- By Elizabeth DickinsonElizabeth Dickinson is a Gulf-based Deca journalist. Follow her on Twitter: @dickinsonbeth.
Just seconds after Hosni Mubarak resigned, African commentators started tweeting. "After #egypt Is the rest of #africa listening and watching? Support the protestors in #gabon #sudan #libya #algeria #cameroon #uganda …." wrote Emeka Okafor, author of the Timbuktu Chronicles blog. Ferial Haffajee, editor of South Africa’s City Press newspaper remembered the last time she’d seen something so moving: When Nelson Mandela walked out of prison exactly 21 years ago today. Then, she promptly asked, "So, if Mubarak’s gone, why not Gbagbo and Mugabe too?"
Egypt is an African country, too. And while the protests have rocked the Arab world, unsettling autocrats from Algiers to Riyadh, it has equally shaken the ground under Africa’s strongmen. Other tweeters report that Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe is censoring the news of Egypt’s protests. In Gabon, protesters took to the streets bearing banners that read, "In Tunisia, Ben Ali is gone. In Gabon, we’ve still got Ali Ben," (Ali Ben being a reference to president Ali Bongo Ondimba, son of the former strongman Ali Bongo). As protests broke out in Algiers today, the headlines read, "Waiting for the revolution in Algeria."
Across the continent, Mubarak’s fall isn’t being read as the end of the Middle Eastern autocrats. It’s being read as the end of autocrats. Period. The people power that ousted Mubarak today has not been witnessed on the streets of Nairobi or Lagos or Kinshasa since the end of colonialism. Yet many of the presidents in power are the same men (or their sons) who took power back then.
Like Egyptians, the Congolese, Nigerians, Eritreans, Senegalese, Angolans … they know what their regimes are like. They mock them, curse them, and sometimes fear them. But with each day of the Egyptian protests, there was a growing sense that they can also defeat them. As one Zimbabwean tweeter wrote today, "Next time you hear a dictator say he is not going, know that if you push hard enough they will go. #Zimbabwe #Egypt."