Africa and Arab Spring 2011: Year of Mass Upheaval and Imperialist Interventions
December 19, 2011
Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor / Pan-African News Wire & Workers' World
On Dec. 17, 2010, in the North African state of Tunisia, 26-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire after his vending business was shut down by the authorities in the city of Sidi Bouzid, purportedly because he did not have a license to sell on the street. This act of self-immolation led to mass demonstrations that have spread across Africa, the MIddle East and around the world.
DETROIT (December 17, 2011) -- December 17 marks the anniversary of a year of uprisings, strikes, government resignations and regime change on the African continent. A resource-rich and strategically located geopolitical region, Africa has experienced numerous mass demonstrations, general strikes, rebellions and full-scale military assaults as part of a heightening global class struggle for control of the continent's economic and political future.
In the North African state of Tunisia, 26-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire on Dec. 17, 2010, after his vending business was shut down by the authorities in the city of Sidi Bouzid, purportedly because he did not have a license to sell on the street. This act of self-immolation led to mass demonstrations in the Western-backed state that eventually engulfed large sections of the country.
The demonstrations in Tunisia led to the resignation of longtime political leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on Jan. 14. President Ben Ali, who had headed the state for 24 years under the Rally for Constitutional Democracy (RCD) ruling party, fled the country and is reported to have taken refuge in Saudi Arabia.
After continuing demonstrations and political debate, an election was held in late October. The majority of the votes went to the moderate Islamic party Ennahda, headed by Rachid Ghannouchi. Ghannouchi had lived in exile for many years and is considered a leading Islamic scholar in the region.
A Dec. 2 deadline has been set for the formation of a new government in Tunisia. The majority of the new ministries will be filled by members of Ennahda and the secular center-left Congress for the Republic and Ettakatol parties. It is anticipated that Ennahda Secretary-General Hamadi Jebali will be the next prime minister.
According to Tunisia-live.net, "The key Ministries, namely those of Interior, Foreign Affairs, and that of Justice, are expected to be taken charge of by members of Ennahda. The moderate Islamic party actually insists that the Prime Minister be chosen among members of the party that disposes of the biggest number of seats -- a request that has met vivid opposition among CPR and Ettakatol commissions." (Nov. 27)
Left parties in Tunisia have participated in the new political situation by emerging as organizations that are allowed to operate openly. Most of the left organizations had been forced underground since the 1980s when the Tunisian Communist Worker's Party (PCOT) was formed.
At least a dozen other left formations have attempted to organize inside the country, and some of the groups have merged and formed coalitions to strengthen their ranks. The Revolutionary Communist Organization has reorganized itself as the Left Workers League (Ligue de la gauche ouvrière). Two Maoist groups, the Party of the Patriotic Democrats and the Movement of Patriotic Democrats, held a unification conference in April after the fall of Ben Ali.
PCOT is perhaps the most well-known of the left parties in Tunisia. Its leader, Hamma Hammami, spent years in prison under the RCD government. The PCOT won three seats in the new Constituent Assembly.
A center-left formation, the Progressive Democratic Party, led by the only significant woman in Tunisian politics, Maya Jribi, was expected to come in second in the national elections but instead landed in fourth place. Jribi said that the PDP would continue as an opposition party.
Tunisia's trade union federation, the UGTT, played a significant role in the demonstrations that led to the fall of Ben Ali. However, its role in the future political administration of the country still remains to be seen.
Egypt erupts on eve of national elections
On Nov. 19, thousands of youth entered Cairo's Tahrir Square to protest the desire of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to remain in charge of the political transition process in the North African state of Egypt. Tahrir Square was the center of nationwide demonstrations that began on Jan. 25 and resulted in the resignation of longtime US-backed dictator President Hosni Mubarak.
Since the Mubarak government collapse, revolutionary democratic forces have held consistent demonstrations claiming that the struggle was being subverted by the role of the Supreme Military Council. The character of Egyptian foreign policy in relation to a peace treaty with the state of Israel has also been a major source of anger and frustration among broad sectors of the population.
Elections for parliamentary seats began on Nov. 28 with long lines in the capital of Cairo, where voters complained of delays of up to four hours. The SCAF insisted that the elections go forward despite eight days of mass demonstrations that preceded the elections and resulted in the deaths of more than 40 people.
Most political analysts predict that the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party will win the majority of seats in the new parliament. The Brotherhood was split over participation in the recent demonstrations. However, despite the absence of the official parent body, youth members did play a leading role.
The New York Times reported, "At some polling places, teams of Brotherhood members wearing the insignia of the Freedom and Justice Party were on hand to help maintain security, and they could be seen performing services like escorting elderly women to specially designated lines." (Nov. 28)
According to the Times, although large sections of the population appear to have gravitated to the election process amid mass demonstrations demanding the liquidation of ultimate political control by the SCAF, Field Marshal General Mohamed Hussein Tantawi declared on Nov. 27 that "the position of the armed forces will remain as it is -- it will not change in any new constitution."
Another North African state that experienced mass demonstrations over the last year, Morocco, recently held a nationwide election in which a moderate Islamist Party came out victorious. The Justice and Development Party won 107 seats out of 395. King Mohammed VI must therefore select the next prime minister from the ranks of the PJD.
The Istiqlal Party, a decades-long opponent of the monarchy, finished second with 60 seats. The Socialist Union of Popular Forces, which had formed an alliance with the Party of Progress and Socialism, won 30 seats in the new parliament.
Economic crisis underlies political turmoil in N. Africa
The political developments in North Africa are not taking place in a vacuum. The uprisings are a response to massive unemployment and poverty. In Tunisia and Egypt, unemployment is extremely high, and the neocolonialist relationship of both countries with the imperialist states has failed to provide any benefits for the majority of the population.
In Morocco, the situation is quite similar and will in all likelihood continue in the face of the failure of the left to win a dominant position within the new political arrangement. At the same time, the role of the US military in Egypt and Morocco will continue to be an impediment to the social development of the region.
With the overthrow of the Moammar Gadhafi government in Libya, US Africa Command (Africom) has been emboldened. The stage is set for greater exploitation of the region's resources. Despite these changes, the situation will remain unstable and volatile.
Recently, the Tunisian government was forced to cancel flights to Libya due to threats posed by the armed "rebel" groups, which were sponsored by the US and NATO to topple the government in Tripoli. The capture and killing of Gadhafi and four of his sons will ensure the continuation of conflict inside of Libya, which has Africa's largest known oil reserves.
Even the Wall Street Journal admitted, in relationship to Egypt, that "the turbulent protests that ousted President Hosni Mubarak scared off tourists and foreign investors alike. And the new military leadership, which reversed many of the economic liberalization gains in favor of populist policies intended to boost social stability, did little to instill new confidence." (Nov. 28)
The worsening of the economic crisis in numerous European countries and the US will continue to send shock waves into North Africa and the Middle East. Only the popular organization of the masses of workers, youth and farmers and the formation of governments that serve their interests can provide the possibility of an economic reversal and foster genuine security, stability and development.
US & French imperialism on the continent
Washington and its NATO allies have intensified their military operations on the African continent. Nevertheless, the unequal distribution of wealth and economic power between the imperialist states and the oppressed postcolonial nations has continued to spark mass demonstrations and rebellions in various geopolitical regions on the continent.
The war against Libya represented the first major operation of Africom, which was formed in 2008. The people of this oil-producing North African state put up formidable resistance to this intervention. It took six months for the war to drive the Libyan government from the capital of Tripoli and another two months to take the Jamahiriya strongholds of Sirte and Bani Walid. (Translation of Jamahiriya from Arabic means "the state of the masses.")
Rebel forces patched together under the banner of the National Transitional Council could not have toppled Col. Muammar Gadhafi's government without US-NATO's combined airstrikes, naval blockades, economic sanctions, intelligence operatives, special forces and their regional allies. Even this massive bombing, the murder of thousands of Libyans and the seizure of its national wealth cannot ensure its stability for imperialism. Resistance to these neocolonial designs continues.
US-French base in the Horn of Africa
In former French colony Djibouti, the US and France maintain a 6,500-troop military base. Both imperialist countries operate in neighboring Somalia, leading a combined effort to liquidate the Al-Shabaab Islamic resistance movement they call a "terrorist" al-Qaida affiliate.
The Kenyan Defense Forces have ground troops in Somalia supported by Ethiopia, African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) troops and Transitional Federal Government soldiers. Washington finances these African troops, and the Pentagon, the Central Intelligence Agency and the French military support them from the air and sea. Israel deploys drones.
Despite French and US troop presence in Djibouti, its people erupted in February with widespread social unrest. Mass demonstrations and rebellions resulted in government repression leaving several people dead and injured.
The military alliance between Djibouti's government and the US and France has brought no economic benefits to this country of less than 1 million people with a gross domestic product of only $982 million. The country's location on lucrative Red Sea shipping lanes gives it a strategic interest.
In November, it was announced that Djibouti will become more directly involved in the current war against Somalia, with the possible deployment of so-called peacekeeping troops to join AMISOM in Mogadishu. The country has also been the location for training the US-backed Somalia TFG military forces as well as hosting "reconciliation" talks for the country that has not had an internationally recognized government in over two decades.
Defense Professional website reads, "Djibouti is seeking to play a stabilizing role in the frequently tense regional politics of the Horn of Africa." (Nov. 8) Objectively the imperialists are using Djibouti's government to establish their broader political and military influence in Africa.
Burkina Faso & Ivory Coast
Two other former French colonies in West Africa, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast, illustrate the impact of the world economic crisis and increased militarism.
In Burkina Faso between February and April, President Blaise Compaore's Western-allied regime was forced to place the country under curfew after a mutiny within the armed forces and the police accompanied nationwide protests in response to the rising cost of living.
"Koudougou, located 100km west of Ouagadougou [the capital], was the birthplace of a wave of protests in the country two months ago, placing growing pressure on Compaore, who has been in power for 24 years. The first protest in Koudougou took place on Feb. 22 when students took to the streets, saying a school pupil said to have died of meningitis was in fact tortured and killed in police custody." (AFP, April 28)
The same AFP article pointed out: "Allegations of police impunity, torture and cover-ups and the high cost of living have fueled mounting protests by all sectors of the population against Compaore's regime. The country is also beset by woeful social conditions, with much of the 16 million-strong population living on barely $1 a day, while prices of basic goods continue to rise."
Following unrest, President Compaore dismissed his government's cabinet. Nevertheless, without a major restructuring of political and economic relations with France and the imperialist states in general, there will be no real progress for the majority of Burkina Faso's workers, farmers and unemployed.
Developments in Ivory Coast exposed escalating French military aggression in Africa. The imperialists took advantage of a months-long dispute over the results of a run-off presidential election between Alassane Ouattara and Laurent Gbagbo. Paris and Washington sided with Ouattara and sought to remove incumbent Gbago from office under the guise of following international law.
After French paratroopers overthrew and captured Gbagbo in April, he was subsequently kidnapped and transported to a detention facility first in Ivory Coast and eventually to The Hague, Netherlands. There he is slated to be tried for alleged war crimes by the International Criminal Court.
ICC is imperialist tool in Africa
The ICC has focused exclusively on the harassment, persecution and indictment of African leaders. These include President Omar Hussein al-Bashir of Sudan and the martyred Col. Muammar Gadhafi of Libya and members of his family and government.
Following the massive bombing of Libya and the government's overthrow, the ICC suddenly abandoned plans to place Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, Moammar Gadhafi's son, on trial. The Western-backed rebel forces had arrested him in November. The ICC chief prosecutor's recent visit to Libya resulted in an announcement that the imperialist-installed rebels would be allowed to prosecute Seif and to also seek the death penalty in the event that he is found guilty of purported "war crimes."
Governments and mass organizations in Africa have condemned the ICC for targeting continental leaders and organizations and for its refusal to hold the imperialists accountable for numerous war crimes in Africa and throughout the world. Over the last year the US, France, Britain, other NATO states and Israel have killed thousands of Africans in Libya, Somalia, Ivory Coast, Egypt and Sudan.
Developments in Zimbabwe
The Southern African state of Zimbabwe has been battling US, British and EU sanctions for over a decade -- sanctions the imperialists imposed in response to a massive land redistribution program that returned white-owned farms to indigenous Africans who had been colonized beginning in the late 19th century.
The ruling party that led the nation to national independence in 1980, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, held its annual National People's Conference in Bulawayo Dec. 6-10.
The Bulawayo conference enhanced the "indigenization" process that allows the government to seize land and other resources for the benefit of the majority of the population. A Dec. 10 article in the state-owned Zimbabwe Herald stated, "According to the Central Committee report presented by President Mugabe on Dec. 8 to the party's 12th Annual National People's Conference here, there are 198 white-owned farms which the department [Land Reform, Resettlement and Agriculture] wants."
This report indicated that "land redistribution was a continuous process" and "the government must continue the process to address the needs of deserving people." Also the Herald reported that "there were still some white former commercial farmers who were refusing to vacate gazette land."
ZANU-PF is preparing to hold elections next year on the future of the country. Under pressure from imperialist sanctions, the party had formed an inclusive unity government with the Western-backed Movement for Democratic Change factions in 2008. The upcoming national elections will eliminate the Government of National Unity now in place. ZANU-PF feels it is in a position to politically sweep the elections based on its land redistribution program that provided farms to 400,000 families.
Zimbabwe has been able to endure sanctions and other destabilization efforts through its close working alliance with South Africa, which has refused to blockade the country and deny energy resources demanded by the West. Also Zimbabwe has close ties with the People's Republic of China, which has defended the government in the United Nations Security Council in the face of additional threats of sanctions.
ZANU-PF foreign policy is centered on the notion of "Look east," which is designed to increase trade relations with countries in Africa and Asia. Zimbabwe has some of the largest deposits of diamonds in the world, and there has been a struggle with the imperialist states, which have attempted to block the nation from selling its gems on the international market.
Malawi & South Africa:
Subcontinent on the brink
Two countries in Southern Africa, Malawi and South Africa, have experienced escalating labor and popular upheavals over the last year. The two states have very different economic relations of production, but both are still heavily integrated into the world capitalist system.
Malawi is considered one of the least developed countries in Africa, while South Africa has the largest economy on the continent, and is the most industrialized with the strongest organized working class. Both states have a history of British colonialism and US economic involvement since the 19th century.
In Malawi during late July, 18 people were reported killed in two days of mass unrest stemming from the impact of the capitalist crisis. The initial protests were in response to fuel shortages, the escalation of prices for basic food stuffs and other commodities, as well as extremely high unemployment.
Ten people were killed in the northern cities of Karongo and Mzuzu. Protesters ransacked the offices of President Bingu wa Mutharika's ruling Democratic Progressive Party. In the capital of Lilongwe and the southern commercial center of Blantyre, police and army troops fired teargas into the crowds to break up demonstrations.
Part of Malawi's unrest arises from its strained relations with Britain that resulted in the expulsion of London's ambassador after revelations surfaced of involvement of the former colonial power in the country's internal affairs. Britain later expelled the Malawian ambassador and suspended $550 million in foreign aid over a period of four years.
In South Africa, trade unions engaged in massive strikes that brought hundreds of thousands of workers into the streets during August. Various industries were hit by the work stoppages, including the public sector, mining, electricity, fuel, postal services, telecommunications and platinum.
The militancy of the Congress of South African Trade Unions and other labor federations was reflected in the demands for wage increases of up to 18 percent. South Africa ended the racist apartheid system in 1994 after centuries of struggle against settler colonialism, yet the economy is still largely controlled by European capitalists allied with Western-based transnational corporations.
Strikes and other industrial unrest resulted in the loss of $200 million in production output by the middle of 2011. The African National Congress government's political base is rooted in the trade union movement, and therefore the ruling party is under tremendous pressure to both maintain popular support and also keep foreign capitalist investment involved in the country's economy.
The Globe & Mail noted in August, "Partly because of the frequent labor unrest, South Africa's mining industry is widely seen as more unstable and more expensive than others in the developing world, and the latest strikes will add to that perception. Strike settlements in the mining sector have provided wage increases of 7 to 10 percent."
These developments in Africa's various regions indicate the close connections between the rising economic crisis in Europe and North America and instability and increasing poverty in the postcolonial states. Consequently, the nations of Africa will be forced to seek solutions outside the world capitalist system, which provides no models for genuine development in Africa.
Imperialists can't bring development, democracy
US imperialism and its allies often claim they are intervening in Africa to protect civilians and to foster security and democracy. Nothing could be further from the truth. The history of colonialism and neocolonialism has served to suppress the legitimate aspirations and needs of the majority of people in society.
All projects the imperialist states support are only designed to make profit for the capitalist class. The US has never supported any genuine liberation movement in Africa and has always worked to prevent the right of oppressed peoples to self-determination and sovereignty.
Two excellent examples during 2011 are the destabilization efforts in Ivory Coast, which is outlined above, and in Somalia.
In Somalia, under the guise of fighting "terrorism," the US-backed governments in Kenya and Ethiopia have invaded the country. Shabelle Media Network pointed out Dec. 10, "Fighter jets were reported to have hit an Islamist militant stronghold town located in the southern-war-ravaged Somalia on Dec. 10."
US drones and French bombs will not bring peace and stability to Ivory Coast or Somalia. Even Council on Foreign Relations author Bronwyne E. Bruton wrote in an essay advocating the withdrawal of the West from Somalia that it was "utterly unsurprising that Kenya and/or Ethiopia would want to get in on the act.
The international war against the Shabaab could provide them with a handsome Western subsidy for setting up shop in the country and -- one assumes -- forcibly setting up their proxies." (New York Times, Dec. 9)
Nonetheless, Africa's long history of resisting slavery, colonialism and neocolonialism, and the current wave of US and French military interventions, will be met with fierce resistance and the failure of the imperialists and their allies to achieve victory. In relationship to Kenya, the military debacle in southern Somalia has prompted the government to join the efforts of the African Mission in Somalia, which has been fighting to prop up the puppet Transitional Federal Government in Mogadishu.
Africa must break with world imperialism and build societies that place the interests of the people above those of the transnational corporations and the Western-based financial institutions. It is through this process that genuine peace, development and security will be realized.
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