Africa reacts to the fall of Mubarak

Just seconds after Hosni Mubarak resigned, African commentators started tweeting. "After #egypt Is the rest of #africa listening and watching? Support the protestors in #gabon #sudan #libya #algeria #cameroon #uganda ...." wrote Emeka Okafor, author of the Timbuktu Chronicles blog. Ferial Haffajee, editor of South Africa's City Press newspaper remembered the last time she'd seen something so moving: When Nelson Mandela walked out of prison exactly 21 years ago today. Then, she promptly asked, "So, if Mubarak's gone, why not Gbagbo and Mugabe too?"

Egypt is an African country, too. And while the protests have rocked the Arab world, unsettling autocrats from Algiers to Riyadh, it has equally shaken the ground under Africa's strongmen. Other tweeters report that Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe is censoring the news of Egypt's protests. In Gabon, protesters took to the streets bearing banners that read, "In Tunisia, Ben Ali is gone. In Gabon, we've still got Ali Ben," (Ali Ben being a reference to president Ali Bongo Ondimba, son of the former strongman Ali Bongo). As protests broke out in Algiers today, the headlines read, "Waiting for the revolution in Algeria."

Across the continent, Mubarak's fall isn't being read as the end of the Middle Eastern autocrats. It's being read as the end of autocrats. Period. The people power that ousted Mubarak today has not been witnessed on the streets of Nairobi or Lagos or Kinshasa since the end of colonialism. Yet many of the presidents in power are the same men (or their sons) who took power back then. 

Like Egyptians, the Congolese, Nigerians, Eritreans, Senegalese, Angolans … they know what their regimes are like. They mock them, curse them, and sometimes fear them. But with each day of the Egyptian protests, there was a growing sense that they can also defeat them. As one Zimbabwean tweeter wrote today, "Next time you hear a dictator say he is not going, know that if you push hard enough they will go. #Zimbabwe #Egypt."



Where does Mubarak go now? [Updated]

There's been a fair amount of speculation in recent days about now ex-President Mubarak's preperations for departure. I just spoke with Christopher Davidson, a professor of Middle East studies at Britain's Durham University who focuses on the economic interests of Arab rulers. He cast doubt on the $70 billion figure which has been floated widely by the media recently, but said Mubarak undoubtedly has interests throughout the world to fall back on: 

There would be something wrong with the people he paid if we knew much about this. A lot of the figures we've seen in the press are really just speculation. As with Gulf ruling families, his wealth is hidden abroad very carefully with layer upon layer of shell companies in London and the States. There's also a big question about his numbered bank accounts in Europe, whether he will be able to recover those or not.

Davidson speculated that Mubarak's ability to recover funds from his Swiss bank accounts, and the difficulties his now partner-in-exile Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier has had in recovering his own assets, may have played a role in his delayed departure:

I would imagine that he'll struggle to recover everything. A few weeks ago we had the Baby Doc ruling in Switzerland, so that will clearly be playing on his mind. I suspect that this is one of the reasons why he was trying to hold on as long as possible, so he could portray himself as having resigned peacefully as a legitimate president rather than having been ousted.

Despite having now holed up at his "Winter Residence" in Egypt -- which is less a palace than a floor of a luxury hotel and golf resort -- and his earlier promise to die on Egyptian soil, Davidson believes that Mubarak is not long for Egypt:

He'll be headed to the Gulf for sure. Perhaps not to Saudi like Ben Ali, but I think he'll go to the UAE. [UAE Foreign Minister] Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed visited Cairo quite publicly and likely put a plan on the table to give him refuge.

Update: Sure enough, we now have reports that Switzerland is freezing Mubarak's assets.