The Uprising

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By Nourane Hentati

A ten-year-old child sat in front of a TV. A news reporter on a foreign TV channel reported atrocities. She saw dead people on familiar streets. She looked around and noticed that the doors of her house had been sealed for days. She heard her parents murmuring about an ‘uprising’.  She didn’t understand what an uprising meant at the time or why her parents were murmuring in the first place.
But when I grew up, I found out that prior to 2011, the walls had ears.

“I will say to you once more, loud and clear: Do write on any subject you choose. There are no taboos except what is prohibited by law and press ethics” declared Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

However, human rights, freedom of speech, political opposition, mindful youth, civil society, dignity, and fair trials, were all ‘taboos’ for the 23-year-rule of Ben Ali.
Ironically, Tunisia goes far beyond those 23 years. In fact, Tunisia’s first documented history goes back 200,000 years to the Middle Stone Age. The biggest democracy in the Mediterranean and the Carthage 814 BC relied on an effective system of checks and balances that helped keep officials accountable. However, these systems changed as the years passed, leading to the revolution that would transform history.

In December 1983, the Tunisian people protested against a sudden 100% increase in the price of bread, an essential commodity in Tunisia.

The uprising that lasted about 2 months and 150 people lost their lives. People were just asking for bread, and they trusted that the government could do better by deliberately providing bread at lower prices. When the price of bread dropped again, people were mostly satisfied but only a few people questioned the weaknesses of policies that initially put the government in such a vulnerable position.

But the people still showed signs of revolt. In 2011, a man fearlessly held a baguette in the face of the armed militia on the Habib Bourguiba Avenue. Bread in the face of guns was a modern revival to the bread riots. Ironically, it was on a street named after the president whose government raised the bread price in 1983.

 

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“The Tunisians now hungered for something more than their bread: they hungered for their rights and freedom”

 

The Tunisians now hungered for something more than their bread: they hungered for their rights and freedom. The uprising was a message to the tyrants that they had exhausted their chances with patient people. It was a collective stance against a corrupt government that tortured, stole, oppressed and systematically impoverished Tunisians.

Prior to the revolution, fear was widespread and enrooted in our culture. A collective cognizance of government capabilities to commit atrocities towards someone found “guilty” of criticizing Ben Ali or his family was a key feature of the Tunisian society.

This paranoia dominated our lives to the utmost of personal levels, people were even afraid to speak about the president pejoratively in the privacy of their homes because “they could always hear”. The media was censored, books banned, the internet was heavily filtered, and cyber activists were shadily arrested and unfairly prosecuted. The Freedom House registered these human rights violations and scored Tunisia’s political rights index as low as 7, with 1 being the best and 7 being the worst. Those numbers accurately summarized the situation of a country which has been ruled by a monstrous dictator. Those figures embodied the people who helplessly died suffering from torture in obscure dungeons and prison cells. They explicitly narrate the stories of hundreds of Tunisians who had undergone exile, imprisonment and assassinations.

Information is always valuable and anterior to the revolution, it became public knowledge that “the family”, —Ben Ali’s extended family— was taking over private possessions by force. The family was so powerful that nobody could claim their property back. However, the public couldn’t quantify the thefts and the human rights violations and that’s when Wikileaks caught the public attention and triggered the crowds when they published documents exposing the government.

Desperation dominated the lives of many people. The harsh reality of poverty was lived by thousands, especially those in interior states. Each family that underwent hardships and were forcefully incorporated into a merciless and systematic chain of underdevelopment, initiated by numerous historical factors.
One of those rings was Bouazizi, a street vendor from Sidi Bouzid, who on December 17th, 2010, set himself on fire.
Bouazizi immolated himself as an act of desperation after being slapped and humiliated by Faida Hamdi and her coworkers, the municipal officials for vending on the streets. Bouazizi who would be posthumously awarded the Sakharov Prize for triggering the uprising. His self-immolation was a loud and clear call to action that echoed across the country and reached all doors. Subsequently, people across the nation went protesting against the tyrants and the illusion of having laws that ideally would protect the vulnerable. Even though Bouazizi passed away in the intensive care unit 18 days after his immolation, on January 4th 2011, he was the face of many Tunisians who lived in constant economic instability. And shortly before setting himself on fire, he asked how he could make a living when corruption and nepotism were eating the country inside out.

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“As a child, I was still able to identify the greatness in what was happening around me, and I was aware that nothing will be the same in just a few weeks” (Not Nourane in the picture)

الشعب يريد اسقاط النظام”“The people want to overthrow the regime.” The slogan echoed through Tunisian streets during the uprising and neither the tear gas nor the penetrating bullets could stop the anger. They fueled the rage and gave the people more reasons for wanting to overthrow the regime.

The loudness of the streets contrasted the silence of the domestic media, still burdened with the heavy load of censorship. People turned to the international media to see what was happening in other parts of their own country. Despite my young age, I was still able to see the irony in this, and it didn’t feel right to see that the Tunisian history was being recorded by other than Tunisians.

As a child, I was still able to identify the greatness in what was happening around me, and I was aware that nothing will be the same in just a few weeks. I jotted down numbers, dates, media headlines and what I was seeing on the streets.
Every Tunisian contributed to the revolution somehow, and as a child, documenting was how I connected with the call for freedom. For others, music and art was their medium of expression.

Emotions were translated into an international language set to trigger any human being’s first instincts. Out of the crowds, “Kelmti Horra” —My word is free—was born. In the song, young Emel Mathlouthi speaks for the people to the people of Tunisia and the world. The song powerfully and beautifully articulated the message of the uprising

 

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“The dictator thought that speaking in the same language as the slogans would be water to the tension in the country. However, Bouazizi’s fire and the people’s flame weren’t going to be put down by phoney speeches and manipulative linguistics.”

Finally, on 13th of January, 2011, the dictator delivered a speech. The local media were obviously no longer silent. Ben Ali spoke to the people in Tunisian Arabic, the national dialect that is nationally and informally used. The dictator thought that speaking in the same language as the slogans would be water to the tension in the country. However, Bouazizi’s fire and the people’s flame weren’t going to be put down by phoney speeches and manipulative linguistics. And unexpectedly, this appropriation ignited more resistance.
Tunisians were armed with a stronger collective resilience that extracted its power from information, empathy and patriotism. People remained on the streets and mastered a harmony of “Dégage! Dégage” meaning “Leave! Leave!”. And the next day, January 14th, 2011, Ben Ali left the presidential palace in Carthage with his wife Leila Trabelsi and their three children along with the 23 years of dictatorship. The dictator and his family were denied to land in France. However, Saudi Arabia gave them political asylum and they landed in Jeddah, the city infamously known for welcoming another dictator who fled from Uganda.

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“Tunisians were armed with a stronger collective resilience that extracted its power from information, empathy and patriotism. People remained on the streets and mastered a harmony of “Dégage! Dégage” meaning “Leave! Leave!””

With his departure, Tunisia sighed with relief. We were freed from the 23-year-old burden. People celebrated the long-awaited falling of kleptocracy and dictatorship on the streets. It was our triumph. The regime was not overthrown by the military, but by the invincible will of Tunisians.

Our uprising sent out a clear message to the world: In the face of the bullets with the dignified power of posters and slogans, the voice of the Tunisians was able to beautifully metamorphose into “The Revolution” that eventually would be called the “Jasmine Revolution”. The world resonated with the victory, and people in other countries angrily started shouting the same exact slogans of discontentment. The “Jasmine Revolution” quickly became the world’s fight against worn-out regimes. It reached all sorts of regimes and dictatorships as far as Egypt or China.
Today, Tunisians are about to celebrate the Revolution’s 8th anniversary. The country took time to be reshaped into what we know today: the only Arab country to be free. Despite the relatively short period, Tunisia witnessed tremendous accomplishments. In 2014, the world observed and praised as we conducted our very first democratic elections, after which a new National Constituent Assembly was formed to draft the new constitution of Tunisia that was adopted on January 26th 2014.
Tunisia sparked the Arab Spring, inspiring change across the MENA Region.

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“Today, Tunisians face the ultimate challenge of staying on the right track towards the betterment of the economy and the safeguarding of freedoms and democracy. If we don’t, the revolution would go to waste and the people who have been sacrificed by the system would have died in vain.”

Unfortunately, we are so far the only country that achieved peace, freedom and democracy. And in 2015, the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet won the Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts of unification and preventing the adverse effects and repression as seen in countries like Syria and Egypt.
Realistically speaking, Tunisia has most definitely achieved democracy. But, the economic challenges are still underway, unemployment is still menacing the economic stability of many Tunisians and basic needs of many families are barely met due to the relatively high cost of living. The dinar recorded a historical regression in comparison to the Euro and the US dollar. But Tunisia could have never achieved such a relatively fast transition without an uprising. Without it, we wouldn’t have been able to revolutionize our thinking and the way we viewed and interacted with the concept of power.

Today, Tunisians face the ultimate challenge of staying on the right track towards the betterment of the economy and the safeguarding of freedoms and democracy. If we don’t, the revolution would go to waste and the people who have been sacrificed by the system would have died in vain. We are also challenged with helping humanity remember the uprising that reshaped the MENA region and the world forever.
The question of how we will sustain the message which awakened the region from the deep slumber of dictatorship still remains relevant.
However, a very valid question that remains is this: could the Tunisian revolution have sparked uprisings in other African countries other than the Arab ones that remain burdened with a dictatorship?

Nourane Hentati
Nourane Hentati is a 16-year-old student from Tunisia at the African Leadership Academy where she is a member of the International Relations Council, LaunchX and GirlUp club. Nourane has a tremendous passion for history and is a feminist who aspires to contribute to the universal efforts of women empowerment. Nourane dreams of a world where everyone enjoys their human rights to the fullest.

Edited by Katai Lutanda Mutale

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Healing The Scars Left On Land

 

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By Thabang Matona

All the pillars of South Africa’s Constitution stand on the firm foundation laid by thousands of brave men and women who gathered in Kliptown on the historical day of the 26th of June 1950. These women and men gathered to proclaim and pledge towards the South Africa that they would fight for. Some of the top declarations made on that day were, “The People Shall Share the County’s Wealth” and “The Land Shall Be Shared Amongst Those That Work It”. The ideals of these women and men still represent the shared vision of all South Africans today and explains why the cup of the Freedom Charter was simply poured into what became the Constitution of the Rainbow Nation when it was adopted by the first democratically elected government.

Many previously oppressed South Africans woke up on the early morning of the 27th of April 1994 to cheerfully stand in long queues so they may vote for the very first democratic government. A lot of them cast their very first vote with the image of a new dawn for their country in mind; a Rainbow Nation, where they would get what was refused to them by the cruel and unjust apartheid regime. Although South Africa has made great strides in progressing social, judicial and economic structures, very little has been done to heal the scars left by the deliberate economic injustice of apartheid. This is most evident when the matter of land ownership in South Africa is brought up. The most recent land audit by the Ministry of Rural Development of South Africa revealed that of all privately owned land, over 80% of it is owned by white people. This, put into retrospect means that the non-white community, which constitutes about 90% of South Africa’s population owns just below 20% of the privately owned land in this country. These figures sound ridiculous until we take a little dive into historical archives and discover the Native Land Act of 1913. This act was the first step in the establishment of systems that prevented non-white South Africans from actively partaking in economic development through usage of land. It paved the path for the ultimate dispossession of many South Africans by restricting black land ownership (almost 90% of the population) to only 10% of the nation’s land mass. In preceding years, historical phases like the Sophiatown forced removals and Group Areas Act of 1950 were displayed to the world by the unapologetically oppressive apartheid regime.

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A few years ago, the most typical measure of South Africa’s still existent, racial inequality was poverty levels along the racial lines – with the black community generally falling below the poverty line. However, in 2013, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) immerged with the sole mission of “fighting for the economic emancipation of “African” people in South Africa”. The EFF quickly and surprisingly gained a lot of popularity amongst South Africans – particularly young South Africans. The political party built up the momentum that made “Expopriation of Land without Compensation” a conversation that could never be missed in political discussions all over the country. They managed to convince a large population of South Africans that the current land redress policies in the holy grail of this nation – the constitution – were not radical enough to fight for the rights of black people.

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“The current head of the EFF is a man who played massive roles in the removal of the past two presidents of South Africa from office.”

Quite a number of times in the two decades since South Africa become a democratic state, there were conversations about land reform however none were ever as publicly nationwide as this current one. Before we can understand why this conversation has become one of such public interest, we need to first understand what comprises of the political party that has advocated and championed for the expropriation of land without compensation. The current head of the EFF is a man who played massive roles in the removal of the past two presidents of South Africa from office. The executive committee also comprises of one of the top advocates who represented the Marikana workers (stood on the side of human rights and justice) during the Marikana Massacre Inquiries. Therefore, it makes sense that political organisations in this country needed to take the demands of the EFF for radical land reform policies that favoured black people seriously as they were getting thousands of South Africans to rally behind them. President Ramaphosa had a very unique and overwhelming challenge to face in the first few months as the new president of South Africa. He had to clean up after the former president Jacob Zuma while dealing with the mounting public pressure to form a stance on the very heated question of land.

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“President Ramaphosa had a very unique and overwhelming challenge to face in the first few months as the new president of South Africa. He had to clean up after the former president Jacob Zuma while dealing with the mounting public pressure to form a stance on the very heated question of land.”

The image of a South Africa that has its land and wealth fairly distributed as declared in our Freedom Charter is an ideal that sounds pleasant to many South Africans, especially those that have been dispossessed and oppressed by history. This is an ideal that most South Africans hope to live to see and will be the ultimate proof that this beautiful nation has finally managed to truly end segregation and blur racial lines with regards to economic emancipation, that the wounds left by apartheid will be healed. This is the beautiful dream that the EFF is fighting towards. According to the EFF, all privately owned land in South Africa should be state-owned. All of it, taken without compensation to the current owners. This land will then be leased by the government to anyone who has the best intentions for the usage of the land for a period of 25 years. The lease will be reinstated after the 25 years should the user continue to find use for the land. The manifestos of the EFF state that the political party is fighting for the economic emancipation of black people from the tight grasp of neo-colonialism. However, if land is leased to the most competent users of it, the white minority that has had lifetimes of experience using the land will most likely be able to keep the land while the black, inexperienced community stays with no land. Again, the EFF claims that land should be owned by “the African people”. This is a bit contradictory to their intentions of land expropriation because land owned by the state means “the African people”, as the EFF would say, stay landless!

The fears voiced by many experts are that the idea behind land expropriation without compensation is not entirely clear. No one really knows what part of the land will be expropriated, who it will be expropriated to and how it will be expropriated. The President of the EFF, Julius Malema, was quoted saying that South Africans should simply “occupy the land” they want to be in. Since then, a few incidences of attempted ‘land grabs’ have occurred.  The other fear is based on a reflection from lessons of history. A quick backtrack to the year 2000 in the neighbouring nation of Zimbabwe sets a frightening yet possible course of events for the Republic of South Africa should our government fall into the “radical” rush of land expropriation. Zimbabwe’s hasty attempt to reclaim ownership of land and award it to the black community proved to be a fatal blow to the country’s economy which has been in a state of instability ever since.

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“The President of the EFF, Julius Malema, was quoted saying that South Africans should simply “occupy the land” they want to be in. Since then, a few incidences of attempted ‘land grabs’ have occurred. “

Why did the attempt to expropriate land fail in Zimbabwe? The first reason is because country had no clear plan. The community of Zimbabweans that were being offered this land had absolutely no means to use it in ways that would greatly benefit the economy. Secondly, by offering the land to a specific group of people and cutting off the opportunity for another group of people, Zimbabwe alienated itself from the global diplomatic spheres and was thus a sole actor in a global ecosystem that can only work through collaboration.

Now back to South Africa in 2018 – where does this land expropriation without compensation position the Republic of South Africa within the global diplomatic spheres? The simple response to that can be found on twitter. The current president of the United States of America, Donald J. Trump, took a stab on the not-so-factual news reports that this subject is causing. The international community is viewing South Africa’s land expropriation without compensation conversation as a tactic against white land owners in South Africa. Donald Trump referenced the alleged killings of white farmers in his reaction to what is happening in South Africa. What stands to be a more important international relations concern which is based on very factual information, unlike what President Trump refers to, is the issue of property rights infringement that this “radical policy” stand causes. Major investors in South Africa’s land activities such as agriculture are at a position of uncertainty which is having a negative effect on the country’s currency. Potential investors are becoming more and more reluctant in investing in the purchase of South African land for economic development purposes because the law could change any moment and revoke them of their ownership.

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“The line between progressive restructuring of society and emotionally driven reverse racism is very thin, South Africa needs to thread carefully before we fall onto the same path that our neighbour Zimbabwe walks on today.”

There is absolutely no doubt that the Republic of South Africa needs to come to a point where the unequal ownership of land that is due to an unjust history is eradicated. However, this cannot be done with the proposed land expropriation policy in its current form. There still needs to be a lot of conversation around how the land will be distributed in a way that most importantly does not infringe on the rights currently stipulated in the Constitution and does not favour one group of people over the other like apartheid did. The line between progressive restructuring of society and emotionally driven reverse racism is very thin, South Africa needs to thread carefully before we fall onto the same path that our neighbour Zimbabwe walks on today.

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Thabang Matona is a first year student at the African Leadership Academy from South Africa. He is a member of the International Relations Council and the debate club. In addition to the ALA 2 Year Core curriculum, Thabang does AS Level Chemistry, Biology and Mathematics. He is passionate about creating a better genearation of leaders through education as well as human rights and justice.

Article edited by : Moitse Kemelo Moatshe

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