- When women stop selling mandazi and roasted peanuts in the market, and take to chanting anti-government slogans on the streets, so much trouble can follow.
- Almost immediately, patriarchal society gets impaled on its sexist logic that men are supposed to provide in return for some level of obedience from women.
Another African strongman is gone. After 30 years at the top, Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir was finally ousted a week ago and arrested following months of protests.
This, to a large degree, was an uprising by women: just as it happened in Algeria, leading to autocratic Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s fall barely two weeks earlier.
And, indeed, women played a key part in the Arab Spring of 2011, which led to the fall of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.
The case of Sudan’s revolutionary anti-Bashir women was made juicier by the fact that the key closed Facebook that drove, never started with any political ambitions.
It was started by Sudanese women to catch their cheating husbands, and hound their mistresses.
It morphed into a political action platform, and given that it had developed underground, it grew teeth without Bashir’s secret police catching up on it — until it was too late.
Other African governments will have taken note, so you can expect that there will now be greater state interest in things like Kenya’s famously controversial closed Facebook group “Kilimani Mums”.
But there is more. Sudan or Algeria’s women weren’t the first up the African revolutionary road. We noted previously that in the anti-colonial struggle, subversive women were the secret weapons, whose heroism has been written out of history.
The Mama Mboga in Nigeria and Tanzania, to pick two cases, became important foot soldiers of the nationalist struggle because they were doubly marginalised — by the colonial economy and patriarchy.
The result: Because they functioned in the informal economy, they were subject to less intimidation and pressure than the men, who could be sacked and lose free government housing and status.
But the colonialists — and today’s African dictators — cannot stop women from selling vegetables on obscure roadsides or their backyards. In the colonial era, Mama Mboga contributions became a vital source of party funding.
The marginalisation of women and informalisation of their work is playing out the same way today.
You can deny a trading licence to an opposition man, and send tax authorities to harass his business out of existence. But how can you stop his wife from baking a birthday cake for the neighbour’s child?
Secondly, the masculine state has got fairly good at confronting other male rivals in politics.