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Congo may be poorer than Egypt, but that's not enough to turn Kinshasa into Cairo

The Democratic Republic of the Congo has disaffected youth and poverty, but political networks there are not strong enough to sustain large protests against a government that would likely use force.

By Jason StearnsGuest blogger / February 14, 2011



About three weeks ago, the various Congolese listservs I am subscribed to stopped talking about the Congo and started transmitting messages about Tunisia and Egypt full with "Congo is next!" and "Make the Gare Central into Tahrir!"

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So it is possible? I doubt it. For the following reasons.

The Egyptian uprising was carried out by several groups. (1) A networked and discontent middle-class of Facebook-savvy urbanites who rallied through social groups such as "April 6th movement" and "We Are All Khalid Said; (2) a mobilized labor sector that, especially later in the uprising, was able to bring part of Egypt's economy to a standstill through strikes; and (3) a well-organized Muslim Brotherhood that bridges professional and workers' classes and was able, especially later in the demonstrations, to organize and rally more people against the regime.

In addition, the fervor of the Tunisian uprising served as a direct inspiration to the Egyptians, who saw themselves in a similar situation. Media from around the world, but especially Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, broadcast images to millions of Egyptian households throughout the demonstrations, spreading the word and further mobilizing the population. At the same time, foreign media flocked to Egypt, aware of the country's importance in the region due to its economy and its role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This made it difficult for Mubarak to crush the uprising with brute force.

In the Congo, there are factors that could, on the face of things, foment unrest. The absolute misery of the people is much worse than in Egypt in terms of health, nutrition and general welfare. Kinshasa is the third largest city in Africa behind Cairo and Lagos and has plenty of disaffected youth. In 1992, the "Marche des Chr├ętiens" brought hundreds of thousands of people into the streets of Kinshasa against Mobutu, and the recent return of Tshisekedi may have sent similar numbers onto the streets.

But the political networks are not sufficiently strong or deep to sustain large protests for very long in face of a government that would likely use force before abdicating. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 21 percent of Egpyt's population has access to the internet and 5 percent are on Facebook; in the Congo, the corresponding figures are 0.5 percent and 0.1 percent.

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