Why Tunisia's winds of change aren't blowing south to sub-Saharan Africa

Sub-Saharan Africa has remained quiet even as protests spread across North Africa from Tunisia to Egypt and onward to Yemen and Jordan.

Poverty makes many Africans risk-averse

Economic conditions fueled the protests in Tunisia and Egypt, but these were not pitchfork-and-torches peasant affairs. Instead, the marchers are mainly urban, middle-class, and well-educated – the kind of people who are shielded from extreme poverty.

Consider this fact: In Egypt, 20 percent of the population lives below the poverty line (2005 estimate); in Zimbabwe, that figure is closer to 75 percent. Yet despite having a fractured coalition government and a weak economy, Zimbabwe’s streets are quiet, and Egypt’s are practically a war zone.

Extreme poverty is often thought to be like powder kegs for a revolution, but in reality, a man who doesn’t know where his meal is going to come from is less likely to spend a day marching in the streets than a man who has a decent chance of coming home to a cooked meal.

“In some of the countries of Africa, the people are so poor that they don’t have the economic cushion to go out and protest,” says Ms. Dufka of Human Rights Watch. “They’re much less willing or able to take risks in political disputes.”

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