Monday, January 24, 2011

Uganda: Surely, we are not as simplistic as the Tunisians; are we? (column) - North Africa: Dispirited Arabs burning for change (analysis)

In the past week, nearly two dozen attempted self-immolations have been reported across the Arab world, three of them fatal.

The horrifying public suicide attempts echo the iconic act of Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old Tunisian who set himself on fire in mid-December after police confiscated the produce cart he was using to make a living. Bouazizi died weeks later of his burns, but his desperate act triggered protests that eventually led Tunisian president Zine Al-Abdine Ben Ali to flee the North African country he had ruled with an iron fist for 23 years.

On Jan. 15, one day after the fall of Ben Ali, a 37-year-old Algerian man died after setting himself alight. Since then, at least 22 attempted self- immolations have been reported in Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

"The self-immolations appear to be political acts," says Michael Biggs, a sociologist at Oxford University. "These people may have personal grievances, but they're clearly attributing those grievances to the political system. They may be thinking that 'if Bouazizi can set himself on fire and precipitate a massive, popular uprising then why can't I to resolve my problem?'"

According to Biggs, incidents in which protestors deliberately set themselves on fire are extremely rare, "but much less rare than people might think."

Since the 1960s, over 1,000 cases of self-immolation have been recorded in more than 25 countries worldwide. It often occurs in waves and is most prevalent in India, Vietnam and South Korea, which account for more than half of all cases.

Read more below, in four articles, courtesy of The Norwegian Council for Africa - www.afrika.no

North Africa: Dispirited Arabs burning for change (analysis)
Inter Press Service (IPS), by Cam Mcgrath
Monday, 24 January 2011
Cairo (Egypt) — Upset over a policy that prevented him from buying subsidised food, Egyptian restaurant owner Abdou Abdel Moneim travelled to Cairo to find someone in parliament to help.

When security officers prevented him from submitting his complaint to MPs entering parliament, the 49-year-old man doused himself in fuel and cursed the Egyptian regime as he disappeared into a ball of fire.

Abdel Moneim survived with severe burns to his legs and face, but by the end of the day similar incidents had occurred in three different North African countries. In the past week, nearly two dozen attempted self-immolations have been reported across the Arab world, three of them fatal.

The horrifying public suicide attempts echo the iconic act of Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old Tunisian who set himself on fire in mid-December after police confiscated the produce cart he was using to make a living. Bouazizi died weeks later of his burns, but his desperate act triggered protests that eventually led Tunisian president Zine Al-Abdine Ben Ali to flee the North African country he had ruled with an iron fist for 23 years.

Analysts say the Tunisian revolt has resonated with millions of Arabs living under repressive regimes who are frustrated with their difficult economic conditions and limited opportunities to improve their lot. Many are drawing parallels to the situation in their own country, and wondering if a similar uprising will take place.

It's not surprising then that the heroic story of a vegetable seller whose horrific yet spectacular death brought down a tyrant has taken on an almost legendary flavour. But it may also be inspiring more tragic stories.

On Jan. 15, one day after the fall of Ben Ali, a 37-year-old Algerian man died after setting himself alight. Since then, at least 22 attempted self- immolations have been reported in Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

The suspected motive behind each incident has varied. One man was protesting corruption and injustice, another was reportedly upset at being unable to secure cheap housing, and two textile workers objected to their employer's decision to transfer them to other departments.

"The self-immolations appear to be political acts," says Michael Biggs, a sociologist at Oxford University. "These people may have personal grievances, but they're clearly attributing those grievances to the political system. They may be thinking that 'if Bouazizi can set himself on fire and precipitate a massive, popular uprising then why can't I to resolve my problem?'"

According to Biggs, incidents in which protestors deliberately set themselves on fire are extremely rare, "but much less rare than people might think."

Since the 1960s, over 1,000 cases of self-immolation have been recorded in more than 25 countries worldwide. It often occurs in waves and is most prevalent in India, Vietnam and South Korea, which account for more than half of all cases.

There are examples of Kurdish nationalists setting themselves on fire during protests in Europe in the 1990s, but until now the practice has not been common in the Muslim world, possibly due to Islam's strong prohibition of both suicide and cremation.

"It's mostly an Eastern practice. In Buddhism and Hinduism burning has a more sacred character and is an accepted form of disposing of dead bodies, so it's not the terrible thing as we think of it in Christian and Muslim religious traditions," Biggs told IPS.

The spectacle of a fiery death can be highly effective in focusing world attention on a cause or injustice. A photograph of Thich Quang Duc, the elderly Buddhist monk who immolated himself in the middle of a busy intersection in Saigon in 1963, became one of the iconic images of the Vietnam War. It was also instrumental in turning the tide of U.S. public opinion against the war.

The brutal act of setting oneself on fire usually elicits reactions of shock and horror, but also sympathy, Biggs explains. It has been utilised as a political form of protest by South Korean labour activists, Czechs opposed to Soviet occupation, and by upper-caste Indians, among others.

"Bouazizi's is probably the most successful example," he says. "The Tunisian government fell very quickly because his one action inspired many other people to go into the streets. It was also successful in South Vietnam in the 1960s, but it took five months and six monks and a nun to die before the regime was overthrown."

The historical efficacy of self-immolation protests may be one reason Arab officials and state media have attempted to portray the series of "copycat" suicide attempts as the non-political acts of opportunistic and mentally unstable individuals.

"Suicide has become a fad and is being used for blackmail," declared Egyptian state-run newspaper Al-Akhbar, deriding a man who reportedly threatened to set himself on fire after his request for public housing was repeatedly turned down.

Arab governments have appealed to religious leaders to stress Islam's injunctions against suicide in order to discourage Muslim youth from taking their own life. Imams at state-monitored mosques in Egypt and Algeria condemned self-immolation during their weekly sermons on Friday, claiming suicidal thoughts stemmed from a lack of faith.

Al-Azhar, the highest authority in Sunni Islam, issued a statement last week reaffirming that suicide violates Islam even when it is carried out as a social or political protest.

"Islam categorically forbids suicide for any reason and does not accept the separation of souls from bodies as an expression of stress, anger or protest," its spokesman said.

Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, the spiritual leader of Egypt's outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, had a different take on the state-endorsed message. In a statement the influential cleric urged Arab youth to honour the sanctity of life, blaming repressive regimes for conditions that have driven them to despair.

"Dear young men, take care of your life because it is a great bounty from Allah, and do not set yourself on fire as it is the tyrants who should burn. Be patient, endure and be steadfast. Tomorrow will come soon enough."
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Uganda: Surely, we are not as simplistic as the Tunisians; are we? (column)
The Monitor (Uganda), by Fredrick M. Masiga*
Monday, 24 January 2011
Kampala (Uganda) - Life sometimes brings along very strange coincidences and you cannot help but wonder if some of these parallels are accidental or could be interpreted as merely fateful coincidences. The events unfolding in Ivory Coast and Tunisia in the last few weeks draw a familiar line or might have a futuristic similarity to Uganda.

Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali is the disgraced former president of Tunisia. He fled the country after a 'protracted' mass revolt that started off from the flimsiest of events. A Tunisian fruits and vegetable vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, who was accosted by local municipal council authorities, decided he had had enough with the authorities and decided to torch himself. He did not live long enough to witness that his callous act led to the ouster of Ben Ali who has ruled the country for 23 years.

Twenty six-year-old Bouazizi, like many of his youthful countrymates, woke up on the day to go out in the streets to fend for his family. He was evicted from the streets, his cart, his only means of survival was impounded, he was beaten by authorities, and his attempts to get redress from higher authorities were met with a thick wall of bureaucracy.

What drove this young man to commit what has become a celebrated act of crime in most of the Arab North Africa was not an act of cowardice rather the futility of life in a police state deficient of various freedoms and where the State has failed to provide employment and food for its people.

Some quarters in Uganda have discussed similarities of life in Tunisia to Uganda's. That the level of unemployment is high yet more and more graduates continue to be delivered from the various institutions of higher learning.

In his 23 years at the helm, Ben Ali has organised only three presidential elections and one constitutional referendum in 2002 in which not the presidential term limits were removed but the maximum term limits for a president was moved from 70 to 75 years which ironically is how old Ben Ali is now.

There were fears he would seek to return in the country's presidential elections in 2014 but first he was preparing to revisit the constitution to amend the age issue. Only now have the vast wealth of the Tunisian first family come to light to the rest of the world. Amid all the chaos, Madam Ben Ali was still able to pack up gold and other expensive metals worth $1.5 billion. But the question that many Tunisians, and Ugandans can ask the same, is how would one family accumulate wealth so much that even at the delicate one moment of total national madness they are still able to almost grab ($1.5b) and run with it?

Ben Ali's flight has thrown the country into an unexpected situation of economic woes. An economic crisis is looming with further unemployment expected because the family is said to own more than half of the large businesses that employ most urban Tunisians. The family owns businesses in real estate, financial institutions, leisure and hospitality, media and various manufacturing outfits.

Tunisia is going to its knees because a family has left under such circumstances such as Ben Ali's, the question being asked are embarrassing and point to a nation that slept while its leader implemented kitchen economic policies.

With a promise of an oil economy in the pipeline, Ugandans need to watch who is getting into the oil industry and how the oil revenue will be shared. An oil policy that is transparent and takes care of individual and national interests of Ugandans would be a positive point to start from.

Come February 18, we shall be more concerned about who, among the presidential candidates, will refuse rather than accept the results of the elections. I doubt we want somebody to do a Cote d'Ivoire here but more than half a century of politics after African countries received independence from their colonial masters, nothing is surprising anymore.

Ugandans, even with all the accolades they have of life and fun-loving people, as a people are very hypocritical individuals and therefore their real emotions and thoughts are most times shrouded in falsehood. So, a Cote d'Ivoire or a Tunisia could be the jinx embedded beneath our skin.

* Mr Masiga is the managing editor - Weekend editions of the Monitor Publications Ltd.
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Tunisia: To the tyrants of the Arab world...(opinion)
Al Jazeera, by Lamis Andoni (http://english.aljazeera.net/)
Monday, 17 January 2011
The Tunisian uprising, which succeeded in toppling Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the Tunisian president, has brought down the walls of fear, erected by repression and marginalisation, thus restoring the Arab peoples' faith in their ability to demand social justice and end tyranny. Click here to read full article at www.afrika.no.
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Tunisia: The wombs of African women will fell dictators and bring freedom (opinion)
The East African (Kenya), by Charles Onyango-Abbo
Monday, 17 January 2011
Nairobi (Kenya) - We have just seen something we haven’t witnessed in a North African, or Arab, country for donkey years. Click here to read full article at www.afrika.no

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1 Comments:

Anonymous Samuel said...

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Asia Africa Foundation
www.asiaafricainvestments.net
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Tel. +66(0)874125007

Friday, February 04, 2011  

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