There’s been much speculation about whether Egyptian-style uprisings might spread south across the Sahara into Africa, particularly to the seat of the continent’s most notorious despot, Robert Mugabe. Mugabe’s regime has been particularly paranoid about the possibility, arresting 46 people for watching news reports of the rebellions in Tunisia and Egypt. Today, Zimbabwe got its answer: no. Here’s TIME correspondent Columbus Mavhunga in Harare on what happened.
“They called it the ‘Zimbabwe Million Citizen March.’ The idea was for a mass street demonstration to end the 31-year reign of President Robert Mugabe. The would-be protesters modeled themselves on their counterparts in the Middle East: they announced and coordinated the demonstration on Facebook and Twitter and they renamed Harare Gardens, where their unstoppable popular uprising was due to take place, after Tahir Square in Cairo. The date was set for Tuesday.
But come the day, nothing. Not a single protester. The organizers, it seems, made one big mistake: they over-estimated the power of the Internet. Chatrooms and social media are very good for talking about something. But they are no substitute for actually doing it. Most of the internet organizers were expatriates living outside Zimbabwe. Not only did that mean they wouldn’t be showing up themselves, they apparently imagined they could call up a revolutionary flash-mob in the center of Harare without organizers on the ground. The momentum of revolution across the Middle East arrived when millions of people decided that, if they all overcame their fear together, they could throw out their oppressors together. That’s not a call that is going to sound so convincing from a blogger sitting in a London internet cafe. “In Zimbabwe, we must not take for granted the viciousness of the state,” said Charles Mangongera, a political analyst in Harare. “We have seen military vehicles patrolling in the streets from Sunday just as a reminder of what it can do. Plus, most people doing the mobilising are in the diaspora. There is a need for people on the ground to plan if they want the Tunisia or Egyptian protests to come here.”
Still, to the regime’s mind, just because there’s no sign people are organizing against you, it doesn’t mean they’re not. On Tuesday prosecutors charged 46 people arrested for watching news reports of the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt with treason, a charge which can carry the death penalty.”