson's profits from casinos in China if he continued to fund Congress members who insisted on going to war with Iran. The alleged motivation for this was that China can better buy oil from Iran if Iran is not at war. True or not, this fits Turse's description of China's approach to Africa. The U.S. relies heavily on war making. China relies more on aid and funding. The U.S. creates a nation doomed to collapse (South Sudan) and China buys its oil. This of course raises an interesting question: Why can't the United States leave the world in peace and still, like China, make itself welcome through aid and assistance, and still, like China, buy up the fossil fuels with which to destroy life on earth by means other than warfare?
The other pressing question raised by the Obama government's militarization of Africa, of course, is: Can you imagine the ear-splitting everlasting biblical proportions of the outrage had a white Republican done this?
Graphic from TomDispatch.
[Note for TomDispatch Readers: We have news and a special offer for TomDispatch readers today. As all TD obsessives know, for the last two years award-winning journalist Nick Turse has been covering a striking development tenaciously and practically alone: the “pivot” of U.S. Africa Command to that continent. It’s a major story that, at the moment, simply can’t be found elsewhere and it’s now in book form, thanks to our growing publishing program at Dispatch Books. Its title: Tomorrow's Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, and it’s that ominous “tomorrow” that catches just why we should all be concerned. Right now, when you think of war, American-style, what comes to mind is Iraq or Afghanistan or maybe Libya or even Yemen, but as Turse makes clear, tomorrow it could be Mali, or Nigeria, or Niger, or dozens of other places on the African continent. This story should be a significant beat for the mainstream media, but as of now almost no one’s paying attention except, of course, the U.S. military -- andTomDispatch. Glenn Greenwald calls Nick's new book “gripping and meticulous... his investigations... reveal a secret war with grave implications for Africans and Americans alike.” Noam Chomsky says, “Nick Turse’s investigative reporting has revealed a remarkable picture of evolving U.S. military operations in Africa that have been concealed from view, but have ominous portent, as he demonstrates vividly and in depth.” That’s why, both for your own information and to support a small operation that does big things, you really should pick up a copy of Nick’s remarkable new book of reportage, available now and officially published in a few days. (If you want to order it directly from our publisher, the stalwart and remarkable Haymarket Books, just click here and then, for a special publication date discount of 40%, enter this code, TBF40, at checkout.)
For those of you who would like to support TomDispatch in a slightly more grandiose way and help keep us atop the latest developments in a roiling world, a contribution of $100 to this site will get you a signed, personalized copy of Tomorrow’s Battlefield. It’s an offer we hope you’ll jump at, giving us the sort of financial boost we always need. Just check out our donation pagefor the details -- and, as ever, many thanks in advance. One small scheduling matter: for those of you who get your contributions to us within 36 hours of the posting of this piece, a signed book will be in the mail to you almost immediately. For the rest of you: be patient. The next batch of books won’t go out until early May. Tom]
There were those secret service agents sent to Colombia to protect the president on a summit trip and the prostitutes they brought back to their hotel rooms. There was the Air Force general on a major bender in Moscow (with more women involved). There were those Drug Enforcement Administration agents and their “sex parties” abroad (possibly in Colombia again) financed by -- no kidding! -- local drug cartels. And there were, of course, the two senior secret service agents who, after a night of drinking, ran their car into a White House security barrier.
That's what we do know from the headlines and news reports, when it comes to sex, drugs, and acting truly badly abroad (as well as at home). And yet there's so much more, as TomDispatch’s intrepid Nick Turse reports today. As you'll see, Turse has unearthed a continent’s worth of bad behavior, even as U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) went out of its way to obstruct his reporting and the documents he obtained under the Freedom of Information Act were so heavily redacted that ink companies must be making a fortune. No one should, of course, be surprised that as AFRICOM has quietly and with almost no attention pivoted to Africa, making inroads in 49 of the 54 countries on that continent, a certain kind of all-American behavior has “pivoted” with it. In a revelatory piece today, Turse -- whose groundbreaking new book, Tomorrow's Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, has just been published -- pulls the curtain back on one bit of scandalous and disturbing behavior after another on a continent that Washington is in the process of making its own; in other words (given the pattern of the last 13 years), that it’s helping to destabilize in a major way.
If you want a little bit of light comedy to leaven the news, only a few weeks ago, AFRICOM hosted military lawyers from 17 African nations at its headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany. The subject of the gathering: “the rule of law.” As Lieutenant General Steven Hummer, AFRICOM deputy to the commander of military operations, said in his opening remarks, “The rule of law is our most important export.” Turse has a slightly different interpretation of what the U.S. is “exporting” to Africa along with destabilization and blowback. Tom
Sex, Drugs, and Dead Soldiers
What U.S. Africa Command Doesn’t Want You to Know
By Nick Turse
Six people lay lifeless in the filthy brown water.
It was 5:09 a.m. when their Toyota Land Cruiser plunged off a bridge in the West African country of Mali. For about two seconds, the SUV sailed through the air, pirouetting 180 degrees as it plunged 70 feet, crashing into the Niger River.
Three of the dead were American commandos. The driver, a captain nicknamed “Whiskey Dan,” was the leader of a shadowy team of operatives never profiled in the media and rarely mentioned even in government publications. One of the passengers was from an even more secretive unit whose work is often integral to Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which conducts clandestine kill-and-capture missions overseas. Three of the others weren’t military personnel at all or even Americans. They were Moroccan women alternately described as barmaids or "prostitutes."
Legacy of racism and colonialism targeted: Reparations Movements Meet to Make International Connections
By Linn Washington, Jr.
Dignitaries from three continents gathered in New York City recently to sharpen their strategies for confronting some of the world’s most powerful nations over a subject that sizable numbers of citizens support in the nearly two-dozen nations represented: reparations for the legacy of a history of slavery, colonialism and government-sanctioned segregation.
Credit where credit's due...but only where it's due: How Can Obama Claim the Alternative to a Nuclear Deal with Iran is War?
By Dave Lindorff
A kudo to President Obama. But just one.
If he manages to pull off an agreement with Iran on limiting that country's nuclear fuel enrichment program in the fact of determined resistance from Republicans, Neocons, the Israel Lobby and the warmongers in both the GOP and his own Democratic Party, he will have finally earned at least some small portion of the gold in his Nobel Peace medallion.
Making enemies by droning on and on: It’s Guilt that has US Military and Embassy Staff Fleeing Yemen Like Scared Rats
By Dave Lindorff
I’m the first to admit that I don’t know all that much about Yemen, or about the Houthi rebels who have taken control of Sana’a, the ancient Arab country’s capital, leading to the hasty evacuation of all US military forces (some 250 Special Forces personnel and the staff of the US embassy) from that country located at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula.
No more AUMFs! No more ‘unitary executives’!: We’re Already Losing Our Democracy and All Our Freedoms to the 2001 AUMF
By Dave Lindorff
Critics of President Obama’s proposed Authorization for Use of Military Force AUMF) against ISIS have been focused upon its deliberately obfuscatory and ambiguous language, which they rightly note would make it essentially a carte blanche from Congress allowing the president to go to war almost anywhere some would-be terrorist or terrorist copycat could be found who claims affinity with ISIS.
By Dave Lindorff
The Nobel Peace Laureate President Barack Obama, the guy who once campaigned claiming one US war -- the one against Iraq -- was a “bad” one, and the other -- against Afghanistan -- was a “good” one, turns out to be a man who, once anointed commander-in-chief, can’t seem to find a war he doesn’t consider to be a “good” idea.
By Francine Mukwaya, UK Representative, Friends of the Congo
On Monday, January 19th, Congolese citizens rose up to contest the latest maneuver by the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to prolong President Joseph Kabila's stay in power. According to Congo's constitution, the president can only serve two five-year terms and Joseph Kabila's second five-year term ends on December 19, 2016.
Throughout 2014, supporters of Kabila floated the idea of amending the constitution so he could run for a third term but a fierce push back from inside (Catholic Church, civil society, and political opposition) and outside (U.S., UN, EU, Belgium and France) the DRC forced Kabila's supporters to shelve the idea and explore other avenues for keeping their man in power. In addition to the internal and external pressures, the downfall of President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso in October 2014 sent a strong message that changing the constitution is a risky venture. Blaise Compaore was driven out of power by a popular uprising on October 31, 2014 when he tried to change the country's constitution to remain in power.
The latest scheme devised by members of Kabila's political party (PPRD) and Presidential Majority coalition is: to push through the Congolese parliament an electoral law that would ultimately allow Kabila to stay in power beyond 2016. Article 8 of the law makes the completion of a national census a prerequisite for holding Presidential elections. Analysts believe it would take about four years to complete the census. These four years would run beyond December 19, 2016; the date that Kabila's second term comes to a constitutional end. Opposition figures, youth and Congolese civil society at-large strongly pushed back on this feature of the law. Nonetheless, the Congolese National Assembly passed the law on Saturday, January 17th and sent it to the Senate for passage.
Congolese opposition figures and youth descended into the streets from Monday, January 19th to Thursday, January 22nd with the aim of occupying the Senate in the capital city of Kinshasa. They were met with fierce and lethal resistance from Kabila's security forces. Youth and opposition-led marches ensued in Goma, Bukavu and Mbandaka. The government's clamp down was brutal. They arrested opposition figures, teargassed people in the streets, and fired live rounds of bullets into crowds. After four days of continuous demonstrations, the International Federation of Human Rights said, a total of 42 people were killed. Human Rights watch reported similar numbers claiming 36 dead and 21 by security forces.
On Friday, January 23rd, the Congolese Senate voted to remove the clause in the electoral law that would allow President Kabila to use the census as a back door rationale for remaining in power beyond 2016. The President of the Senate, Leon Kengo Wa Dondo said that it was because people went into the streets, that the Senate voted to remove the toxic article in the electoral law. He noted "we listened to the streets, that is why today's vote was a historic one." The amendments made by the Senate to the law then required that the law be passed on to a mixed chamber so that the Senate and National Assembly's versions of the law could be reconciled. The pressure was increasing on the Kabila regime as the Catholic Church voiced concerns about the grave actions on the part of the Kabila regime while Western diplomats went into high gear in an attempt to calm tensions.
On Saturday, January 24th, the President of the National Assembly told the press that the Senate amendments would be accepted. On Sunday, January 25th the National Assembly voted on the law and accepted the changes made by the Senate. The population claimed a victory and the general sentiment was expressed in the Lingala phrase "Bazo Pola Bazo Ndima" in English means, they [Kabila regime] lost and have accepted their defeat.
The central matter of concern is far from resolved. The Congolese people have no doubt that Kabila wants to remain in power through whatever means necessary. Although, the people have claimed a victory, vigilance is paramount as the process unfolds, and the country moves toward the constitutionally mandated end of Joseph Kabila's tenure as president on December 19, 2016.
A heavy price was paid last week with the loss of life. However, the veil of fear was pierced and future demonstrations are likely in order to protect the constitution, assure that Kabila leaves power per the law of the land and organize Presidential elections in 2016.
The youth movement is maturing with its savvy use of new media technologies. It is also strengthening its network inside and outside the country. The youth shared the cell phone numbers of the Senators and National Assembly members and mobilized Congolese inside and outside the DRC to call and send text messages to the members of parliament demanding that they scrap the electoral law. The usage of social media by the youth prompted the government to shut down the Internet and SMS system last week (wireless Internet, SMS and Facebook have yet to be restored). Via twitter, Congolese youth created the hashtag #Telema, a Lingala word meaning "stand up" which served as a rallying cry for young Congolese inside and outside the country. We also created a website with the same name (www.Telema.org), in order to provide support to the youth on the ground.
The people have demonstrated that the power is in their hands and not the politicians. The battle is not for or against one law or the other but rather for a new Congo, a Congo where the interests of the people are prioritized and protected by their leaders. Our fight is to have a say in the decision-making process in our country, and ultimately control and determine the affairs of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.