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African revolt?

Andrew Harding | 19:14 UK time, Thursday, 17 February 2011

How far will the ideals and convulsions sweeping through Arab states penetrate into sub-Saharan Africa? Khartoum has already felt a few ripples. So who's next - if anyone?

Despite this incident, I think we can rule out Somalia. Mogadishu, in its eccentric way, may be more plugged into cyberspace that most cities on the continent. But how do you rebel against violent anarchy?

Uganda looks like more fertile ground as it grapples with elections. But the army seem unlikely to change sides, and there's no obvious groundswell of Facebook revolutionaries poised to march on Kampala.

Further south, Zimbabwe's ever-embattled prime minister has once again drawn hopeful parallels between his country and Egypt. But the police and army - still loyal to President Robert Mugabe - seem fully capable of preventing any awkward gatherings in Harare. As one political analyst here put it to me - "people in Zim know the police will shoot them".

Which brings us - with plenty of omissions - to the far end of the continent. South Africa is nothing like Egypt, but the Arab flu has given local commentators here plenty to sneeze about. Political commentator Moeletsi Mbeki gives the governing African National Congress (ANC) another nine years before the revolution comes. Another commentator, Jacob Dlamini, warns that apathy rather than protest will be the governing party's undoing. But this handy website offers a different, statistics-based, and sometimes more optimistic perspective. One of its authors, Robert Mattes, cites the "safety valve of elections", both here and across much of the continent, as a key inoculating factor against Arab-style unrest. South Africa is often gripped by violent protests linked to poverty and service delivery failures, but "people don't question the legitimacy of the government here. It's just that the government isn't listening," says Professor Mattes.

By the way - if you haven't already, do read this excellent analysis by a colleague of the social dynamics behind what's going on in Egypt and elsewhere. Of the 20 points listed, how many are now widespread in sub-Saharan Africa? Not enough, I reckon.


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