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Why Tunisia's winds of change aren't blowing south to sub-Saharan Africa

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Lack of education spurs class identities

The protests in Tunisia and Egypt sprang from the salons and discussion groups of educated Tunisians and Egyptians. Better education among the citizens in those countries, and better involvement of citizens in civil society organizations, made it possible for those ideas and critiques to spread. (Social media such as Facebook and Twitter can play a role in the way ideas are transmitted, but those ideas come from a rigorous involvement of citizens in their societies, not from the buttons of a cell phone.)

Tunisians and Egyptians, then, have done a better job of organizing themselves around group identities and even around ideologies, factors that are often missing in the ethnically and linguistically divided nations toward the south.

“In the absence of strong class identities, many African oppositions fail,” says Professor Mbembe of Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg. “If people identified as dispossessed and poor, then of course the majority would rebel against many nations of Africa. But people identify with ethnic affiliation, and so they remain quiet, or they rebel on a smaller scale and are easily dealt with.”

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