After pro-democracy revolutions flared across Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt, many hoped it would spread south to sub-Saharan Africa. However, while democratic protests have sprung up in Bahrain, Qatar, Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere in the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa’s has so far remained largely dormant.
That is, until yesterday.
On Tuesday, one thousand protesters gathered in city of Manzini, Swaziland to call for the removal of the country’s monarchy, King Mswati III. The protests were designed to mark the 38th anniversary since the banning of political parties in the small, landlocked country. The protesters met swift reprisal from security forces, who used water cannons to disperse the crowds. Now the country’s authorities have banned protesting outright and are arresting political organizers. In support of the protesters, South African political and union organizations have staged rallies and are threatening to block trade across the border until the Swazi monarch leaves office. Mswati, who has ruled the country for a quarter of a decade, is widely criticized for his opulent lifestyle. He has reportedly massed around one hundred million dollars in personal wealth and enjoys extensive use of state resources. All this in a country where 60 percent of the citizens live on less than two dollars a day.
While the protest on Tuesday was seemingly unsuccessful (the Global Post went so far as to call it “crushed”), there is hope. Protesting is a skill and every protest is a networking event for activists. The more these protests, even small ones, rumble in Africa, the more effective the democratic movements on the continent become at mobilizing their supporter and, eventually, pressuring their government into enacting political reforms.