Waging Nonviolence: The Arab Spring you haven’t heard about — in Mauritania

Protest in Nouakchott
Photo by Magharebia, via Wikimedia Commons

You may not have heard of it, but the West African country of Mauritania has what is probably one of the most vibrant and active protest movements in the world today. Protests drawing tens of thousands of people (out of a total population of just three million) take place almost weekly in the capital Nouakchott, with many smaller protests happening on a daily basis around the vast country. The protests are overwhelmingly nonviolent — even in the face of frequent violent suppression — and have been going on since February 2011.

It would be comfortable to file these protests as another part of the Arab Spring: Mauritania is on the southern reaches of the Saharan Arab belt, and large-scale protests here started with the self-immolation and subsequent death of YacoubOuld Dahoud, an action mirroring the suicide of Mohamed Bouazizi, which set off the revolt in Tunisia. As in other Arab countries that experienced large-scale protests, Mauritania is governed by an autocratic regime whose leader,Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, originally came to power through a coup d’état.

But while these similarities exist and the pro-democracy protests in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world surely have been a source of great inspiration for local activists, Mauritania merits a second look. […]

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ThinkBrigade: Hunger, rebellion, coup: Mali’s crisis has its history

I’m part of the new project ThinkBrigade, which brings together reporters and citizen journalists from around the world to experiment with new forms of collaborative and interactive journalism. This is my first piece for the project, but others will follow:

Mali is a landlocked country in West Africa, about two times the size of France. It is dominated by vast expanses of sparsely inhabited desert and the fertile surroundings of the Niger river. In historical times, the area was home to powerful empires and the ancient city of Timbuktu, with its architectural wonders, still tells of this era.

Mali is again in the news these days, but not favourably. There are no stories about enthusiastic tourists or cultural richness. Instead, Mali currently lives through a triple crisis: After a devastating drought,potentially millions of people face a hunger crisis. At the same time, a rebellion led by Tuareg fighters has engulfed the North of the country. And if this wouldn’t be enough, a coup d’état has brought a military junta into power in the capital and resulted in harsh sanctions by neighboring states. […]

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Waging Nonviolence: Why democracy prevails in Senegal but fails in Mali

People took to the streets in Dakar, Senegal, yesterday, celebrating what many had feared would never happen: opposition leader Mack Sall gained around two thirds of the vote in the second round of the presidential elections, and incumbent Abdoulaye Wade accepted defeat, personally calling Sall to congratulate him.

Meanwhile in Bamako, the capital of Senegal’s neighbor Mali, people were slowly starting to venture out to the streets again after a sudden coup d’état brought normal life to a standstill for several days.

Why did democracy prevail in Senegal and not in Mali? Why were people in one country able to express the need for change at the ballot box, while in the other weapons had to speak? […]

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