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Monday, 31 January 2011

ONLY THE NAMES HAVE BEEN CHANGED

I wrote last week about the striking similarity between conditions in Swaziland and in Tunisia where people took to the streets to overthrow a dictator.


Then protests moved onto Egypt. Here, ordinary people, especially the youth, bypassed the established opposition parties and took to the streets on their own account – utilising social networking to publicise their cause.


There are lessons there for Swaziland.


As with Tunisia, there are uncanny similarities between the social, economic and political situation in Egypt, prior to the uprising and the experience of Swaziland.


This was brought home to me by an editorial comment in the Observer, a Sunday newspaper in the UK, yesterday (30 January 2011). The newspaper was writing about Egypt, but it could easily have been (and might yet be) writing about Swaziland.


Here is part of what the Observer wrote. I have changed the names ‘Egypt’ to read ‘Swaziland’ and president ‘Hosni Mubarak’ to read ‘King Mswati III’. See what I mean?


Click here to read the original Observer comment.


[King Mswati’s] dictatorship must end now


Days of rage in [Swaziland] signify the end of days for [King Mswati’s] repressive and bankrupt regime. For [25] years, the [king] has held his country down through fear, secret police, emergency laws, American cash subsidies and a lamentable absence of vision and imagination. His crude, Gaullist message: without me, chaos. Now the chaos has come anyway. And [Mswati] must go.


Five days of rage on the streets of [Swaziland] have transformed the way [Swaziland] sees itself. For years, they said it was impossible. The regime was too powerful, the masses too apathetic, the security apparatus too ubiquitous. Like eastern Europeans trapped in the Soviet Union's cold, pre-1991 embrace, they struggled in the dark, without help, without hope. Movements for change, such as [PUDEMO], were brutally suppressed. Courageous dissidents such as [Mario Masuku] were harassed, beaten and imprisoned.


Yet all the time, pressure for reform was rising. Every day, higher prices, economic stagnation, poverty and unemployment, political stasis, official corruption and a stifled, censored public space became less and less tolerable. Every day, impatience with the regime's insulting insouciance bred more enemies. Hatred seeped like poison through the veins of the people. Until, at last, in five days of rage, as if as one, they cried: ‘Enough!’ And now, [Mswati] must go.


Fittingly, [Swaziland’s] youth led the way against the old order, using not guns or bombs but the arsenal of 21st-century information technology: social media, mobiles, texts and emails. The Paris mob of Bastille notoriety became, through peaceful evolution, the flash mob of Tahrir Square. They espoused no leaders. They wrote no plans. In fast-moving, separate but interconnected street offensives, they out-thought, outfoxed and outran the police.


With the once omnipotent security forces looking beatable, [Swazis] of all backgrounds rose to join the fight: students, trade unionists, women, rights activists, Islamists and, crucially, the great workers’ army of [Swaziland’s] employed and unemployed. Here, truly, was people power in all its magnificent might. Here was democracy in the raw. Here was the legitimacy of a [Swaziland] freed of its old fears and suddenly alive to its changing destiny. In five days of rage, they seized control of their country’s future. And so, inevitably, [Mswati] must go.

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