This year has been declared the International Year for People of African Descent after a resolution to that effect was adopted by the UN General Assembly last March. It appears to have been a prescient proclamation, especially as the latest uprisings in Africa have the continent bracing for more than a dozen elections this year.
The timing for the latest spate of protests has for the most part been documented on Twitter through categorical hashtags along the way.
While the Tunisian youth categorized their revolution in honor of a town — #SidiBouzid — where an unemployed 26-year-old Tunisian set himself on fire, Egyptian youth used a historical date — #Jan25 — when British troops in 1952 clashed with Egyptian police in Ismailia in what became known as the Battle of Ismailia — to jumpstart their revolt. This caused a rippling revolutionary-style hashtag wave for countries within North Africa and the Arab world on Twitter.
Young people tired of dictatorial regimes were inspired to continue the effect after uprisings led to both the fall of Tunisia’s Zine Abidene Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, followed by presidents vowing not to seek re-election.
Hashtag dates for possible youth-led protests were soon posted on Twitter — #Sudan #Jan30, #Yemen #Feb3, #Syria #Feb5, #Algeria #Feb12 #Feb19, #Iran #Feb14, #Bahrain #Feb14, #Libya #Feb17, #Morocco #Feb20, #Cameroon #Feb23, #Kuwait #Mar8, #Palestine #Mar21, and other dates are developing.
For some countries, you can trace the hashtag date to a Facebook page. For others, it’s a wait-and-see scenario.
The direction for most of the hashtags has been mainly in Arab countries in North Africa and in the Middle East with the exception of Iran. Now the dates are spreading to other countries with long-standing dictators.
“People from Zimbabwe to Ethiopia, and from Equatorial Guinea to Djibouti are passionately following the North African and Middle East protests thanks to satellite television and the Internet,” said Mohamed Keita, advocacy coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalist’s Africa Program.
“Even in the most closed state in Africa, Eritrea, where similar demands for pro-democracy reforms were crushed by dictator Isaias Afwerki in 2001, and where the government is enforcing a strict news blackout, people are falling back to their satellite dishes,” Keita added.
Cameroon in Western Africa is the latest country to have a timed hashtag for possible protests, with one African blogger even calling for change sooner. Some Facebook pages reference possible protests that would take place on February 23rd, including one that has yielded 1,344 members. The U.S. Embassy in Cameroon issued a notice of possible demonstrations on that day on their website and on the embassy’s Twitter account.
“It is fair to speculate that many African autocratic leaders, who have clung to power by crushing dissent and the press and ignored the demands of their population for so long, are nervous that the news might embolden their own population for the grievances of unemployment, corruption, and the quality of basic services delivery transcends class and ethnicity,” Keita told theGrio.
Cameroon’s president Paul Biya, 78, has been in power for decades, like Hosni Mubarak, and is grappling with a high youth unemployment rate. Biya, aware of the problem, recently raised the issue with his country’s youth.
“I am aware, believe me, of your worries about your future,” Biya told Cameroonian youth. “I can imagine the disappointment of those who, after studying for many years, have difficulty finding employment commensurate with their qualifications. The discouragement of those, who without qualifications, can, at best, only expect precarious jobs. The feeling of injustice of those who, having lost all hope, believe they are social outcasts,”
The United Nations Secretary-General is following these latest protests in North Africa and has reached out to African leaders stationed where protests have and haven’t developed to assess how this is affecting the rest of the continent.
“This is such a fast-moving development. We can’t really assess right now what the long-term impact is going to be. At the same time, we are looking at the new linkages between what’s going on in one area and the other,” a spokesman for the UN Secretary-General told theGrio.
For the first time, Biya has asked his prime minister to work on recruiting 25,000 graduates into public service but said he’s mainly relying on the country’s growth to stimulate jobs. The question is if President Biya does not follow through on his promise, how long before the country’s youth lead their own rebellion?
If #Feb23 is any indicator, change may come very soon.