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Report: Arab Spring Resonates With Sub-Saharan Africans


Malawi police chase protesters. At least 19 people were killed and dozens, including children, were injured after police used live ammunition during demonstrations over bad governance, fuel shortages and human rights abuses in various cities. 22 July 2011
Amnesty International says many of the conditions that led to uprisings in North Africa exist in sub-Saharan Africa as well. The group has released its 50th annual human rights report.

The overall theme of the report is No Longer Business as Usual for Tyranny and Injustice.

“What we try to highlight is that in 2011 almost globally people took to the streets to demand more of their rights, more freedom, but also to demonstrate against difficult social economic situations. And then certainly also in Africa and sub-Saharan Africa we have seen this inspired obviously by events in North Africa. And although changes may not come as quickly and as dramatically as what we have seen in North Africa and other countries in the Middle East, we certainly saw increased mobilization in sub-Saharan Africa from students, from union representatives, from political opposition,” said Erwin van der Borght, director of Amnesty’s Africa program.

But he said authorities in sub-Saharan Africa often responded quickly and harshly to protests, leading to human rights violations. These include killings, excessive use of force, arrests and torture.

“We saw this, for example, in Senegal and Uganda in the context of the elections last year and the excessive use of force and breaking up demonstrations. And numerous people in Sudan, for example in Khartoum, but also in other cities, were arrested and often ill-treated and then also in other locations, for example in Zimbabwe, where a group of activists came together to discuss events in North Africa. A few of them were arrested and then initially charged under treason charges and then spent considerable amount of time in detention,” he said.

Part of the problem?

The Amnesty report said some African governments were more part of the problem than the solution, failing to address the grievances of their citizens. Instead, it says security forces used live ammunition against antigovernment protesters in Angola, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Liberia, Malawi, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and South Sudan. Amnesty says authorities usually failed to investigate the incidents.

Angola and South Africa debated legislation in 2011 to limit freedom of expression. On the other hand, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan signed the Freedom of Information Act.

On the issue of poverty, Amnesty International said, “Africa’s poverty rates have been falling and progress has been made in realizing the Millennium development Goals.” But van der Borght added that millions still live in poverty.

“They certainly live in informal settlements and slums in the bigger cities. Africa has one of the highest rates of urbanization. Many of those people live in precarious situations in the cities. They are exposed [to] a wide range of human rights abuses, including for example forced evictions without giving them any prior notice [or] provide any sort of alternative accommodation or compensation,” he said.
Conflict, violence, discrimination

In 2011 conflict was a major issue in a number of countries, including Somalia, Ivory Coast and Sudan’s Darfur region. There was and is fighting between Sudan and the new nation of South Sudan. South Sudan gained independence last July following a referendum.

“Our analysis is very much that this is a failure of leadership from both Sudan and South Sudan. After the referendum they failed to find resolution for some of the key outstanding issues between the two states, including around sharing of oil revenues, border demarcation, the status of Abyei, the situation of the respective citizens in each other’s country,” said van der Borght

Another threat to human rights, he said, is the increasing violence by armed groups against civilians.

“For example, Boko Haram in Nigeria. We see it with al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb in Mali and Mauritania and Niger and then we have seen it with al Shabab in Somalia.”

Amnesty International also reported refugees and migrants were “particularly affected by human rights abuses in many countries.” What’s more, it said, “Discrimination against people based on their perceived or real sexual orientation or gender identity worsened” in 2011.

The report concluded, however, that “protesters have shown that change is possible…They have thrown down the gauntlet demanding that governments stand up for justice, equality and dignity.”