2010-2011 Tunisian uprising is a 21st century revolution

Fabrice Ouedraogo

It all started when a young merchant, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire after the police confiscated his produce cart Dec. 14, 2010. Following that, demonstrations, riots and strikes constituted the most dramatic wave of social and political unrest in Tunisia for the past three decades.

As a result of Bouaziz’s immolation, things escalated when another young man responded to hunger and joblessness by electrocuting himself after climbing an electric tower; another committed suicide due to financial problems from his business debt, etc. Thus, violence and looting increased significantly to the point that Tunisian elites joined the movement.

In an attempt to calm things down, then President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali made a national television appearance Dec. 28 with immediate promises of jobs, reshuffling his cabinet, while condemning the protests of “extremism” by some groups and warning of “firm punishment,” he also accused foreign television channels of false broadcasting. His remarks were largely ignored and protests continued.

The Tunisian National Bar Association — about 95 percent of Tunisia’s lawyers — went on strike Jan. 6. The next day, teachers had joined the strike.

Jan. 14, the president dissolved the government, declared a state of emergency and fled the country, allegedly under Libyan protection.

Thus, a month of protest brought together thousands of demonstrators composed of students, civil functionaries, lawyers and even police officers all joining the mass to protest against the discontentment and tiredness of the overall misgoverning. The demonstrations were reported to have started over the criteria of unemployment; the rising cost of living in the country and poor living conditions; corruption; and lack of freedom of speech — the country had been controlled in a police like state with a restrained sense of liberty.

It’s great to see the Tunisian police body marching alongside the protesters, and decisively shifting to join the popular movement. Such an act, unseen before, is very telling and powerful; demonstrating what kind of government and ruler was in place.

As marches continue, people were chanting the words of a great Tunisian poet Abul-Qasim Al-Shabi in the streets: “If, one day, a people desire to live, then fate will answer their call.”

These events show that an oppressed and fed-up nation, sooner or later, will come to an awakening, and through civil disobedience overthrow ruthless and despot regimes.

As the country is currently phasing a political transition, marches and protests are still striving to dismantle the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) — the former ruling party — entirely. Sami Zaoui, Tunisian secretary for communication technologies, said to Al Jazeera on Friday that more than two-thirds of the new government comes from “civil society” and opposition parties.

One important aspect of this revolution, is that the strong wave of social and political pressure in Tunisia seems to be spreading in the Maghreb region and eastern Africa; inspiring folks from Arab countries like Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Yemen and Jordan currently observing similar but minor social protests.

I hope such revolt by the people is making similar regimes and leaders take notes and reconsider the way they govern their state through representing their people and allowing political alternation.

As an African, this is a new breeze of fresh air in the continent, and hopefully that breeze of change will blow down to sub-Saharan Africa where such drastic change is desperately needed in many states.