How Government Actions In Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania, Others Triggered Protests During COVID-19 Pandemic— Report

A 2021 global report has revealed how human rights violations were perpetrated by states and governments in Nigeria and much of Africa during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns in 2020, forcing protests and advocacies by the human rights societies.

This is according to the State of Civil Society Report 2021 released by CIVICUS, a global alliance of civil society organisations and activists with 10,000 members across the globe.

The State of Civil Report 2021, a copy of which was obtained by SaharaReporters on Wednesday detailed how women and youth groups led protests to challenge the official coercive power and policies of the government during the lockdowns.

The report highlighted the EndSARS nationwide protest in Nigeria, as well as the “young generation of activists pitted against long-term leaders and the human rights violations rise in West Africa during elections.”

It stated, “In the past year, many African countries used the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext to crack down on civic rights, sparking protests across the continent. The annual State of Civil Society Report 2021, from global civil society alliance CIVICUS, shows how youth-led, women-centric mobilisations swept across Africa in 2020 and 2021, protesting against long-term, authoritarian leaders clinging onto power, while also demanding democratic freedoms.

“Democratic freedoms are deteriorating across Africa and the repression of civic rights was seen vividly in West Africa during election periods. In countries including Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea and Togo, constitutional changes were pushed through to enable long-standing presidents to cling onto power and run for further terms. 

“Protests were sparked whenever presidents of advanced age tinkered with constitutions to continue beyond their mandate. Protests were brutally repressed, but despite the violent clamp down, a new generation of activists arose across Africa:

“Major sections of the public – often large, young, urban populations – demanded change, seeking a leader and style of government more in tune with their needs and values, and formed movements to seek change. What hope there is lies with the region’s many young people who are mobilising to seek democratic and socially just alternatives.”

The report lamented that opposition voices were also quelled by the government such as the “generational clash in Uganda, where aging leader President Yoweri Museveni was pitted against charismatic opposition leader, former musician Bobi Wine.”

“Museveni won a sixth term in office in January 2021, securing the vote by brutally repressing and targeting Wine and his young supporters: Wine’s candidacy provided a rallying point for those disaffected with Museveni: for people deprived of their civil and political rights, for the many young people struggling to find jobs and make a living, and for anyone who felt that 35 years under the same president was too much.

“Similarly, in Tanzania, October’s election took place against a background of intimidation, with a heavy armed presence on the streets; opposition supporters were repeatedly targeted and opposition leaders continually criminalised and harassed. Inevitably, President John Magufuli, who died in March 2021, was reelected in a ballot marred by voting irregularities,” the report stated.  

 “In Zimbabwe, protests were sparked in July when journalist Hopewell Chin’ono released government information detailing that multi-million contracts to buy pandemic supplies had been set at inflated prices. In a country with high unemployment, where people face economic strife on a daily basis, news of the political elite creaming off money from vital pandemic resources sparked protests that were violently suppressed. 

“Thousands of young Nigerians championed protests against the country’s brutal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in October, and young women were to the fore, organising, strategising, raising funds and using social media to spread information and coordinate medical assistance and legal aid. 

“Protests against other forms of brutality, such as violence against women and children, were often initiated by women. In Cameroon, women defied a ban on gatherings by marching in October to express anger and demand justice following a school attack that left seven children dead.

”In Namibia, the death of a young woman triggered #ShutItAllDown protests against gender-based violence across the country last year,” the report further stated.

The CIVICUS report decried many countries using “official propaganda and, under the banner of controlling ‘false information’, sought to control the flow of information, ramping up censorship and criminalising legitimate inquiry and commentary, including attempts to hold them to account for poor pandemic performance and whistleblowing by healthcare workers.”

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