Five African stories you may have missed during Egypt's revolt
Street protests in Gabon, a punishing stalemate in Ivory Coast, a coming election in Uganda: there is plenty of news even as Africans remain glued to the Egypt revolt. Some of it may affect the price of your next steaming cup of cocoa.
Johannesburg, South Africa
After 18 days of being glued to their television sets, radios, and smartphones, watching the Egyptian citizenry kick out there long-ruling leader, Africans finally opened newspapers this week to find that there was crucial news closer to home.Skip to next paragraph
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Here are five countries to watch closely:
In South Africa, on Thursday, President Jacob Zuma announced a new priority for his government: creating jobs. Meanwhile, a massive trucking strike began on Monday, threatening to bring the retail and manufacturing economy to a halt.
South Africa is the continent’s strongest and most developed economy, and a natural base for foreign investors interested in getting a foothold in the rapidly growing resource-rich economies of sub-Saharan Africa. But despite this attraction, there are problems that give foreign investors cause for concern.
For one, strikes are plentiful, and strikers enjoy the at-least ideological support of the ANC government, which includes top leaders of the umbrella labor group, Congress of South African Trades Unions (COSATU), in its ruling alliance and in the cabinet of President Jacob Zuma. A country that honors labor rights is good. A country that is regularly brought to a halt over wage issues is harder for investors to love.
Yet, much of the hardest criticism of President Zuma’s pro-jobs program is of the too-little, too-late variety. South Africa has one of the highest disparities between rich and poor citizens in the world, higher even than Brazil. This disparity is highly correlated with race, which makes the divide cultural as well, and thus potentially quite ugly. According to the government’s own agency, StatsSA, black people, who make up 80 of the population, account for 41 percent of South Africa’s income; compared with whites, who make up just 9 percent of the population but account for 45 percent of the nation’s income.
In Gabon, an oil-producing country ruled for 34 years by the same family, street protests by opposition activists and students -- apparently inspired by the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt – have put the regime of President Ali Bongo on notice.
Despite the many factors that make Tunisian-style citizen revolts less likely in sub-Saharan Africa, there are plenty of parallels between the strong-arm regimes of Tunisia and Egypt in the north, and of African leaders below the Sahara, and the potential unrest that might call for their overthrow.
But citizen movements in sub-Saharan African countries like Gabon will be fighting with disadvantages, many of them technological. When there are few independent or foreign news organizations covering a country, and citizens' only source of news about their country is state-run television and radio, the Internet becomes an important alternative for citizens to communicate with each other and to share the scraps of information they do manage to find.