Zimbawe: Zims urged to follow Egypt, Tunisia & Libya's lead

Harare (Zimbabwe)/London (UK) - Various campaigns hoping to defy Robert Mugabe's clampdown on civic action have been launched, trying to encourage Zimbabweans to follow the lead of other African countries protesting against their dictators.

The campaigns, launched over email and through the social networking websites, Facebook and Twitter, encourage Zimbabweans to hold peaceful marches calling for Mugabe to step down. The 'Zimbabwe Million Citizen March' was launched a week ago, and calls for a mass protest next Tuesday under the theme 'Power in numbers to remove dictatorship'. At the same time, the 'Mugabe Must Go' campaign is also calling for peaceful marches against ZANU PF, while the 'Mugabe must go in seven days' campaign, has given Mugabe a seven day ultimatum to step down.

The campaigns have been inspired by the uprisings in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt, which have sparked debate across other African countries still ruled by despots. There are high hopes that the fall of the ruling family in Tunisia and that of Hosni Mubarak's administration in Egypt, will have a domino effect elsewhere.

Currently in Libya, notorious dictator Muammar Gaddafi is facing what analysts say is the most significant threat to his 40 year rule, and his response has been unsurprisingly violent.

Protesters in both the capital Tripoli and the city of Benghazi have come under attack by security forces, with the death toll believed to be in the hundreds. Gaddafi is also said to have recruited African mercenaries to carry out brutal killings of protesters, with Zimbabwean mercenaries believed to be part of this killing team. The effect has been a terrified but still angry nation and a host of diplomatic ties with Libya being severed in recent days.

Libyan Ambassador to the United States, Ali Aujali, has cut ties with Gaddafi and called on the Libyan leader to step down. Several other Libyan envoys have said that they resigned, including the ambassadors to India and Indonesia and a senior diplomat in China. At the same time, Libya's embassies in Malaysia and Australia said they no longer represent Gaddafi, while even his Justice Minister, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, resigned Monday in protest at the crackdown. Even some members of the usual loyal security forces have changed sides over the attacks. This week two Libyan fighter pilots flew their jets to Malta, saying they had defected, after being ordered to attack demonstrators, something they refused to do.

Libyans and observers to this most recent revolution are now waiting to see what Gaddafi's next move will be, with people pondering which country will be next.

Some Zimbabwean commentators have said this kind of revolution is not possible in Zimbabwe, while others have said that the time is ripe for public action against Mugabe. The question remains, is an Egypt style revolution possible in Zimbabwe?

The most noticeable difference between Egypt and Zimbabwe is the extent of internet penetration in the two countries, with Egypt's revolution coordinated and displayed for all to see through Twitter, Facebook and on blogs. According to the United Nations, internet penetration in Egypt is at nearly 25% of the population, with a strong contingent of respected bloggers who helped mobilise the nation. By contrast, in Zimbabwe internet access is measured at just 13% in urban areas. Efforts such as the Zim campaigns to get rid of Mugabe, have been greeted with a level of indifference by most Zimbabweans, with less than a hundred people showing their support for these groups on Facebook.

Some observers have also commented that Zimbabweans are too afraid to publicly protest against ZANU PF, when the party has so effectively quelled even talks of uprisings. At the weekend over 50 people were arrested and many seriously beaten after gathering to talk about Egypt and the revolution there. They are still being held in detention.

Political analyst John Makumbe told SW Radio Africa that repressive legislation and the pro-Mugabe security forces would make protests very difficult in Zimbabwe.

"An Egypt-style revolution is possible in Zimbabwe but it might be unwise," said Makumbe. "We could see a similar bloodbath that we are witnessing in Libya right now.

But Makumbe emphasised that "there is a price for freedom," and dismissed comments that Zimbabweans are too afraid to take their frustrations onto the streets.

"That is an underestimation of the anger people are feeling the people-power that Zimbabweans have. Once this starts in Zimbabwe it will be unstoppable," Makumbe said.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwean civil society is reported to be "mulling" civic action to bring an end to the ZANU PF violence sweeping across the country. ZANU PF youths have been rampaging in different areas, harassing residents and attacking MDC supporters. In Mbare, thousands of people have been displaced by the violence, and are now living in safe houses.

"We have agreed to confront the inclusive government if our advocacy and lobbying fail. There is the coming together of pro-democracy groups and there is consensus that we must revert to our strategy of 2007 which brought results," spokesman of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, Phillip Pasirayi told the Daily News on Tuesday.

In March 2007, civic society groups staged prayer marches in Harare's Highfield township which were violently stopped by armed police. Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the opposition MDC, and a number of civic society leaders were severely assaulted by police, prompting regional leaders to convene an emergency summit to try and resolve the Zimbabwean crisis.

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