Dec 04, 2014

Zanzibar: Chinese Repression of Protests in Hong-Kong - Impact on Africa

Erick Kabendera, a Tanzania-based journalist, looks at some vital parallels between the recent protests in Hong Kong and in Dar es Salaam, both of which have been violently suppressed by the relevant authorities. These parallels become increasingly important as China continues to enhance its influence over various African countries, including Tanzania.

Photo courtesy of [email protected]

Below is an article published by The Africa Report:

Important parallels emerge in the violently suppressed protests in Hong Kong and Dar es Salaam.

When pro-democracy protesters took the streets of Hong Kong in September, I joked with a politician friend I had met for dinner in Dar es Salaam that the protests had caught me at the right time.

I was about to finish Martin Booth's Golden Boy, a memoir about growing up in colonial Hong Kong in the 1950s that helped me understand why people were protesting.

Tanzania is a socialist country with decades-old ties to China, and the way the Chinese government is handling the Occupy Central movement in Hong Kong is not very different from how most African countries handle pro-democracy protesters.

The coincidence was that just as tens of thousands were protesting in Hong Kong against China's refusal to allow the free selection of candidates for Hong Kong's first democratic election in 2017, police in Tanzania were beating up members of the main opposition party who had announced protests against an assembly debating a draft constitution.

The ruling party, which has been in power since Tanzania's independence, had rejected a proposal that would allow the semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar more autonomy.

That would also set in motion the possibility for it to secede. It is clear that young people are rising.

Stories about 17-year-old Joshua Wong, a student who is said to have played a key role in organising the protests, not only reminded me of how young people played a key role in South Korea's revolution but how the frustration of young Africans could lead to increased democracy in their own countries.

The recent events also reminded me of my last visit to Hong Kong, which also happened to be my first, in September 2013.

From reading books on Hong Kong, I had preconceived notions of a semi-autonomous island under the socialist regime of China.

I arrived to a recently typhoon- stricken city. A University of Hong Kong student who met me at the airport to take me to a conference venue soon started complaining about how tough life was in the city-state.

She spoke of the scarcity of decent housing for the city's 7.2 million people, describing the tiny apartment she shares with five other students.

She talked about the soaring unemployment among young people. She had come from China to study, but she felt that the best way to save Hong Kong was to allow it more democracy.

"Young people are tired. We cannot become a South Korea until a revolution happens," she said.

In June, the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 was another reminder of how China's heavy handling of pro-democracy protests might be a negative influence on African governments that are under pressure to allow democracy to flourish.

That leaves us asking a question: What influence will China, which does not tolerate democracy activism, have on African countries as it increasingly becomes influential in Africa?