Power to the people: The digital African revolution

“The power of the people is much stronger than the people in power”
Wael Ghonim

A photo by Lana H Haroun has become the symbol of a revolution in Sudan. Like other countries in Africa facing civil unrest, Sudan took the now not so uncommon step to shut down the internet in December 2018 for mobile devices. But as this picture shows, taken in April 2019, cutting internet access not only adds fuel to the fire, it will not stop the inevitable.

Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir was removed from power by the military after serving as President of Sudan since 1989. For those not well versed on the history of Sudan, in 1989 Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, then a military general led a bloodless coup d’état to become the Prime Minister of Sudan and in 1993, he appointed himself as president. Only to be toppled by a coup d’état in 2019 after months of civilian protests over his 30-year rule. Similar to the uprising in Zimbabwe when Mugabe was ousted, Sudan is now approaching a new age and the next steps in establishing a government are crucial. Unlike Zimbabwe, Sudan took the necessary step to ensure that the ruling party, National Congress Party (NCP) would not be partaking in the upcoming elections to establish a new government. Only time will tell how successful this move will be, but as we have seen with the disputed Zimbabwe elections, a leopard can not change its spots. Reports mirroring the Mugabe regime still prominent with now the addition of the week-long internet shutdown in January 2019 and violence by the armed forces on civilians.

Why are revolutions more effective now than ever?

Short answer, the internet.

The Smile Revolution — Bachounda

The tech revolution means information is spreading faster and efforts by the government to curb this digital activism is adding fuel to the fire. With countries like Uganda issuing a social media tax and Cameroon blocking social media and the internet in Anglophone regions for over 4 months, it shows that the governments looking to cling onto power, know the effect the internet has. In the North African country of Algeria, protests led to the resignation of the incumbent Abdelaziz Bouteflika who had been in power since 1999. The 2019 Algerian protests, also called the Smile Revolution are the first since the Algerian Civil War in 1991, which lasted 10 years. President Bouteflika resigned on the 2nd of April followed closely by the Prime Minister.

Youths account for 60% of all of Africa’s jobless, according to the World Bank. In North Africa, the youth unemployment rate is 25% but is even greater in Botswana, the Republic of the Congo, Senegal, and South Africa, among others. With 200 million people aged between 15 and 24, Africa has the largest population of young people in the world.

Is it really a surprise the youth have had enough? Often Africa's youth, including the brightest are having to find work in places that don’t pay well, develop their skills or provide any job security. According to the Brookings Institution report in 2018, “More than 70% of the youth in the “Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Mali, Rwanda, Senegal and Uganda are either self-employed or contributing to family work,” When now met with the governments accused of corruption looking to manipulate the constitution to further cling onto power it is bound to be a recipe for d̶i̶s̶a̶s̶t̶e̶r a revolution. As the internet penetration levels increase in Africa, with more companies producing affordable mobiles for the African market the sharing of information and virality of outrage is in the air. Waiting for change is no longer an option in this digital revolution.

Sudan — The will of the people prevailed. Credit — Reuters.

By Stephen Chapendama