The Sunday Independent

Chaos shows anger against long-time rulers

- Ilya Gridneff and Mike Cohen

PROTESTS from Burkina Faso to Burundi have been sparked by youthful population­s with little hope of employment and by leaders who have in some cases ruled for decades.

The discontent, which began in Burkina Faso in October, spread to the Democratic Republic of Congo in January, and has now crossed the continent to Burundi, prompting regional leaders to call an emergency meeting after two weeks of protests and at least 14 deaths. Mass demonstrat­ions in Burkina Faso ended Blaise Compaore’s 27 years in power.

“Underpinni­ng a lot of these protests is anger about stalled developmen­t, rising food prices and cutting fuel subsidies,” Clive Gabay, an expert on African politics at the Queen Mary University of London, said. “You have this youthful, unemployed population that has been sidelined.”

While sub-Saharan Africa has grown faster than every region except developing Asia in the past 10 years, there are not enough jobs for the 1 billion people on the continent. An extra 450 million jobs needed to be created in the next 20 years to match the expansion in the number of working-age people in the region, the Internatio­nal Monetary Fund said last month.


About 40 percent of people in Africa are under 15 years old, the most of any region, according to the US Census Bureau. The unemployme­nt rate for people 15 to 25 years old living in Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura, is three times higher than the rest of the working population, according to the African Developmen­t Bank.

Rwanda President Paul Kagame has warned that the violence in neighbouri­ng Burundi threatens stability in east Africa. Youth have led two weeks of protests to prevent President Pierre Nkurunziza from seeking a third term in office next month. The Constituti­onal Court approved his request, despite the opposition claiming it violates a 15-year-old peace agreement that sets a two-term limit.

The nations that would likely watch closely what happened in Burundi were those with elections scheduled in the next two years, Yolande Bouka, a researcher on conflict prevention at the Institute for Security Studies in Johannesbu­rg, said. Congo, Rwanda and Tanzania and Uganda all have polls during that period. People walk along a street in Mageyo market in Muramvya province, Burundi. The recent unrest has plunged the small, landlocked nation of Burundi into its worst crisis since the end of a conflict a decade ago. THE RIOTS and announceme­nt of a coup that followed Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term highlight a rising trend in Africa of public protests against leaders who try to prolong their stay in office.

“People believe if they take to the streets they will be heard,” Yolande Bouka, a researcher on conflict prevention at the Institute for Security Studies, said.

African leaders “are now wary of using force to stifle dissent, as there is an internatio­nal community watching”.

Using social media such as Facebook and Twitter, activists have mobilised against incumbents, as in neighbouri­ng Democratic Republic of Congo, where protests in January prompted President Joseph Kabila to withdraw an electoral bill that would

There is “serious discontent with the type of governance offered by the leaders”, Bouka said. Given the large youth population and unemployme­nt rate “it is not surprising that people take (to) the street to address unresponsi­ve government.”

Burundi ranks eighth-lowest on the UN Human Developmen­t Index, have prolonged his term. In Burkina Faso, mass demonstrat­ions forced Blaise Compaore to quit in October after 27 years in power.

At least 20 people have died in weeks of protests that erupted in Burundi on April 26 after the ruling party nominated Nkurunziza to run in next month’s poll.

Although the Constituti­onal Court upheld his eligibilit­y, his opponents say his candidacy violates a two-term limit stipulated in peace accords that ended a 12year civil war in 2005.

It was unclear who held power early on Thursday as gunfire and explosions rocked Bujumbura, the capital. The presidency announced later that day that Nkurunziza, who was in Tanzania for a summit when the attempted coup was announced, had returned to the country and he was expected to deliver a message on Friday.

The expansion of social media which measures indicators such as income, child mortality and education. Congo is second-to-last on the 190-member list.

“In many countries it’s a risky thing to go on a protest and you’re not going to risk getting arrested or shot unless there’s something real at stake,” Gabay said. “There’s some- in sub-Saharan Africa has been driven by a growth rate that is second only to developing Asia over the last 10 years, according to the Internatio­nal Monetary Fund, and a youthful population.

Of 22 countries in sub-Saharan Africa assessed by the US Census Bureau, 16 have a population where more than 40 percent of people are under 15.

“There is a fear of an Arab Spring-style African spring, as this sets the precedent for other presidents who want to extend their stay in power,” Thierry Vircoulon, the Central Africa director for the Brussels-based Internatio­nal Crisis Group, said.

Burundi, about the size of the US state of Maryland, has a $2.7 billion (R32bn) economy and is home to 10.2 million people. It is the continent’s seventh-biggest coffee exporter and buyers of its beans include Starbucks. – Bloomberg thing else that’s propelling people onto the street and for me they’re economic issues.”

Using social media like Twitter and Facebook, young activists can mobilise faster than in years gone by and can collaborat­e across borders. The movements in Congo and Burkina Faso draw inspiratio­n from Senegalese artists, who began protests in 2011 against power outages. The Senegalese movement was key in mobilising youth to vote President Abdoulaye Wade, who had ruled for 12 years, out of power a year later.

Demonstrat­ions erupted in Congo in January when legislator­s tried to change electoral laws in a way that could have delayed elections. That would have extended the 14-year rule of President Joseph Kabila, who took over when his father was assassinat­ed in 2001.


While there are countries in sub-Saharan Africa with leaders who have been in power for more than three decades, including Zimbabwe, Angola and Equatorial Guinea, political opposition there says they are suppressed.

Rwanda’s (Paul) Kagame, who has been president since 2000, also has not faced popular opposition as he says he is open to staying another term. Parliament is reviewing a petition signed by 2 million people who support changing the constituti­on to allow for a third term.

“African people are tired of presidents who aren’t delivering to their people and they’re tired of presidents who want to stay for life,” Thierry Vircoulon, a Central Africa director for the Internatio­nal Crisis Group, said. “There’s a sort of exasperati­on because government­s aren’t delivering.” – Bloomberg

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