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A Digital Exhibition of Tunisia’s 2011 revolution4 minutes read

The slogans that were to trigger uprisings across the Arab world meet visitors to the famed Bardo Museum in Tunis

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Exhibition entitled "Before the 14th" at the Bardo museum in Tunis - AFP

Dramatic mobile phone footage, firsthand accounts on social media and other digital content, often made by protesters dodging censorship, have helped immortalise Tunisia’s 2011 revolution in a new exhibition.

With videos of angry protesters in clouds of tear gas and an audio recording ending with the cry “Ben Ali has fled”, the multimedia exhibits chart the 29-day uprising that toppled longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, in what is known as one of the first Facebook revolutions.

“Work, freedom and dignity!” The slogans that were to trigger uprisings across the Arab world meet visitors to the famed Bardo Museum in Tunis on an audio recording of protesters shouting.

People visit an exhibition entitled “Before the 14th” at the Bardo museum in the Tunisian capital Tunis on January 15, 2019. (Photo by FETHI BELAID / AFP)

Nearby, a TV plays an interview with the mother of Mohamed Bouazizi, filmed the day the young street vendor set himself alight in the town of Sidi Bouzid in December 2010.

His death sparked riots in protest at unemployment and the cost of living.

His mother’s interview was broadcast by foreign satellite channels, adding momentum to the demonstrations which eventually forced Ben Ali to flee with his family to Saudi Arabia on January 14, 2011.

One visitor to the “Before the 14th” exhibition, 22-year-old student Hassen Tahri, was in high school when the uprising broke out.

“I was very young at the time and I don’t remember much, but with this exhibition, we can reconstruct the sequence of events,” he said.

“It reminds us of January 13 and 14, when we didn’t know what would happen, especially after (Ben Ali) fled.”

Saving the historical record

The creators of the exhibition aim to bring together a digital record of the days leading up to Ben Ali’s fall.

A storm of images and videos posted online were instrumental in turning a street vendor’s death into a full-blown uprising — but many were only saved as posts on social media.

That worried activists and researchers, who feared that the online historical record was starting to be deleted.

In response, they set up a collective of NGOs and worked with institutions including Tunisia’s National Library to preserve the material.

They brought together photos, videos, blog posts, poems, statements and even Facebook statuses, along with information on their locations, dates and the people who posted them.

A man visits an exhibition entitled “Before the 14th” at the Bardo museum in the Tunisian capital Tunis on January 15, 2019. (Photo by FETHI BELAID / AFP)

The result of four years of work, the archive now holds nearly 2,000 photos and videos, mostly taken by protesters themselves.

It is preserved for posterity at Tunisia’s National Archives.

The exhibition, which will also go on show in the southern French city of Marseille later this year, includes material on protests dating back as far as 2008, through to the mass protests of early 2011.

“It’s important for young people to understand exactly what happened,” said Hiba Jebali, a 21-year-old student visiting the exhibition.

“They are the future of the country.”

‘Unprecedented’

Kmar Ben Dana, a historian who took part in the research, said it had been challenging to verify digital content created by people who had braved Ben Ali’s censorship.

“It’s unprecedented, because it’s made up of digital material,” she said.

Tunisia’s democratic transition has been held up as a success story in a region since rocked by uprisings and wars.

But unemployment in the North African country remains high and Tunisia has faced a deadly jihadist insurgency.

Arab spring
A woman visits an exhibition entitled “Before the 14th” at the Bardo museum in the Tunisian capital Tunis on January 15, 2019. (Photo by FETHI BELAID / AFP)

The exhibition venue itself was the site of a massacre in 2015 when two jihadist gunmen opened fire, killing 22 people.

And eight years after Ben Ali’s departure, many in Tunisia say the hopes of the revolution have been unfulfilled.

In the face of insecurity and the high cost of living, some even say they now miss the rule of Ben Ali.

But Ben Dana hopes that as well as being a record for historians, the archive can preserve the gains of the revolution.

“We hope it (the exhibition) will help to show that the revolution was an extremely positive, extremely liberating event,” she said.

And it will help in the future “to write history based on these archives”, she added.

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What’s in it for Africa at the 2019 UN Climate Change Conference in Spain?

The highpoint of the COP25 for Africa is the “Africa Day”, which is slated for December 10

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What's in it for Africa at the 2019 UN Climate Change Conference in Spain?
Participants pose for a family photo within the 2019 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP25), held in Madrid, Spain on December 02, 2019. Burak Akbulut / AFP

African delegates will seek to push for changes at the 2019 annual United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP25, which officially kicked off on Monday, December 3, in Madrid, Spain.

About 29,000 visitors are expected at the conference that holds from 2 to 13 December 2019, including 50 heads of state. The U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres underscored the meeting’s urgency, saying that the climate crisis could soon reach the “point of no return.”

READ: Ugandan children boycott school to march for climate change action

At COP25, delegates from 197 countries are expected to nail down some details left open by the 2015 Paris climate accord, including how carbon-trading systems and compensation for poor countries with rising sea levels will work.

Being signatories to the Paris Agreement, nearly all African countries have shown commitments to enhance climate actions by putting practical measures and building resilience in order to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

READ: How climate change is draining Lake Malawi and local fishing economy

Like the previous COP summits, the African Development Bank (AfDB) is present in Madrid to support regional member countries through its support to the African group of negotiators and through advocacy to make Africa’s voice heard in the global stage.

The highpoint of the COP25 for Africa is the “Africa Day”, which is slated for December 10, and will focus on concerted global action on climate change to attain a new Africa.

The conference was originally scheduled to be held in Brazil and then Chile, but the election of President Jair Bolsonaro and the protests in Santiago changed those plans. Spain agreed to host last month.

READ: Uganda’s teenage environmental activist calls for urgent climate change action

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Post-Arab Spring hardship weighs on Egyptian village of Al-Nehaya

Years of political and economic turmoil since the 2011 Arab Spring have worsened hardship in Egypt

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Post-Arab Spring hardship weighs on Egyptian village of Al-Nehaya
Egyptian Hanem al-Zanati, 75, stands at the door of her home in the village of al-Nehaya, one of the country's poorest, in the province of Assiut in central Egypt, on November 16, 2019. (Photo by Mohamed el-Shahed / AFP)

The name of the remote Egyptian village, Al-Nehaya, sounds much like the Arabic word for “the end”, which is sadly fitting, given the grinding poverty endured by most of its people.

Years of political and economic turmoil since the 2011 Arab Spring have worsened hardship in a country where one in three people live below the poverty line.

One of them is 75-year-old Hanem al-Zanati, who, sitting under the straw roof of her bare-brick home, talked about life in the destitute settlement of 10,000 people in the remote Upper Nile region.

“All I want is a fridge and a small bed,” she says, as if these objects were fantastic luxuries. Zanati has a broken wrist but said she can’t afford to see a doctor because her husband’s pension comes to just 700 Egyptian pounds ($43) a month.

Nehaya lacks its own health care centre as well as a middle or secondary school, a reliable water or electricity supply or a sewage system. Most people survive on hardscrabble agriculture, growing mostly maize and wheat, here in Assiut province, Egypt’s poorest, some 400 kilometres (250 miles) south of Cairo.

With typical day wages around 80 pounds, or $4, many have abandoned the village in search of better lives in urban centres such as Alexandria and the mega-city of Cairo.

‘Beyond Bad’

Post-Arab Spring hardship weighs on Egyptian village of Al-Nehaya
Egyptian Hanem al-Zanati, 75, gestures as she speaks at her home in the village of al-Nehaya, one of the country’s poorest, in the province of Assiut in central Egypt, on November 16, 2019. (Photo by Mohamed el-Shahed / AFP)

Many tourists and investors have shunned Egypt since the upheaval that overthrew long-time president Hosni Mubarak. Since 2014, former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has ruled.

A sharp fall in the pound has driven up costs of everyday goods, the pain made worse by austerity measures in line with demands from the International Monetary Fund. There may be simmering discontent but few open expressions of anger in a country with a massive, feared security apparatus and overcrowded prisons.

The poverty rate among Egypt’s 100 million people jumped to 32.5 per cent last year, up from 27.8 per cent in 2015, says official statistics agency CAPMAS. The government has launched family income support programmes such as the 2014 “Solidarity and Dignity” initiative, which targeted more than nine million people. 

In July, Sisi launched another plan for those in most need called “Decent Life”. The residents of Nehaya say state officials from the project came to visit the village, promising to build a new school and to restore old houses. But so far, little has been done and conditions have remained the same, they say.

“Conditions here are beyond bad,” says a 20-year-old public servant in Nehaya’s only elementary school pupils use “dilapidated seats” and there are not enough teachers, she said. 

‘No Progress’

Post-Arab Spring hardship weighs on Egyptian village of Al-Nehaya
Egyptian men pose for a picture in an alley at the village of al-Nehaya, one of the poorest in the country, in the province of Assiut in central Egypt, on November 16, 2019. (Photo by Mohamed el-Shahed / AFP)

Near the rickety elementary school building, mayor Gamal Thabet is sitting on a simple wooden bench. “Officials from the ‘Decent Life’ initiative visited, inspected homes and reviewed the demands,” he says. “But nothing has changed so far.”

In the village “there is only one elementary school, and the bakery’s products do not cover the needs” of the population, he said.

Unable to afford transport to schools outside the village, families have long called for the allocation of land to build their own middle or secondary school, he added.

Khaled Abdel Nasser, head of the presidential initiative in Assiut, blamed the delayed aid on red tape. But he insisted the project is on track in Nehaya, saying that “all those in need have been identified… and a plot has been allocated for the school building”.

Elsewhere in the village, 31-year-old Mohamed Mustafa appeared troubled as he stood outside his small grocery shop, where goods lay on dusty shelves.

“My family and I live in a run-down house,” said the father of five, leaning against a window to ease his back pain. “All I need is two rooms, a kitchen and a bathroom. I get a 400 pound (about $25) in (social) allowances but it is not even enough for my back treatment.”

Behind the village school stands two unfinished buildings, one of them a mosque. A sign asking for donations reads: “with God’s blessing the mosque of Sayyidina al-Hussein is under construction in Nehaya village”.

“There has been no progress in construction for four months,” said one villager. “Nobody has the money.”

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Relief International says gunmen attacked office in north of South Sudan

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Gunmen attacked our office in north of South Sudan -Relief International
People gathered at Relief International premises in Sudan (Photo credit : https://www.ri.org/countries/sudan/)

An international aid organisation, Relief International, on Monday said that a group of armed men stormed its premises in northeastern South Sudan, assaulting and injuring five staff members.

Relief International said the attack took place on Sunday in a field office in Upper Nile State.

“Multiple gunmen, armed with assault rifles, pistols and knives, invaded a staff compound. During this assault, five of our staff were assaulted and sustained injuries,” the agency said in a statement.

“We have relocated our team to safety, and they are receiving all necessary care,” said Nancy Wilson, Relief International Chief Executive Officer
“They endured a senseless act of violence in the course of their assignment providing life-saving care to the refugee community in Upper Nile State, South Sudan.”

Read: Fighting between South Sudanese government and NAS rebels near Juba

Humanitarian workers have been repeatedly targeted with at least 115 killed since the country was plunged into conflict in December 2013 after President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of plotting a coup against him.

The unrest has left nearly 400,000 dead and displaced millions.
A peace deal was signed in September last year and a ceasefire has largely held but efforts to form a power-sharing government have been repeatedly delayed.

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