Demonstrators in Sudan, Algeria and nations beyond the Middle East such as Pakistan and Russia are applying lessons learnt from the 2011 popular Arab revolts as the Sudanese military uses an apparent Saudi-United Arab Emirates template to crack down.
This week’s crackdown in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum, in which reportedly some 100 people were killed as of this writing and hundreds wounded, has all the tell-tale signs of the Saudi-UAE assisted repression of a 2011 revolt in Bahrain.
The deaths have also sparked comparisons to a crackdown on protesters on a Cairo square in 2013 by Saudi-UAE-backed general-turned president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi that left up to 1,000 people dead.
The crackdown, despite an apology by Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of Sudan’s Transitional Military Council (TMC), like in Bahrain, involved not only the shooting of protesters but also attacks on hospitals treating the wounded and the beating up of medical staff.
General Al-Burhan and the TMC took power in April after months of protests forced president Omar al-Bashir to resign after 26 years in office.
Protesters and analysts noted that the crackdown came on the heels of visits to the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt by General Al-Burhan. It also followed Saudi Arabia and the UAE pledging US$3 billion to help Sudan weather the crisis.
UAE crown prince Mohammed bin Zayed promised General Al-Burhan to help “preserve Sudan’s security and stability.”
The US State Department signalled its belief that Gulf states may have inspired the violence by describing it as a “brutal crackdown” and stressing to Saudi deputy defense minister Khalid bin Salman “the importance of a transition from the Transitional Military Council to a civilian-led government in accordance with the will of the Sudanese people.”
The degree to which Sudanese protesters are willing to implement lessons learnt from the 2011 revolts will be determined by their willingness and ability to sustain their protests in the face of violence.
The opposition this week rejected an offer by General Al-Burhan to reopen negotiations and hold elections within nine months.
“We believe that the matter is now in the hands of the Sudanese people. This regime will fall, no matter what,” said Khalid Omar Yousef, a leader of the Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces (DFCF), an alliance of opposition groups.
The protesters, like their counterparts in Algeria who in April forced the resignation of president Abdulaziz Bouteflika, have vowed to sustain their protests until their demand has been met that the old regime has been dismantled and replaced by civilian rule.
Protesters in 2011 that toppled the leaders of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen declared victory and surrendered the street once they had forced their leaders to step down.
The surrender helped successful efforts to rollback the revolts’ success in three of the four countries with Tunisia, where civilian rule and democracy prevailed, constituting the only exception.
The years between the rollback of the achievements of the revolts and the eruption of mass anti-government demonstrations in Algeria and Sudan were pockmarked by small-scale, issue-oriented protests across the Middle East and North Africa.
A military squashing of the Sudanese protests, if Bahrain is the model, could introduce not only a period of sustained small-scale protests but also of low-level violence.
The threat of sustained instability in Sudan is enhanced by the fact that this week’s crackdown was carried out by the feared Rapid Support Forces (RSF), paramilitaries accused of systematic human rights abuses during the war in Darfur.
The force is led by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, who also serves as deputy head of the TMC and, like General Al-Burhan, has close ties to the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
The Middle Eastern and North African model of smaller-scale, issue-oriented protests has been replicated in Pakistan and Russia with the government in Moscow adopting a more conciliatory tone than the Pakistani military.
The military appears determined to put an end to sustained peaceful protests by the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) or Pashtun Protection Movement, an ethnic rights group that is demanding that security forces be held accountable for extrajudicial killings and other injustices.
Trying to stop a rights demonstration in the troubled region of Waziristan, security forces on Sunday killed at least eight people and detained Ali Wazir, one of the movement’s leaders and a member of parliament.
PTM leaders, like protesters in Sudan, Algeria and Russia, are increasingly less intimidated by security force violence or dire warnings that they risk exposing their country to the fate of Libya, Syria or Yemen, that have been wracked by civil war and foreign military intervention since the 2011 protests.
“PTM members are nonviolent but prepared to die to speak the truth — and our security forces have no answer,” said Afrasiab Khattak, a retired politician and commentator.
Protesters across Russia express similar degrees of fearlessness.
“Rallies and protests are now occurring with increasing frequency, primarily because Russians no longer care if the authorities refuse to sanction a given gathering, making it and participation in it illegal.
Indeed, protesters are becoming radicalized. They now refuse to buckle under pressure, and they are willing to take to the streets over issues as non-political as the environment and as local as the construction of a cathedral,” said Russian journalist Andrey Pertsev.
For now, Russia compared to Sudan, Pakistan and Algeria is the exception. Authorities, apparently so far unwilling to use violence, have sought to accommodate protesters and in some cases have met their demands.
Unlike the 2011 Arab protests that often started in second and third tier cities before going nationwide, a well-placed source in Moscow said the Russian protests were unlikely to spread to the Russian capital where security was far tighter.
If there is one fundamental lesson to be learnt, it is that the most recent wave of protests signals that an era of dissent and defiance that started in 2011 is far from over.
Each wave takes in the lessons of the mistakes of its predecessor. Violence, repression and ever starker authoritarianism delays the process but does little to end it.
Accommodation helps defuse immediate tensions but is likely to fuel dissent.
Speaking in the wake of the crackdown, Mohammed Yousef al-Mustafa, a spokesman for the Sudanese Professionals Association, which has spearheaded the protests, asserted that “we have no choice but to continue our protests and civil disobedience until the fall of the military council.”
#EndSARSProtests: A Chronicle of Nigeria’s #BlackLivesMatter
The chilling murder of African-American, George Floyd, back in May, by a couple of ‘white’ police officers in Minneapolis, the United States, would go down as one of the defining moments of 2020. Not only did the unnerving incident further expose the century-old racial cleavages among Americans, it also resulted in weeks of a universal eruption of riots and protests to demand racial equality in America and beyond.
Watching Nigerian youth take to the streets to force an end to police misdemeanours reminds one of the events – which are still ongoing in some cities – in the US after Floyd’s murder. So far, close to a dozen lives have been lost, some fallen to police bullets, since the outbreak of the protests.
Throughout the organic settings of human existence, how to secure lives and maintain social decorum formed a major strand of communal concerns. It is for this reason that, at different stages of mankind’s evolution, the task of security remains atop of other considerations.
According to history, the term ‘police’ is derived from the Latin word ‘polis’ which loosely translates into the ‘public’. Its popularity is traced to the era of the Greek dominance of world affairs, although the act of policing was first introduced by Egyptian Pharaohs, around 3000BC, to guarantee peace amongst their subjects.
Except for a brief age during the reigns of the Roman Empire when ex-convicts and men of unsound morals were given the policing responsibility, societies the world over always reserve the job of police to untainted individuals simply because they carry an extended authority of a State. In other words, the legitimacy of the political authority in a given society is reflected in the police as an institution.
A Test of Political Legitimacy
Talking of political legitimacy, the echelon of Nigeria’s leadership appears to be in complete disarray these past days. It has been a period of an unexpected and ceaseless gush of rage by young adults who, for once, surmount the courage to brace the socio-political odds. For far too long, governments across Africa’s Sahara region seemed insulated from mass angst.
While popular citizens’ protests landed like a hurricane and swept away long-standing dictators in North Africa: Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya in the so-called Arab Spring of 2011, political leaders in other regions of Africa escaped the wrath, but only for another day. For the Nigerian youth, the discontent being expressed through the viral #EndSARSProtests is an exhibition of their accumulated frustration against the social inequality and economic deprivations which successive administrations have visited on them.
As usual of leadership from whose grasp power is drifting, the Nigerian government has yielded its hitherto uncompromising posture to assuage the angry youth, but only to be confronted with increased resistance on the streets, daily.
Police as Colonial Construct
For the protesting youth, while their civic role in fixing a particular malady has drawn worldwide applause, it would be more appreciable for all to realize that the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit was(is) a mirror through which the larger tumult within the Nigeria Police Force can be viewed. And to extend that elucidation, it is equally pertinent to be told that the problem with the police in Nigeria is as old as the existence of the country.
The western-styled police system as introduced to Nigeria in 1930 by British colonialists was meant – as a protective force – to safeguard the interests of Britain in an alien land. This instrument of colonial construct was established when the Britons stole power and relegated traditional rulers after their conquest of the colony, hence only the stern, unyielding, and unsympathetic are allowed a lapel as police recruits in those days.
With 12,000-men in 1960, the already maligned status of the police became more stunted post-independence, especially when the military took charged of Nigerian affairs in 1966. The police were denied access to adequate funding, basic professional equipment, commensurate remuneration, timely training of personnel, and so forth. Over time, being called a police officer became unappealing to the best brains academically and morally, thus the floodgates were opened largely to unpolished, uneducated, poorly trained persons who see the force as the last route to survival while living in squalors in the name of barracks.
It is, therefore, unsurprising that the police have over the years maintained the unenviable status of the ‘most corrupt’ public institution in Nigeria. In November 2005, a former boss of the police, Tafa Balogun, escaped with a slap on the wrist in the form of six-month imprisonment upon conviction for stealing $100million because – according to the trial judge – the guilty had “shown remorse”. Apparently embarrassed by the brazen degeneration of security across the country, some State Executives in Nigeria recently resorted to launching sub-national security outfits with a mandate similar to that of the ineffective federal government-controlled police force.
Whilst that decision is contested as provincial insubordination to the national government which may eventually spell doom for the county considering its fragility, many see it – nonetheless – as the most fitting response to a social haemorrhage which Abuja lacks the capacity to fix.
Litany of Rights Violations
Earlier in the year, Amnesty International had documented 82 cases of violations of human rights by officers of the dreaded SARS unit between January 2017 and May 2020 hammering on the urgency for reforms and calling for justice to victims of the assaults which include extortion, torture, rape, and killing. In the same vein, the World Internal Security and Police Index (WISPI) ranked Nigeria “the worst performing country” globally in terms of policing in its 2016 report in which concerns were raised that: “There are 219 police officers to 100,000 Nigerians”.
Although the Nigerian government had in 2017 signed the Anti-Torture Act into law, yet the reality on the ground contradicts the letters of the law. Many of the abuses recorded by Amnesty’s investigation into the operations of SARS revealed a similar pattern of excruciating body and mental torture of victims in the hands of the security agents. A 2020 documentary by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) entitled “The Torture Virus” detailed how Nigerian security operatives, including members of the defunct SARS, regularly employ a painful torture technique called ‘tabay’ on suspects in their custody.
Unconfirmed reports indicate that as many as 150,000 of the current 400,000 personnel in the Nigeria Police serve as personal guards to Very Important Personalities (VIPs), mostly politicians, musicians, moguls, expatriates etc; basically to anyone and everyone who can personally afford to service the personnel financially. This leaves the policing obligations of the majority of the estimated 200million population to an insignificant 250,000 police officers, representing a ratio of 1 police officer to 668 persons, a far cry from the United Nations’ standard of one police to 400 persons.
It remains to be seen how the faltering political authority in Nigeria is able to turn the table in the face of a popular resentment by the youth. However, it is safe to presume that, judging by the latest happenings, the younger mass of Nigeria’s population would henceforth refuse to be pacified with the superficial lullabies of the past.
‘We want justice for these girls’: The Kenyan helpline for victims of gender violence
Around four million girls worldwide suffer female genital mutilation every year. Although it is forbidden in Kenya, COVID-19 has led some families to revive itthe traditional practice, and a UN-supported phone helpline for victims of gender-based violence in the country has seen a big rise in calls since the pandemic hit.
Somewhere in Kenya, an early morning in July: A woman organizes a once-in-a-lifetime “ceremony” for her 11-year-old niece: The girl’s genitals will be cut off as part of her cultural transition into adulthood.
All schools in the country have been closed for months. No classmate will notice the girl’s absence, no teacher will be aware and report the case to the police. The school community cannot protect the girl now.
During the ceremony, the fresh wound starts bleeding heavily. The procedure was performed by a local “cutter,” and there is no anaesthesia and no painkillers. The bleeding doesn’t stop, and, eventually, the family has no choice but to take the girl to the nearest hospital.
‘I don’t want to see people suffering’
A few hours later, a telephone rings in an office in Nairobi. The phone is connected to the number 1195, the national helpline for gender-based violence. One of the girl’s relatives has called in to report the incident anonymously — she does not want to be considered as a family troublemaker.
“What we want is justice for these girls,” says “Steve,” one of 31 staff in the call centre. (Counsellors interviewed for this article use pseudonyms to protect their anonymity.) After receiving the call, Steve and his colleagues respond immediately. The police are dispatched to search for the mother and aunt, and a safe home is arranged for the girl once she is released from the hospital.
The helpline is staffed 24 hours a day by trained counsellors who stay on the line with callers until help arrives, whether in the form of the police, an ambulance, a village elder, a child protection officer. Counsellors arrange for health care, security, and legal aid. They also spend long hours on the phone, giving psychosocial support to callers in need.
Female genital mutilation or FGM is just one of the reasons people call the hotline. Others include assault, rape, child neglect and defilement, child marriage. The list goes on. “So many cases go unreported,” Steve says. Asked why he works at the call centre, he says simply, “I don’t want to see people suffering”.
Some calls will break your heart
COVID-19 has aggravated the situation: “Women have been violated like never before,” says Fanis Lisiagali, who heads the 1195 helpline. “We’ve seen women committing suicide, we have heard of women being killed. Both men and women are seriously depressed.”
Indeed, the number of cases handled by the hotline rose from 86 in February to over 1,100 in June of this year. Cases dropped in July, but the total number of calls is four times higher than during the same period last year. Not all of the callers are women. Around one third of the callers who report psychological violence from their spouses and families are men, saying they have been harassed or abused for failing to provide for the family.
Sitting at their desks, a half-dozen tele-counsellors are equipped with masks and gloves and are separated by acrylic glass walls. Aside from Swahili and English, they speak other local languages, from Kikuyu to Luhya to Kalenjin; the aim is for callers from everywhere in Kenya to have someone to talk to.
“You find that psychological problems come up during things people go through every day,” says another counsellor, “June.” In 2009 she became a caregiver with another organization for sexually abused girls and, five years later, she joined the helpline staff.
Some calls will break the heart of even the most experienced counsellor, says June. Earlier this year, she took a call from an 18-year-old woman who had been cast out by her father and then endured an abusive marriage. When she became pregnant and gave birth, her husband rejected her, claiming the baby was crying too much and that it couldn’t possibly be his. Having been disowned for a second time, the woman’s desperation became unbearable. She threw the baby into a pit latrine and ran away. The girl walked into a rescue centre and called the GBV helpline.
“At first the girl was too shocked to speak. When she finally opened up, what I heard made me completely numb,” says June. She sent the caller to a psychiatrist and his attestation prevented her from being imprisoned. June is still in contact with the young woman, and is helping her build a future. “My job gives me an opportunity to give back to society,” she says. “I cannot always help, but sometimes I have a chance to help in a little way.”
A beacon of hope
The helpline is a beacon especially now during the pandemic. Many rescue centres have to turn away survivors of gender-based violence, as they do not have the resources necessary to quarantine new arrivals for COVID-19.
The helpline was established in 2010 by an organization called Healthcare Assistance Kenya, with the support of UN Women, which is still the NGO’s main partner. It is now also supported by UNFPA, the UN Population Fund.
“COVID-19 exacerbates the already horrifying levels of sexual and gender-based violence in Kenya,” says Anna Mutavati, UN Women Country Representative. “But the helpline is saving lives. While services like 1195 are fundamental, we need to tackle society’s underlying causes that perpetuate these gross human rights violations and wider gender inequality.”
During the COVID-19 crisis, the helpline has proven its worth and needs to be strengthened, says Healthcare Assistance Kenya director Fanis Lisiagali. “In the coming years,” she says, “I would like to see the helpline known to all communities in all counties throughout Kenya, so that anybody who needs it has a place to turn to”.
The Repudiation Report: Guterres Reinforce Morocco’s position over Western Sahara
Same scenario and same dialogue when the Polisario Front (SADAR) adapted the populist approach in dealing with the Moroccan (Western) Sahara case, with the imminent release of the UN resolution at the end of this month, which is anticipated to be a continuation of the recommendations of the last report of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the Kingdom of Morocco determined to endorse a strategic approach in dealing with these circumstances through cooperation With the UN, due to overcoming any resentment with inconvenient consequences.
This was confirmed after a source from the Moroccan Ministry of Interior denied the authorization of any civil society or community initiative to march from Rabat capital to Guerguerat, commence from the 16th of this month. On the other hand, the Polisario Front (SADR) reacted to the current UN statement of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, by assaulting the Kingdom of Morocco, and to a lesser extent, the United Nations, meanwhile seeking to win over the Security Council.
Over the years or so, the Kingdom of Morocco has sustained to deal with the Moroccan (Western) Sahara file as a National concern, considering the issue of Moroccan (Western) Sahara for the Kingdom and Moroccans is the reference national of their identity and loyalty to the Moroccan sovereignty and also dealing with it as a key issue in promoting economic, security, and stability of institutional development to the North African region as well Arab Maghreb region.
António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, has reiterated the groundwork of a political solution to the Moroccan Western Sahara file as suggested by the Security Council in all its resolutions issued since 2007.
In his statement to the Security Council on the Moroccan Western Sahara, Guterres noted that on October 30 of last year, the Security Council adopted Resolution 2494 under which it focused on the need to reach a “political, rational, practical, lasting and consent-based solution” to the case of the Moroccan (Western) Sahara.
In a response to the MINURSO mission, Guterres pointed out, through his report, to extend its mandate for one year until October 31, 2021, without needing to justify that “the key task of the mandate of MINURSO is to supervise the ceasefire.” This means eliminating the false accusation of Morocco’s opponents regarding the organization of the alleged referendum that the Security Council and the United Nations Secretary Council have approved for more than two decades.
Due to this, The Secretary-General of the United Nations mentioned to “the political impetus made by the process of meetings held by Horst Kohler, the former personal envoy, with the participation of all parties concerned with the Moroccan (Western) Sahara dispute, which creates the only way to pursue the exclusive political process of the United Nations.”
Yet, The Personal Envoy, Horst Kohler, was capable to reconstruct the necessary dynamism and steam to the political process, particularly through the spectrum of negotiation meetings that brought together involved parties the Kingdom of Morocco, Algeria, and Mauritania, in addition to the so-called” SADR” Polisario Front. Guterres emphasized that the need for the political process and final settlement shouldn’t be interrupted, and reiterated his “commitment to appoint a new personal envoy to build on the progress made in the round tables series.”
Additionally, The UN official pointed out that “the Kingdom’s position on the subject of the invented conflict over its southern provinces, as stated in the royal speech on the occasion of the celebration of the forty-fourth anniversary of the Green March.” Thus, the UN official also praised and appreciated Morocco’s cooperation with the MINURSO mission during the difficult period of the “Covid-19” epidemic, stating that: Let me say straight away, this is a time for solidarity “thanks to the measures taken by the Moroccan authorities, no Corona case was reported among the MINURSO mission.” Now it’s very important, that we need government solidarity and cooperation to share and to pool resources where they are most needed and to make sure MINURSO’s representatives get the help that they need from Morocco’s administration.
In light of this, Guterres’s report said, “The Moroccan government has provided support to MINURSO in many aspects by maintaining assistance and providing rapid results of the” Covid-19 “test for the benefit of aircraft staffs and by helping civil and military personnel to embark to and from the mission’s area of operations, not to mention enabling them to gain access. As Rabat reiterates that since the Kingdom of Morocco is a state that advocates returning the favor, the Moroccan side will never forget MINURSO’s help when it was hit by the epidemic.
On the other hand, the UN report pointed criticism regarding the “Polisario’s Front” movement and its continuous violations of the ceasefire agreement 1991, military accords, and Security Council decisions, especially in the Guerguerat region, calling strongly and explicitly for the Polisario Front (SADR) to “quickly pullover from Guarguate frontier zone and settle down these irresponsible violations of Military Agreement.
In a response to the increasing of human rights violation and harassment, the statement of the Secretary-General of the United Nations reviewed the outcome of the significant transgressions of these rights in the Tindouf camps in Algeria by Polisario Front, predominately during the period of “Covid-19”, indicating that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights had received many reports highlighting the negative and unfavorable outcomes of the borders suspension and the stumbling access of Humanitarian aid and reducing economic activities in the Tindouf camps.
Here is self-evident to mention that Mr. Guterres also appreciated Morocco’s investments in its southern provinces, stating, in particular, the construction of a new port 70 km north of Dakhla. Thus, and as the Secretary-General of the United Nations reflects, the Kingdom’s investments in its Moroccan (Western) Sahara have continued and enhanced, mostly since His Majesty King Mohammed VI launched the new development model for the southern provinces in November 2015.
The Secretary-General demonstrates, since 2016, the efforts and sustainability for economic development and infrastructure projects that the Kingdom of Morocco is carrying out in its Moroccan (Western) Sahara. Many of these social projects were observed by the former Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General, Horst Kohler, during his trip to the region in 2018 Yet, this economic development is escorted by the strengthening supremacy framework and legal dedication of the full Moroccan sovereignty over its southern provinces, through the adoption approach of two laws to ratify the borders of the territorial waters of the Kingdom, which include The coasts of the Moroccan (Western) Sahara.
To sum up, the United Nations Secretary-General report has strongly reinforced Morocco’s position through a sequence of development projects in Moroccan (Western) Sahara, which has been showing the awareness of the United Nations, MINURSO, and the Security Council through the seriousness of the Polisario Front ( SADR) violations of this well-known antagonist armed group. For its proven connections to terrorism and jihadism in the Sahel region. These measures also jeopardize regional stability and severely hinder the international process.
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