Tag Archives: Protest

Voices Raised: Lessons from protests around the world, by Nikkon Balial

26 Nov

Editor’s Note:  Nikkon came to us via Central European University and the Bard Globalization and International Affairs Program.  An Indian citizen, Nikkon has been working as an intern (for Foreign Policy Interrupted) highlighting the work of extraordinary but under-the-radar women writers in peace and security. During her limited time with us, Nikkon has thrown herself into a wide range of UN issues while keeping her eye on global trends beyond this building.  The following post is the fruit of her attentions. 

Almost half the world is seemingly out on the streets protesting their leaders, flawed systems and the failed promises. These protests may not be having the exact same demands, but they have more things in common than meets the naked eye. These protests expose the ever-increasing rich and the poor divide along with the growing gap in demands between the economically developed and under-developed countries. These protests across the world teach us lessons about the overwhelming youth involvement, changing definitions of power and contrasting demands. They prove that the lens which we have been using to analyze global dynamics must be thoroughly re-evaluated. The changing global dynamics are trying to tell us something and if we are not realizing that already, then, what are we paying attention to? The protests demonstrate the gaps and we must detect them first to begin finding solutions thereafter.

The notion of peace journalism developed by Lynch and Galtung concentrates on how the consequences of war are more important than understanding how war is actually fought. What happens after the war is over is often where coverage is most required. But what happens when civilians revolt against the state leaders? Is covering the war within the state more important or is it the consequences of the protest and the conflict, which is paramount? In most cases, they are not independent of each other. They happen together, sometimes with increased momentum and at other times leaders get lucky and the unanimity frizzles out! The world has been torn into protests recently, From Hong Kong to Chile, Guinea to Lebanon, from Bolivia to Georgia and Iraq to Ecuador. People have all united against a range of issues comprising of rising corruption, economic inequalities, democratic rights and popular resentment against leaders. The protesters have mobilized seemingly without strong leaders dictating to them. They have gathered and protested for rights they believe they deserved.

Closer to my home, what led to the protests at the Indian academic institution Jawaharlal Nehru University? The students of the institution gathered on the streets to protest the price hike at the University and demanded education to remain a public good, accessible to all. The youth leading these large protests has become a striking phenomenon across the world. Recently, in Czech Republic, the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution became an occasion to ask their Prime Minister to separate trade from politics. The protesters who were mostly students and young people, saw their populist Prime Minister as a threat to democracy and wanted him to step down. Hong Kong, even more so, demonstrates the truest spirit of the young. The youth have proven their perseverance by carrying forward the symbol of anger against Chinese control, steadily over months. These examples clearly demonstrate the perseverance of young people to want change and act towards the change. The young are flooding the streets massively, reinstating student involvement in mass demonstrations. They are relentless, committed and ready to question authorities who they believe have been unfair, across cultures and countries. The youth have remained engaged despite authority’s backlash. It is not a choice that can be exercised by the leaders in accordance with their whim and fancies.

Protests have erupted in every continent of the world. They have started with one issue and soon has used that to express their overwhelming discontent with the entire system. Some have achieved the resignation of leaders, while others have earned promise of change and reforms. But, an important lesson that came out of them is that democracy is a primary need for the privileged while social safety net policies are what people in the under-developed countries require. The difference between rich and the poor is not the only gap widening, there is also a clear demarcation emerging between economically developed and under-developed countries. The protests in the developed regions are raising their heads for democracy and the loosening of state control. In Czech Republic, people want their Prime Minister to maintain the true values of democracy. In Georgia too, the people gathered in front of the parliament to protest the parliamentarians who could not pass an electoral reform bill. Hong Kong students have demanded democratic rights, lesser control by China and their freedom of speech and expression, while the economically weak are flaring up to demand for subsidies and lower prices. They are roaring in the streets, calling out for basic resources to survive. These examples clearly show how the developed countries and economically advanced countries have people demanding for democracy, their right to assemble and their right to uphold democratic principles through governance. This is almost in contrast to the demands being made by Latin American, African and Middle Eastern countries. The protesters in Iran have risen against the price hike in petrol while Chileans have gathered to protest the hike in public transport prices, poor medical facilities and low pension rates. Much like Chile, the Lebanese people also started gathering on the streets after the introduction of new taxes by the government. Soon, the price hikes, electricity shortages and economic crisis became an overwhelming part of the protests. Inequality, inflation and the inability to afford the basic standards of living is more concerning to the people of under-developed and developing countries. Their demand for low prices, safety net systems, and subsidies are evidently visible.

Another takeaway from the new wave of protests is the contrasting use of technology. Digitalization and social media play a very significant role in the protests of today. The same technology is used in contrasting ways by leaders and the working lower middle-class masses who are protesting in these countries. Where, the leaders have curtailed civil liberties and formed narratives as per their convenience for the people to believe, the people have risen against their leaders together to protest, using the same social media platforms. Protests in Lebanon, Chile, Hong Kong have spread using social media and digital platforms. The rage has accumulated on the screens and brought the people to the streets. This impact of digitalization is bringing people of underprivileged classes in developing and post-colonial countries closer, making them stand up for their own rights.

These protests also bring to light the need to re-evaluated definitions and systems of power. The power holders in countries have remained unaccountable and pursued policies without really addressing the needs of the people. This is part of the problem of being blindly influenced by western systems and narratives. Countries like Chile, Lebanon, Ecuador have suffered for decades. Power is not static and leaders across the world cannot expect to maintain power the same way they did for decades, by following a single model and a single model of understanding policy benefits and needs. It is time for the priorities of leaders to change and change in accordance to the needs of particular countries. It is also time that they start viewing their people’s needs not with the same lens as developed countries do. Policies need to address specific concerns of local populations and not follow the principle of ‘one size fits all.’

Lastly, the protests prove that wealth and economic reforms do not have much to do with addressing inequality in post-colonial developing countries. Ecuador, Lebanon, Chile, Iraq and Guinea need policies not based on models of developed western economies but policies with safety nets and supporting benefits. Despite funds from IMF and World Bank making the economic development index of a countries rise, it is in turn doing nothing to address the problem of rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. A conflict demanding the end to class differentiation has arisen and the real vote bank, the masses, the working population, is raising their voices louder than ever before. The demand from the working class and lower middle class might not exactly be the way Marx envisioned it, but identities are being manifested on the streets to protest policies that have stripped people of their capacity to meet basic needs. Better economic models based on positive differentiation and country history need to be considered. The notion of ‘one size fits all’ has served the world no good.

In this era of right-wing leaders, autocracy and compromised human rights, it is no longer a one-sided game. Leaders may have gotten more powerful but the people in the streets are not far behind. Post-colonial structures demand a re-calibrated system with a priority on safety nets beyond the focus on rights and liberty. It is time to detect the change that the world is currently undergoing, and it will be too late for all of us unless we address these changes with greater scrutiny.

A Path Forward for Cameroon: An Interview with the Canadian Broadcast System

7 Oct

The following is the transcript of an interview conducted for the CBC “As it Happens” program with a colleague in Cameroon who has been closely following the street-level frustration and state violence now overwhelming the Anglophone region.   The call here for an immediate and inclusive political dialogue — perhaps best brokered by the UN — coupled with an end to excessive force by state security is one we fully endorse.

Guest: Guest

JD: In Cameroon last weekend, English-speaking protesters gathered to call for independence. Snd for their vocal dissent, 17 people were killed. There sre two English-speaking regions in Cameroon Northwest and the Southwest. The protesters want to separate from the country’s Francophone majority and create a new state called “Ambazonia”. We reached an activist living in the Southwest, who works for a local NGO. At his request, we have agreed to not use his name, because he fears arrest and detention. But we reached him in Buea, Cameroon.

CO: You are in the Southwest region of Cameroon. This is one of the two Anglophone regions, where the military has been heavily deployed following these protests. Can you describe what things are like there right now?

GUEST: After the heavy street protests last Sunday, places are relatively quiet. We do not have protesters again on the streets. But the region is heavily militarized. Arrests are still going on.

CO: And what can you see? What the presence of the military can you actually see on the streets?

GUEST: Basically, there are three categories of military: uniform officers have been deployed, the police and the army are all actively deployed. And they are currently on every street and every junction in the region.

CO: Can you tell us about the protests and what the protesters want? Can you tell us about the movement?

GUEST: The demands of the protesters dramatically change as they are asking now for a full federal system of government that would give them the power to manage the justice and education system.

CO: So it started as a demand for English language rights — for minority language rights to work in English. But now, the protesters are demanding something far larger. They unfurled flags of something they call “Abmazonia”, which would be what? Can you describe what they are now asking for? It’s a separatist movement, isn’t it?

GUEST: Yes. The Southern Cameroons’ gained their independence by joining the French Cameroon in 1961. At that time, the agreement was two states with equal status coming together in a federal system of government.

CO: And so the Anglophones who are leading this protest, what they want, if I understand it. They want an independent state called Ambazonia that would be English speaking?

GUEST: Yes, they want an independent state for Southern Cameroon and they’re naming it Ambazonia.

CO: Security forces shot dead 17 people among those protesters on the weekend. Is there an expectation that there were more deaths or that the toll will rise?

GUEST: The toll is already rising because they are more corpses that have been identified in the bushes where the protesters were followed by the military and some of them killed. We are still getting very, very disturbing reports about a very large number of corpses found around the region. And so the number 17 is likely going to grow.

CO: Security forces are saying we won’t use violence, unless there is a major cause. There are numerous risks even terrorist risks and we’re acting appropriately. Does that match what you are seeing on the streets?

GUEST: No, I don’t think so. Because none of the protesters were armed, and a lot of them had peace plants and branches and were saying no violence, no violence. And so we can also confirm that at one point when they were stopped, there was an exchange of stone throwing between them and the uniform officers when they returned tear gas. But, basically, we do not think that the force used by the protesters can justify why the military should have used excessive the force that they used.

CO: So the government has also shut down the Internet. They’ve closed businesses in the main cities where the protests happened. I understand there are military helicopters overhead. and that they’ve deployed the “rapid intervention brigade”, which is usually used to fight Islamists. So it’s pretty heavy. How do you think the government will proceed from here? How do you think the security forces will deport themselves?

GUEST: We think that they urgently need to demilitarize these regions back to a level that is meant to keep security for normal day-to-day activities to return. But this is not the situation yet.

CO: Is there any chance of returning to mediation? Any way to sit down between protesters and the government? Or do you think it’s gone too far at this point?

GUEST: It may have gone too far, but I think that it is not beyond the possibility for two parties to sit down and dialogue. No matter how dark it may seem today, it is still relatively brighter than tomorrow. A dialogue should not stop now. So we think it will save more lives and save the nation and all the parties will stand to win if dialogue should start now.

CO: Do you support the protest movement yourself?

GUEST: As an organization, we support human rights and we think we support the right for peaceful protest. We think that they have fundamental rights that needs to be respected. The questions that they are raising and the demands are genuine.

CO: We are not identifying you, nor the name of your organization, but you’re not breaking any laws. You’re not part of that separatist movement. You are part of a legal NGO. Why do you want your identity protected?

GUEST: It is because, presently, it’s it seems like a breakdown in order. Because not all those who have been arrested, or killed, or molested and detained are guilty of any crimes. So anybody can be arrested even when you show that this is my identification and stuff. There is indiscriminate arrests and penetration, so it’s not safe at all.

CO: We will leave it there and follow this story. I appreciate speaking with you. Thank you.

GUEST: Thank you very much.

JD: That was an activist living in Cameroon. He requested we not use his name because he fears arrest, but we reached him in Buea.