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Firoze Manji: African countries “untouched” by Arab Spring emerge after 30 years of declining income and privatization policies

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. In Morocco: protests on the streets mirroring protests throughout Arab Spring, and now much protesting around the world, but that has a special significance, what’s taking place in Morocco. And now joining us to talk about that is Firoze Manji. Firoze is the editor-in-chief of Pambazuka News. Thanks for joining us again, Firoze.


JAY: So what’s going on in Morocco? And why is this significant?

MANJI: Well, I think it’s a country where it has always been said that this was going to be the one not affected by the Arab Spring or the African awakening, that there were–was a stable government, there was a king who was popular, and so on. But in fact that myth has fallen apart, and for the same reason that it fell apart in Egypt, in Tunisia, in Burkina Faso, and everywhere else, and that is that they have–that people have suffered 30 years of a declining income, privatization of the commons, and while a small minority have got rich, you know, the 99 percent against the 1 percent. And it, I think, surprised all of us, the extent that overnight in 20 cities across Morocco you had massive uprisings of people calling for the resignation of the so-called popular king, Hassan, and it is quite extraordinary.

JAY: What kind of political forces are involved in the organizing of the protest?

MANJI: Well, I think a lot of it has been rather like what we’ve seen in the United States. It has been largely spontaneous. I’m not sure that there are particular forces which actually seriously can claim to have organized this. I think you are seeing an eruption of citizens who’ve had enough, just as we saw in Tunisia and Egypt. That’s not to say that there are not many political forces who are engaged within that, but that these have been spontaneous eruptions of citizens who are outraged. And I think it is part of the same story, as we have seen in terms of the occupying of Wall Street, the African awakening, the Arab Spring.

JAY: Now, we did an interview, you and I, a few months ago about the uprisings and protests across Africa, and many of them very brutally suppressed. What’s the state of that now, generally, across the continent?

MANJI: Well, since then it has spread to Malawi, to Botswana. We’ve seen uprisings again, once again, just a few days ago in Uganda, where the Walk to Work Campaign has started up again and faced enormous repression. And there are a growing number of strikes in South Africa. And I think–you know, and Morocco represents a really serious uprising, especially because this is a colonizing country as well. It is the country which has occupied the Western Sahara, the one country remaining in Africa which is still not free, still not dependent. And I think there will be repercussions in terms of their capacity to continue to be an occupying force in Western Sahara. The parallels are rather like the occupation of Palestine by Israel and the occupation of Western Sahara by the Moroccans. And there again we have a lot of natural resources, oil and so on, which is in the area known as the Western Sahara, which the Moroccans have taken over. So I think over time we will see the implications of that unfolding.

JAY: Are we seeing in any of the African countries the emergence of a new kind of political leadership? And the last time we did this interview, we talked about much of these protests are directed against, you know, what’s called neoliberalist type of economic policies. You know, I mentioned in the other interview we did recently that I talked to some people from the Congo recently, and people are very fed up, and there’s new elections coming, but they don’t see a new Patrice Lumumba. There’s nobody in sight who would lead a kind of new type of politics.

MANJI: Well, I don’t see that happening in the United States, either. But I think out of struggles is where leadership is formed, and I think it will take time. We are only in the opening scenes of an emerging revolution which is going to take many years to unfold. And I think it will be coming from young people, it’ll be coming from young women activists, who are the most dynamic forces in most of these countries. And I think that’s the transition we’ll see. But it takes time for those leaderships to emerge and to gain the kind of credibility and to build, you know, a system of democratization, rather than just democracy based on the ballot box. You know the old story: we get the opportunity only to vote once every four years. People on the stock exchange are voting every 4 seconds. And so, you know, that’s the difference in the contrast in democracy. And I think the kind of democracy we need to build is one of democratizing, you know, our own societies and say, you know, we must take control of what is produced, how it’s produced, who it’s produced for, and, you know, who benefits from that. And so, you know, the slogan of 99 percent against the 1 percent is–has resonance in Africa, as it does in New York, Washington, and all the other cities across the world which have been–we’ve seen these uprisings.

JAY: Thanks very much, Firoze.

MANJI: Thank you for having me on your show.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End of Transcript

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Firoze, a Kenyan, is founder and executive director of Fahamu and editor of Pambazuka News. He has formerly worked as programme director for the International Secretariat of Amnesty International, CEO for Aga Khan Foundation UK, and regional representative for health for IDRC's office for Eastern and Southern Africa.