DOZENS of Zimbabwean anti-riot police Wednesday surrounded the court where preacher Evan Mawarire was due to face charges relating to his calls for “stay at home” protests against the country’s long-ruling President Robert Mugabe.
Mawarire began a social media movement in May under the hashtag #ThisFlag, when he spontaneously posted a video online, expressing his frustration at the state of the nation.
It went viral, its popularity catching the 92-year-old Mugabe’s government flatfooted, and spurred him to continue urging Zimbabweans to find their voice and demand accountability from their government.
The government now accuses him of inciting public violence. He spent Tuesday night in police cells after officers searched his house, church and office in the capital Harare as part of their investigations.
SOCIAL MEDIA CRACKDOWN
A week ago, the Zimbabwean government tried to block WhatsApp to stop protesters from mobilising.
It was a move that is now popular with many African governments. In February, Uganda blocked Facebook and Twitter, during a controversial and chaotic election. Other governments, including the Republic of Congo, have since done the same during votes.
The Uganda election was won by President Yoweri Museveni, who was standing for a seventh term (two of them unelected). The country removed presidential term limits in 2005, allowing Museveni, who came to power at the head of a popular armed rebellion in 1986 promising to end impunity and “life presidency”, to go back on his word and have several bites on the presidential cherry.
Museveni’s long-time rival and former ally, opposition leader Kizza Besiege, of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party, placed second in the election and rejected the result as stolen.
Before and after the election, Besigye was arrested four times. Then he was placed under a porous house arrest.
In early May, Besigye was again arrested, and had been languishing in jail until Tuesday when the High Court granted him jail.
On Wednesday he appeared again for the mention of his treason case, with the state prosecutor telling court that the investigations into the case were not complete.
In terms of the torment and beatings he has endured, though, Besigye’s situation is more akin to that of veteran opposition and Mugabe rival Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change-T – whom he resembles.
Being an opposition leader in many parts of Africa is a thankless job, and not for the faint of heart.