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From Sidi Bouzid to Kinshasa: Francophone Africa in 2011

This post is part of our special coverage:

Marwane Ben Yamed of Jeune Afrique sums up succinctly but accurately the year that was for Francophone Africa when he writes [fr]:

Quelle année !

What a year!

Indeed, it would be an understatement to say that 2011 was an eventful year for the African continent. The usual year-end review would hardly do justice to the epic changes that have turned the continent upside down, driven by the collective courage of its citizens, who often faced violent repression while striving for emancipation from various dictatorships.

Through the eyes of local citizen media, here are some of  the highlights of what transpired in the year 2011, a year that has left many citizen media contributors breathless, hopeful and disillusioned all at once.

Tunisia

It all started in Sidi Bouzid where protesters decided against all odds and 40 years of the authoritarian police regime of Ben Ali that they “are not afraid anymore“.

Sidi Bouzid banner illustration from Nawaat.org

Sidi Bouzid banner illustration from Nawaat.org

The prescient words of Mohamed Ali Chebâane took a whole new meaning when he wrote on December 29, 2010 [fr]:

Vos jeunes se sont soulevés et il sera difficile de les faire taire : Ils s’immolent, s’électrocutent, et je ne pense sérieusement pas que des coups de matraques ou des longues nuits dans les commissariats vont leur faire peur.

Your youth has risen up and it will be difficult to shut them up now: they set themselves on fire, electrocute themselves so I don't think that getting beaten up with sticks or long nights at the police station will scare them either.

The uprising across Tunisia resulted in the fall of the Ben Ali regime, the initiation of the process towards a new constitution and the election of a new interim president.

The spirit of Sidi Bouzid was carried over in many other nations in Northern Africa and the whole continent in general.

Gabon

A few weeks after the fall of Ben Ali, the West African nation of Gabon also erupted in protests against the rule of President Ali Bongo Ondimba, son of long-time strongman Omar Bongo. Citing allegations of election fraud, opposition leaders formed a breakaway government on January 26, 2011, with former presidential candidate André Mba Obame as the self-declared president.

After weeks of protests that were repressed violently by the government, the uprising did not result in political change but the Tunisian revolution clearly inspired Gabonese citizens. This sign below held by protesters summarize in a few witty words the inspiration that Tunisia provided to other countries:

Meyo-Kye, North Gabon, 2 February, 2011. Banner reads: "In Tunisia, Ben Ali left. In Gabon, Ali Ben out." Image provided via Julie Owono

Meyo-Kye, North Gabon, 2 February, 2011. Banner reads: "In Tunisia, Ben Ali left. In Gabon, Ali Ben out." Image provided via Julie Owono

Algeria

Algerian citizens also followed up on holding the authorities accountable for the high levels of corruption, unemployment and the rise in basic goods prices. Inequalities are growing wider even though the country is the fourth largest exporter of crude oil in Africa and an important producer of natural gas.

Protests were initiated shortly after the ones in Tunisia and climaxed  on February 12, 2011 (#Feb12). Additional demonstrations followed for a week in several cities and all were violently repressed by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika regime. Eventually, the protests fizzled, sapped by the violent repressive measures and national media blockade.

As the status quo remained, a few Algerian bloggers were left disillusioned about the idea of an “Arab revolution”. Khaled Satour wrote in February of 2011:

We have to free ourselves from this harmful siren call of the “Arab revolution” that deludes us into thinking the slate has been wiped clean and all alliances are possible. Sadly, we already know some of the apostles of “democracy” who are protesting once again

Morocco

Another democracy-driven movement grew from streets protests in  Morocco.  The demands of the February 20 movement centered around reforms that would promote a better democracy and reduce corruption. The youth-based movement has not resulted in fundemental structural change in the Moroccan Kingdom but some reforms were granted by the King.

In the following video, members of the movement provide the details of who they are and why they are protesting [ar]:

Cote d'Ivoire

Following a contentious presidential election in 2010 opposing incumbent Gbagbo against Ouattara, Côte d'Ivoire was rocked in 2011 by its second civil war in less than a decade that resulted in the arrest of then President Gbagbo at his residence on April 11.

Protests at the French embassy in Berlin, against French military intervention in Cote d'Ivoire. Image by Thorsten Strasas, copyright Demotix (09/04/2011).

Protests at the French embassy in Berlin, against French military intervention in Cote d'Ivoire. Image by Thorsten Strasas, copyright Demotix (09/04/2011).

Social networks such as Twitter and Facebook played an important role in sharing information in real-time from the ground during the crisis, but citizen media was also often used as vectors for hate.  To counter this ill-use of information technology, Ivorian social media contributors undertook multiple citizen media-driven actions to promote peace and humanitarian efforts during the crisis and in the post-crisis recovery period.

Edith Brou, a community manager in Abidjan, explains how curated social media can make a difference [fr]:

@edithbrou: Let's tweet usefully and tweet efficiently, to save lives, vi@ [via] the Ivorian Web. #civsocial… one tweet can make the difference -

A concrete example of such action was described by blogger Cartunelo who tweeted [fr] in April of 2011:

@cartunelo: #civsocial, We need a doctor at the Star 6 area, the sister of a friend has just been shot!! If you know one, we urgently need his/her contact details!!!#civ2010

@cartunelo: Thanks to your help, the bleeding has stopped. Now we need xylocaine. Contact 10003480/03784354

Cameroon

Despite a diverse showing of candidates for the presidential elections in Cameroon that took place on October 9, the status quo remained as incumbent Paul Biya remained in power. The campaign prior to the elections lacked intensity has many Cameroonians seemed resigned to the foregone re-elections of Paul Biya, in power since 1982.

Bloggers seemed to mostly blame the lack of alternative in Cameroonian politics on the inability of the opposition to present a credible united alternative to Biya:

18 individuals gather in total 5.01% ! What a joke! Give us back our dozen millions that you received for the so-called campaign! We don't know you! The whole opposition together doesn't even reach 25% of the ballots, what a shame!

Democratic Republic of Congo

The outcome of the presidential election in DR of Congo that took place on November 28, 2011, is still disputed by the opposition candidate Étienne Tshisekedi. The official results announced that the incumbent Joseph Kabila won the elections but the electoral process was marred with fraud allegations.

The official results prompted riots and violence in Kinshasa and other cities in DR of Congo. Outrage even spread in the Congolese diaspora abroad where unrest rocked several cities of Europe and North America. The Wikipedia page of the DR of Congo as of January 2, 2012, even lists Tshisekedi as the current president.

Congolese bloggers documented many irregularities during the pre-electoral campaign. Alex Egwete details one of the issues that was encoutered during the pre-elections period:

The electoral commission is in the midst of yet another controversy, this time over the discovery of phantom polling stations in the “cartography” of polling stations CENI recently published. Some opposition groups and journalists have given CENI Chair Rev Daniel Ngoy Mulunda 72 hours (commencing yesterday) to come up with a coherent explanation for those phantom polling stations.

Senegal

Senegal has also experienced its share of protests in 2011. The demands were spurred on by perceived nepotism by President Wade in favor of his son Karim and by frequent power outages throughout the year. Presidential elections are set for February 26, 2012, and many observers fear that additional unrest may follow.

Recent protests in December have focused on the legal case of Barthelemy Dias [fr], a member of the opposition who was arrested for an alleged homicide:

Une situation née des violentes manifestations produites à Dakar par des jeunes de l’opposition pour réclamer la libération de Barthélémy Dias.
Les forces de police comme celle de la gendarmerie sont aux aguets pour parer à toute éventualité.

Violent protests begun in Dakar when youth from the opposition demanded freedom for Barthélémy Dias. Police forces are preparing against any additional unrest.

This post is part of our special coverage:

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