Mauritania: Hot Heads and Cold Shoulders

Tasiast Workers Sit-in
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As the wealthy upper management of Canada’s Kinross Gold were celebrating Christmas, a large group of almost 300 members of its workforce at the Tasiast operation in Mauritania received the unwelcome news that they were being laid off. The official line is that this was all part of a necessary strategy to cut costs and reduce operational capacity, and is also related to a fall in the price of gold.

The workers in Mauritania say they have not been treated fairly, that collective redundancies are not legal, and that they have a raft of additional issues which need to be addressed. One worker told a local reporter that he received his notice while taking his first vacation from work in six years. Another got the news while still undergoing medical treatment for an industrial injury. Several of those laid off had been encouraged to take out large bank loans, the status of which is now a major problem.

Frustrated by the lack of reaction, a group of workers began an open-ended sit-in outside the Presidential Palace in Nouakchott on December 25 to demand a hearing and request fair treatment under the prevailing law. As usual, a representative from the office of President Aziz came out to receive the demands of the delegation, but returned to say Aziz would not grant them an audience. The protesters remained in place, throughout the bitterly cold nights.

After the sit-in continued for some days without redress from the company or action by the authorities, local activists and concerned members of civil society went to sit with them and show solidarity, and returned on January 5 to take part in a human chain of protest, as shown in the video above, and the photo gallery below.

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The media responded with a blanket of silence – the mining companies in Mauritania are big spenders when it comes to advertising contracts. The parties of the political opposition likewise had little to say.

Then, late on Thursday 9 January, the sit-in had a visit from the police. The mining workers were told they must leave the area because President Keita of Mali was coming to pay an official visit and they were making the place look untidy. Naturally, they refused to budge. Another group of unrelated protesters who were in the same location that evening did comply with police orders to vacate the area.

At around 02:55, the riot squads arrived in eight vehicles and, after talking quietly with the workers for about 15 minutes, launched a sudden violent attack, using batons and tear gas. After two brutal hours of police repression against the workers from Tasiast, and the activists who rushed to their side in support, there were about a dozen people injured. Four men with more with serious injuries were refused treatment, through the combined obstruction of medical staff at the National Hospital and the police. Several protesters were robbed of cash and mobile phones by the police while being searched; an amount of 400,000 MRO has been reported. The police also confiscated blankets, rugs, clothes and cooking gear from the sit-in.

Police released about 10 workers arrested during the raid and the running battle in the streets of Nouakchott which ensued; the rest were released later. There was no media presence the entire time, only activists from Mouvement du 25 Février (m25fev) and La Jeunesse de RFD trying to document events. One of the m25fev activists was injured quite seriously in the shoulder and was detained by police for about 2 hours.

The protests in the capital continued on Saturday 11 January, despite the previous day’s violence.

Protesting mine workers outside Tasiast HQ Nouakchott

Protesting mine workers outside Tasiast HQ Nouakchott

The protesters switched location to stand outside the Kinross office in Nouakchott, but an activist reported to a local journalist that the management there called the police, claiming the protesters were throwing stones – which the activist strenuously denied. Police cordoned off the area and there was an unconfirmed report that tear gas was used again.

This issue is being systematically ignored, while far larger “Islamic” protests are being orchestrated in Nouakchott and Nouadhibou to demand the application of Sharia law against the author of a recent blog post which was critical of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH).

Massive protest march after Friday prayers descended on the presidential palace

Massive protest march after Friday prayers descended on the presidential palace

These protests are growing in size and turning violent. On Saturday 11 January in Nouadhibou, three injuries – including one police officer – were reported after clashes with police. The previous day, that town saw large protests with tyres being burned, cars and shops vandalised, as police used tear gas to disperse the protesters. Local journalist Ahmed Salem was beaten and arrested by police. In Nouakchott, hundreds marched to the palace and the president came down to address the crowd, and remind them that Mauritania is an Islamic Republic which already uses Sharia.

10Jan Aziz outside the palace

Aziz dons his turban to address people outside the palace

Deeply reminiscent of the book burning incident of May 2012, this Aziz PR stunt has drawn immediate censure across the board, including from some highly influential commentators. Although the worst of the criticism was reserved for Aziz, there was some remaining for an obviously false claim by one (barely legitimate) news site that Al Qaeda flags had been spotted in the Nouadhibou protests, which is being resoundingly refuted. There is also mounting concern about the decidedly un-Islamic behaviour of robberies and violence being reported.

As for the alleged reason for these massive, repeated protests – the offensive article – this is a most unusual situation and one which is perhaps too easily exploited.  The supposed author of the article was arrested over a week ago, and was sent to the High Court for arraignment a few days later, after admitting to writing the item in question. He is said to have been charged with apostasy, which is covered in Article 306 of the current penal code. He can be fined and sentenced to prison if he makes a public apology, or he can refuse and be sentenced to death. He has already issued a written retraction and apology before being arrested (or taken into protective custody, depending on the source). No one has been executed in Mauritania for decades.

These twinned sagas will continue, the redundant Tasiast workers will be ignored, while demanding redress under a law which exists but probably doesn’t apply to their specific situation; and the devout Muslims will be showered with attention, demanding introduction of a law that would be redundant because one already exists and is being applied. By Tuesday, 14 January, the day assigned as the anniversary of the birth of Mohammed (PBUH), this particular powder keg could be set to explode.

When is Glass Not Transparent?

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See end of post for an update on this item

Mauritanian journalist Riyadh Ahmed, who decided yesterday to blow the whistle on 27 of his colleagues and managers of print, electronic and audio-visual media (here or see image below) but declined to publish the documents and audio he claims he has as evidence of them accepting payments, seemed to have been scooped by an anonymous blog. In response, Riyadh Ahmed claims (or see image below) that the list on the blog is fake, and exhorts us to ignore it. What a fine mess.

We could ask: what evidence exists to show that the vast majority of Mauritanian media is independent or above corruption to begin with? Documents, tapes, etc could be mere confirmation of common knowledge, no more startling than Edward Snowden’s serialised revelations about state surveillance methods and programs that have been known of for years. My dear friends: distraction, not discovery, is the name of the game.

UPDATE 27 December 2013: On 24 December, Riyadh posted an apology (see image below) and retracted his intention to publish the list, citing the pleading of three associates, who had managed to persuade him that to continue would bring too much harm to their shared profession. The statement attracted a mixed reaction, including demands to publish regardless. A couple of days have passed now without further comment, so it seems that this distraction is over for now.

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When is glass not transparent? When it’s mirrored.

Who are the real terrorists in Mali?

Terrorists in Mali
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الدوريات مالي تذهب الى القرى وتقوم با اعتقال المدنين الشيوخ بلغو أرذل العمر وشباب بتهمة الارهاب والكثير من هولاء تقوم مليشيات مالي بنهب ما في جيوبهم من أموال ونهب مواشيهم قبل الصاق تهمة الارهاب بيهم

الدوريات مالي تذهب الى القرى وتقوم با اعتقال المدنين الشيوخ بلغو أرذل العمر وشباب بتهمة الارهاب والكثير من هولاء تقوم مليشيات مالي بنهب ما في جيوبهم من أموال ونهب مواشيهم قبل الصاق تهمة الارهاب بيهم

When the international community pays more in ransom to terrorists than it devotes to “military training” or “development” the inevitable result is a corrupt and empowered Mali army exacting revenge on poor farmers in the North, stealing their livestock and throwing them in jail on spurious “terrorism” charges. These people will rot under torture in filthy, overcrowded prisons without food, sanitation, or health care until they die, like Mohamed Ag Hassan, forgotten and ignored by all, even the “aid” agencies.

وفاة السجين محمد اغ الحسن في السجن المركزي الكبير في العاصمة المالية بماكو , اليوم بسبب الاوضاع السيئة في السجن .. من امراض و سوء التغذية

وفاة السجين
محمد اغ الحسن في السجن المركزي الكبير في العاصمة المالية بماكو , اليوم بسبب الاوضاع السيئة في السجن .. من امراض و سوء التغذية

What becomes of their wives, children, and the rest of their families, robbed of their menfolk and livelihood, dispossessed of their homes? They become refugees..

الامم المتحدة والفرنسيه والاكواس منحازيين للسفاح المالي ويغضون النظر عن ممارساتها البشعه ضد الشعب الاعزل ويتحدثون عن تنزلات جديدة  والامم المتحده تهدد من اجل مباني ولا ترى قتل المدنيين  اخروجوهم من كيدال ولا تنحنوا لهم ولا تناقشوهم فيما لا يعنيهم اخرجوهم والله معكم

الامم المتحدة والفرنسيه والاكواس منحازيين للسفاح المالي ويغضون النظر عن ممارساتها البشعه ضد الشعب الاعزل ويتحدثون عن تنزلات جديدة
والامم المتحده تهدد من اجل مباني ولا ترى قتل المدنيين
اخروجوهم من كيدال ولا تنحنوا لهم ولا تناقشوهم فيما لا يعنيهم
اخرجوهم والله معكم

Mauritania: Tragedy Prompts Protests Demanding Justice, Legal Reforms

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Marking a week of protests to demand action after the rape and murder of a little girl, the march organised by Nouakchott-based women’s rights activist group “Etkelmi” (Scream) has attracted a lot of support and positive reactions from political elites and fellow activists. About 50 protesters set off at 5pm Tuesday, 5th November 2013, from the Ministry of the Interior to the Palace of Justice. The young women leading the march covered the entire distance in their bare feet. They were accompanied by family, friends and supporters of the victims of recent violent assault, including the husband and friends of Penda Soghe, a young wife and mother who was expecting her second child at the time she was savagely beaten, tortured, gang-raped and murdered, after being abducted on her way home from work at the beginning of April this year.


Once at the Judiciary HQ, there were statements of protest by supporters and several representatives of civil groups, to demand a change to the law in Mauritania relating  to rape, and the entrance gates to the building were covered in protest banners.

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The abduction, rape, and murder of six-year-old Khadji (Yaye) Touré, whose body was discovered Sunday, 27 October 2013 on the beach, not far from one of Nouakchott’s hotels, has shocked the entire community. The tragic details were unveiled against the backdrop of the annual Nouakchott short film festival, which had welcomed hundreds of guests from around the world. The Etkelmi event was the fourth protest in the past week.

The first protest saw more than a hundred people accompanying the bereaved family in a march to the Presidential Palace to demand serious action on the crime. The authorities responded by asking for a list of people who wished to attend a discussion, but no further news has been posted so far. News sites reported an announcement late on Tuesday, that police had arrested a man in connection with the abduction, and that he had confessed to murdering the little girl. There are some doubts about the veracity of this statement.

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Mid-week, a group of Mauritanian ex-pats living in Paris, which has staged weekly protests for the past several months, demanding a fair and transparent approach to registration procedures for Mauritanian citizenship, held a vigil in memory of the murdered child, adding their voices to the call for justice and legal reform.

On 1 November, 2013 the pro-morality activist group staged a protest immediately after Friday prayers in Nouakchott, which was also very well-attended.

It now remains to be seen whether this concerted effort can continue to build and raise awareness, eventually creating enough pressure to initiate the needed reforms. All those involved are aware there is little chance of making any real progress until after the upcoming elections, scheduled to take place on 23 November.

Digital Activism Tactics: TweetStorms Reviewed

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In late 2010, digital activists on Twitter began experimenting with a new form of protest, the “TweetStorm.” I updated this from my old post because there have been a few changes to Twitter, and both Facebook and Google+ have now adopted hashtags, making this an even more attractive concept. Where you read “tweet” below, take that to include status updates on FaceBook, Twitter, and elsewhere.

What is a TweetStorm?

It’s a coordinated action by many users to tweet about a single issue at the same time, generating a “storm” of tweets.

How does it work?

Anyone can call for a TweetStorm, you just need to decide:

  1. What will be in the tweet[s] (the text and what hashtags, any special user to target, eg @whitehouse – but use extreme restraint, or risk alienating* a user who can help!

    TIP: Choose a new, unique hashtag, but everyone has to keep it secret until right before the event

  2. What time it has to be sent (essential to choose a time you know lots of supporters are usually online)

    TIP: Create an online event that people can sign up for, or make a one-off campaign on thunderclap.it

What next?

  • You have to tell people about the TweetStorm, and ask them to get involved by supporting it by sending out a tweet or setting up a scheduled tweet (see below) and by spreading the idea to their followers!

    TIP:  Contact your most active followers  privately, to ask if they will take part and help to recruit others

  • Then, you all either keep the TweetStorm text somewhere handy (Facebook event, blog post, pastebin, etc) and tweet at the appointed time, or schedule the tweets to go out at the set time.

How do I schedule a tweet?

TweetDeck includes a schedule tweet feature, and there are some scheduling services available through mobile or online applications, such as Buffer or Hootsuite.

How do I know what time to send the tweet if I am in a different time zone?

Check times in various time zones here: http://www.worldtimeserver.com/ or here: http://www.worldtimezones.com/

And that is about all there is to it.

TIP: If you plan to use TweetStorms as an ongoing tactic, keep some stats, give people feedback, and THANK THEM for taking part

Summary

  1. Write the tweet(s) and/or choose a unique hashtag and pick some optional @username(s) to target
  2. Recruit your friends using DM, email, FaceBook, Twitter, Google+ etc. Coach them if necessary
  3. Remember to set up your schedule if you need to
  4. Pass the information along – you may want to warn your followers
  5. Post increasingly frequent reminders as the time approaches, but keep the new hashtag secret

Are TweetStorms Effective?

tweet-in-a-bottleEarly analysis indicated that TweetStorms were highly effective. Whether that was the result of serendipity or serious effort remained to be proven in those early days. With the benefit of hindsight we can see that Twitter changed their Terms of Service so that sending “unsolicited” tweets, or using certain hashtags, could get your account suspended. Added to that, as Twitter grew and the user interface changed, many people found it increasingly difficult to maintain the level of close, co-operative contact with their network, which a TweetStorm depends on to be successful.

However, we can say:

  1. TweetStorms do work, and only thanks to the coordinated actions of concerned individuals.
  2. TweetStorms are not necessarily successful in isolation; they are an important adjunct to the conversations, petitions, emails, letters and postcards and other campaign actions.
  3. On Twitter, it is now very difficult to target Trending Topics, so targeted TweetStorms are a good alternative to trending.
  4. They the draw attention of other users, which can help strengthen a cause.
  5. TweetStorms are NOT spam. Spam is useless or irrelevant information sent to random or unrelated targets.
  6. TweetStorms are not meant as entertainment, rather as serious activism for spreading awareness, but you can make them fun, too. They are designed to attract attention from all corners, not only “@UN” or “@StateDept” for example.
  7. TweetStorms show allies the cause remains strong.
  8. They also show potential enemies that supporters of the cause are united. Maintaining secrecy of the tag and targets to the last minute also catches opponents by surprise, robbing them of the chance to spoil your plan.
  9. TweetStorms are democratic in nature: anyone can choose the message, who it targets, and when.
  10. TweetStorms are relatively easy – with potential high returns for minimal effort and zero outlay

Last Word

As activists, it is important to not only take part in TweetStorms, but to actively encourage others to join. Activism doesn’t stop at the ‘send’ button.

* Aside: When I started TweetStorms, to draw attention to human rights issues in Iran, Amnesty International was a target for more than one campaign. They were not at all happy to see their timeline flooded with our messages (there was no “mentions” column on Twitter back then) and blocked my account. Later, they began using the TweetStorm tactic themselves! And no, they didn’t unblock my account.

The original guides to the TweetStorm idea in several languages are available on these links:

TweetStorm-Arabic

TweetStorm-China

TweetStorm-Deutsch

TweetStorm-English

TweetStorm-Español

TweetStorm-Française

TweetStorm-Farsi

TweetStorm-Italia

TweetStorm-Japan

TweetStorm-Nederland

TweetStorm-Portugal

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