THE MORNING AFTER THE PROTESTS
As early as last week, A Partnership of National Unity signaled that the Linden unrest was about to come to end as firstly, progress was being made in the talks with the government, and secondly, that agreement was about to be reached on the review team to examine the electricity tariffs.
On August 3, 2012, it was announced in parliament that agreement had been reached on a draft terms of reference for a commission of inquiry into the incidents of July 18 last when three persons were killed.
This incident led to the demands for a commission of inquiry and the government and APNU were engaged in talks to reach agreement on the terms of reference. They did.
The other issue was the terms of reference of the technical review and last week agreement was also reached on this. Once this agreement was reached, it meant that agreement had been met on the main issues which had led to the protests being extended. The agreements reached led to the expressions within the opposition camp that the protests were about to end. This was the signal that the protests should now cease.
And that is where the new problem began. Now that agreement was reached, there was no purpose, no direction in which to point the energies that had been generated. How to end the protest? No one seemed to know.
Protesters faced with a situation of not knowing what next to do tend to turn against their leaders. And this was why there was the need to identify political scapegoats, because the people’s wrath is not easy to deflect.
From the onset, APNU left most of the negotiations to the region. They told the government to negotiate with the region. And the regional officials fell for that. They went into the negotiations with a representative of APNU at their side, but it was clear that it was the region that was in negotiations with the government. And it is sadly those leaders who are now under pressure, because it is one thing to bring people out on the streets and it is another thing to get them off.
The logical response to deflect from the fallout that usually follows the end of major protests is to create a scapegoat. The government is again being made the scapegoat. The latest claim is that the government was using a military solution in order to call off the negotiations.
No negotiations have been called off or were at risk of being called off. The substantial part of the talks has yielded progress, a fact that was confirmed by both the representatives of the region and APNU.
By last Thursday the agreements which were reached effectively meant that there could no longer be a basis for blocking the arteries to, within and from Linden, because there was no longer the need to strengthen the hands of the group negotiating with the government.
The agreement meant that the protests had to be ended. The dilemma was how to communicate that to the people on the ground who had been holding out for so long and those within their midst who had been profiting from the blockading of the roads.
And so rumours began to fly that a military operation was about to be launched, and the protesters, left without any proper leadership on the ground, decided that they needed to get to the bridge and try to burn it down.
The bridge was set alight, however the flames were extinguished, but not before toll booths were burnt. Tear smoke was fired at the protesters and the melee began again, with a number of buildings being set on fire.
The talk has been about extremists instigating the protests. There are no extremists involved. This is a clear case of the time being reached to end the protests, but there is simply no way of knowing how to do this without the usual fallout.
As such, the best resort is to claim that the government has opted for a military solution to thwart negotiations. The so-called military solution was not to thwart anything. It was in response to the attempt to burn the bridge down and put an end to the lawlessness that broke out last Friday.
There is no longer any basis for blocking the roads, but those who stood for weeks at the barricades established, who camped out at strategic bridges in the mining town, those who helped to support the efforts simply do not know what next to do. After the protests, what?
It is their political leadership that has to advise them that the negotiations have borne fruit and mechanisms are being established to deal with their concerns. In effect, it is the political leadership that has to tell them that the protest is off.
They tried to signal that all last week by indicating that progress is made and the unrest will soon end. The problem is that those on the ground do not seem to know what next to do now that the protests are over. This is where their leadership is failing them.