Strike Season in Mauritania

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26 Apr 2013 update: video of the workers hearing details of the deal.


There are precious few videos of worker protests or meetings in Mauritania.

24 Apr 13 Mauritania dockers gather outside Ministry building
24 April 2013: Striking dockers in Mauritania gathered outside the ministry of transport. They avoided a replay of this week’s violent police oppression by arriving early in the morning, making their way in small groups or alone.

24 Apr 13 Mauritania dockers hear details of win over ministry from strike leaders

24 Apr 13 Mauritania dockers hear details of win over ministry from strike leaders

The workers heard from their representative, who announced that agreement had been reached to meet their demands, most importantly a 5MRO increase in the per-kilo lifting payment, and provision of a medical centre and ambulance. Thousands of dockers working as day labourers currently earn something like 4 Euros per day.

Dockers shoulder-carry an injured colleague while celebrating decisive win from strike action over pay and conditions

Dockers shoulder-carry an injured colleague while celebrating decisive win from strike action over pay and conditions

Workers insisted on staying until the agreement was signed. Even so, vigilance will be maintained to make sure the government does not renege on the deal. As I wrote this, I saw an update warning that the 5MRO pay increase was already in doubt.

24 Apr 13 Mauritania dockers decide to stay at the ministry until the new deal is signed

24 Apr 13 Mauritania dockers decide to stay at the ministry until the new deal is signed

A press conference scheduled for 2pm Wednesday by the free trade union would have been the rallying point for further peaceful protest, one which the media could not be banned from hearing or pretend to ignore. In light of development, the dockers called their own press conference for 10am Thursday 25 April.

Issues of pay and conditions have been a source of contention among port workers for a long time, and there are several reasons behind the decision to strike from Monday 22 April:

  • Their appeal for a very moderate pay increase had not been addressed by authorities for many months
  • 180 dockers were arbitrarily dismissed last month; they have no contractual employment protection or rights to appeal and this highlighted the precarious lack of job security for all port workers
  • A docker died a couple of weeks ago after an industrial accident. He had to wait over 3 hours for medical help to arrive because there is no on-site medical facility.
  • Price inflation has been eating away at the dockers already meagre earnings, yet being  employed means they are far less likely to benefit from charitable or state-run projects for poverty reduction.

On a video posted on Facebook, a dock worker reveals the extent of dire working conditions, Aziz’ broken promises.

Rough transcript: “My name is Mohammed, I work nights. We have no safety clothing, not even when we descend into the holds loaded with agricultural insecticides. There’s no healthcare or medical centre on the site, and we are decducted 6-7000 MRO a month for access to the only water – an open-air bath outdoors. The President came to visit here and said he would improve conditions, but it has only gotten worse and he has forgotten his promises.”

22 Apr 13 Porters in Nouakchott protesting in Mauritania

22 Apr 13 Porters in Nouakchott protesting in Mauritania

The most recent protests began at the port on Wednesday 13 March but many people were unaware of the scale of unrest until the sit-in on Monday 22 April, which gained the support of a majority of workers. Security police rushed to the scene, confiscating cameras and sending media away from the area before launching a barrage of hundreds of tear gas canisters and sound grenades at the workers, attacking them with batons and arresting about 25 protesters.

22 Apr 13 Porters show gas grenade cartridges s used against them by gendarmes in Mauritania today

22 Apr 13 Porters show gas grenade cartridges s used against them by gendarmes

Several injuries were reported and nine protesters were taken to the hospital for emergency medical treatment.

23 Apr 13 Docker injured by tear gas canister. Shot by Mauritania security forces with ammunition supplied by France and Spain

23 Apr 13 Docker injured by tear gas canister. Shot by Mauritania security forces with ammunition supplied by France and Spain

A small fire using scraps of board and a discarded tyre was extinguished by some of the strike leaders, who explained to the others that this type of action was not necessary or in keeping with their image, and would be used against them as a stain on the character of the peaceful protest action.

22 Apr 13 Strike leaders extinguish burning tyre

22 Apr 13 Strike leaders extinguish burning tyre

Several members of the m25fev civil activist movement are port workers, and they rallied support from m25fev and others for the following day, at which point the centre of protest moved towards the city centre and the presidential palace. Once again, security launched a violent attack and made several more arrests. Four detained workers were seen being taken to an unknown location.

23 Apr 13 M25Fev outside security HQ solidarity with detained dockers

23 Apr 13 M25Fev outside security HQ solidarity with detained dockers

Members of m25fev held a vigil outside Nouakchott security HQ to protest the arbitrary detentions and demand the release of all protesters. In the dead of night, the detained workers were taken outside the city limits and abandoned there to make their own way back on foot.

The presence of civil activists resulted in a rapid spread of news on social media networks, and some opinion pieces, with statements of support from labour groups and condemnation by human rights organisations, but the overall lack of media coverage was deplorable.

The media need to raise their game, because it would seem that a season of industrial action in Mauritania is looming:

  • port workers in Nouadhibou reached a compromise agreement Thurday, 25 April with authorities to end their long-running strike and protest actions over pay and conditions
  • workers at the SNIM mining operation are planning industrial action beginning with a limited work stoppage on Sunday
  • at the Kinross Gold mine, CGTM union members are threatening to strike over non-payment of a promised bonus
  • teachers in Zouerate are threatening three days of strike action and a boycott of exams over pay and conditions

Civil protests in Mauritania continue with almost daily events demanding electrical power and/or drinking water in many parts of the country, plus a protest today by traders in Nouadhibou, who have no replacements for plastic bags which were banned in January and again in February after a brief respite.

There was a great deal of sympathy and support for the workers expressed by social media users, but not all reactions were favourable. A  Mauritanian news website, atlasinfo.info, posted an item claiming that the workers were chanting racist slogans and making other outrageous comments which were completely fabricated. The item was quickly removed, but not before activists made a screen capture image and located the page in a search engine cache. Such blatant propaganda – commonly held to be enacted in support of the regime – is incredibly dangerous, but it does hint at the level of fear which might be generated within the regime by the prospect of united protests involving workers and civil activists. At an individual level, I saw one or two fairly typical remarks accusing m25fev of trying to capitalise on the workers’ situation. Such comments were made in ignorance of the broad-based support and membership of m25fev, which is often mistakenly viewed as a political entity.

In my opinion, most of these identity issues for m25fev stem from the  organisers’ decision to retain the name after the debacle of April 2011, when the original 25 February group was compromised by infiltration and there was a lot of confusion and unpleasantness. Two years later, they are still paying the price of this decision, which is compounded by a lack of consistent effort to confront persistent misconceptions and re-frame their story. Meanwhile, the abolitionist movement IRA appears to be moving in the opposite direction to m25fev, towards the political arena. Time will tell what this gamble might cost them.

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Thousands turnout for #Mauritania 1 Nov 2012 protest march and rally

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Thousands turnout for #Mauritania 1 Nov 2012 protest march and rally

Photo from شباب التكتل | La Jeunesse de RFD | RDF Youth Group Facebook page shows thousands gathered to hear speeches from the COD political opposition coalition leaders in this first major public protest since president Aziz left the country for France the days after after reports he was accidentally injured on the evening of 13 October 2012.
Many civil activists have posted status updates on social networks to confirm that they would join the march to demand an end to military rule, even though they have no political affiliation.
Four groups of civil society activists today issued a joint statement condemning the atmosphere of intrigue which has created an intolerable situation in Mauritania since Aziz’ departure, and calling for a united effort to transition from the pseudo-military dictatorship to a true civilian government and independent institutions.

#Mauritania: Women Stage Sit-in Over Confiscated Land

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1 June 2012 A group of women are protesting the confiscation of land in the Arafat district of Nouakchott by staging a sit-in outside the presidential palace. The women said that they are prepared to continue their protest until the land is restored. Considering that there are four hospitals and plenty of schools in the area, the government’s official explanation that the land is to be used for construction of a health centre or school is completely unconvincing, added one woman. Another condemned the situation for making tens of families including children and the elderly homeless.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/v/DwILTANs0o0]

Digital Activism Tactics: TweetStorms Revisited

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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 in case others want to give it a try.

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

What next?

  • You have to tell people about the TweetStorm, and ask them to get involved by supporting it (sending out a tweet or setting up a scheduled tweet – see below) and by spreading the idea to their followers! TIP: Send polite DMs to ask your most active followers if they will take part and help to recruit others
  • Then, you all either keep the TweetStorm text somewhere handy 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 several free scheduling services available online. See this article: How to Schedule Tweets for details and links to various sevices.

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 all there is to it.

Summary

  1. Write the tweet(s) with a unique tag and optional @username(s)
  2. Recruit your friends using DM, email, FaceBook, etc
  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? 

Early 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 say that what did happen was, Twitter changed their Terms of Service so that sending “unsoliticited” tweets or using certain hashtags could get your account suspended. Added to that, as Twitter grew, and as the user interface changed, many people found it increasingly difficult to maintain the level of close cooperative contact with their network that a TweetStorm depends on to be successful. However, we can say:

  1. TweetStorms work, only thanks to the coordinated actions of concerned individuals.
  2. TweetStorms are not necessarily successful in isolation; they are an important adjunct to the petitions, emails, letters and postcards being sent out under various other campaigns.
  3. On Twitter, it is now very difficult to target Trending Topics, so targetted TweetStorms are a good alternative to trending.
  4. They the draw attention of other users, which can only 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 entertainment, they are serious activism spreading awareness. They are designed to attract attention from all corners, not only “UN” or “State Dept” for example.
  7. TweetStorms show allies the cause remains strong.
  8. They also show potential enemies that supporters of the cause are united.
  9. TweetStorms are democratic in nature: Anyone can have a say in what is said, 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 back then) and blocked my account. Later, they began using the TweetStorm tactic themselves! And no, they didn’t unblock my account.

#Mauritania News and Updates 8 May 2012

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Following on from an eventful Monday on May 7, with no less than 5 separate protests in Mauritania, I will be attempting to track events today by updating this post.

09:22

Police raided Nouakchott Uni Arts faculty this morning 8 May 2012, where students were using the student’s union office to stage a lock-in to protest the increased militarisation of the campus. Officers attacked the students with batons and 16 arrests were made, including 6 female students. More than a dozen students are facing expulsion following recent protests. There were accusations following the arrests that the dean of the Arts faculty had enlisted the security services to intercept and monitor student phone calls. Detainees include Mohamed Lamine Dabo, student union organiser.


09:35

Heavy security presence observed around the Ministry of Justice, where the political opposition’s youth group has called for a protest against the attack on last Thursday’s sit-in. No news so far of the protest going ahead. Meanwhile some of the tents and other equipment confiscated by police last week has “gone missing”. Organisers were told to make a complaint to the chief prosecutor if they wished to reclaim items used “in connection with civil offences”.


14:00

Protesters from Kamour, who blocked the road and demonstrated outside the presidential palace yesterday remained in situ overnight and are continuing their protest today. Kamour, in the Gorgol region, suffered devastating damage to local oases and wells after severe floods in 2010. In January of this year the sole water pump failed, and residents have been relying on water brought by tanker (at significant additional cost) while waiting for the state to arrange repairs.


16:00

Activist Ahmed Ould Eddyd, admin of the popular “Yezza” FaceBook group and houriyeti website has added a UStream channel. Very exciting times to see Mauritanian activists expanding their use of social media. Ahmed has recently arranged Q&A sessions with representatives of various civil society groups such as the February 25 Movement in Mauritania. I am hoping this new U-Stream channel will suport that initiative so that more people can observe and participate.


17:00

Hundreds of youth in Adrar formed a protest today outside the regional administration building against the marginalisation of young people and raising concerns about various grievances such as rising prices, education and employment as well as the lack of civic amenities and social facilities in general.


18:30

Dozens of secondary school teachers continued the protest actions which began last week with a stand outside the presidential palace in Nouakchott today. The teachers are exasperated by the refusal of state officials at the ministry of education refusing to accept their petitions or to open a meaningful dialogue to address their concerns.


18:45

More evidence of the regime’s fading popularity. A festival in support of Aziz’ party last Saturday in Mederdra, an isolated community whose youth organised a 50km march to demand a paved road, attracted a tiny gathering of only the officials and state employees whose attendance is mandatory. Pictures released today are all quite narrowly focused to give the appearance of a crowded arena, but this one shows almost the entire crowd. Officials are trying to brush the poor attendance off by claiming it is linked to lower population density. Officials have also encouraged the creation of a rival youth activist group, seeking to undermine the activities and reputation of the original group. It’s all rather unpleasant.


19:30

As the controversy over the burning of books of Islamic jurisprudence continues, a number of imams and religious scholars have called on Mauritanian sources of jurisprudence and emulation to issue a fatwa about slavery. IRA campaign leader Bira Ould Abeid remains in detention.


19:37

Residents of Nema are experiencing a severe shortage of electrical power. The blackout began two days ago and is causing serious problems for the town’s inhabitants.



19:52

An outbreak of deadly viral meningitis has been confirmed by health officials in Mauritania after the death of at least 10 people and hospitalisation of several more.


23:00

Alakhbar News Agency has posted this video of a massive Nouakchott protest in support of jailed anti-slavery campaigned Biram ould Abeid.

23:59

The wife of Biram ould Abeid has been arrested by police at her home this evening. Reasons are unclear, but it is assumed the arrest is linked to the massive protest today.