Learning from the African awakenings of 2011: Struggle and acts of imagination.

Author:Murrey, Amber
Position:Book review

Firoze Manji and Sokari Ekine (eds.) African Awakening: The Emerging Revolutions, Pambazuka Press: Cape Town, Dakar, Nairobi, and Oxford, 2011; 324 pp.: 9780857490216, $17.95 (pbk)

African Awakening: The Emerging Revolutions is composed of 32 essays published between January and July 2011 by 27 leading and emerging Pan-Africanist intellectual-activists through the electronic journal, Pambazuka News. The book is original in its merging of a dynamic and diverse range of movements, mobilisations, protests and uprisings within the rubric of 'awakenings', or pambazuka in Kiswahili. Massive mobilisations of 15 million demonstrators in Egypt are analysed alongside the protests of 50 non-violent activists in Cameroon. The book is an important symbol of African unity in its move away from the imperial tendency to analyse 'North Africa' apart from 'Sub-Saharan Africa'. It is also the only book to engage with the revolutionary movements of 2011 in the context of Africa. Twelve chapters focus on the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, and six chapters are devoted to an analysis of Libya. Other chapters consider uprisings and repression in Algeria, Cameroon, Cote d'Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Gabon, Morocco, South Africa, Swaziland and Uganda. The entries are a mixture of autobiographical, interview and firsthand accounts of awakenings alongside historically situated political and economic analyses.

Hassan El Ghayesh's richly personal account of the Egyptian revolution captures moments with his family gathered around the TV as they watch Hosni Mubarak's final speech on 17 February 2011. El Ghayesh's reflections of those moments emphasise the fragility of the man and the regime: 'I believe [Mubarak] broke down under stress and sadness during his speech and that they had to film it in many takes and then fix the whole thing together in a montage' (p. 80). Later he describes what it felt like in the immediate aftermath of Mubarak's resignation, 'Can the feeling be described? For 10 seconds, you totally forget about who you are, what you do or where you are--it's pure euphoria' (p. 82). The Egyptian filmmaker Salma El Tarzi humorously reflects on living in Tahir: 'Let's put it this way, due to the difficult conditions we called it the "smell of a revolution'" (p. 105). Pointedly, El Tarzi recalls her father advising her and her brother, 'Don't run away from gun fire, run towards it' (p. 105). These autobiographical accounts are importantly situated to emphasise the impacts of revolution on daily lives, including in more mundane forms...

To continue reading