Africa Uprising: Popular Protest and Political Change

Image of Africa Uprising (African Arguments)
Release Date: 
April 15, 2015
Publisher/Imprint: 
Zed Books
Pages: 
272
Reviewed by: 

Africa Uprising is a book for political scientists by political scientists Adam Branch and Zachariah Mampilly. While highly theoretical, it is also of interest to those readers who follow current, international political developments, particularly popular protests.

The authors concentrate on “actual political transformations unfolding across the [African] continent.” They contend “for almost a decade now, huge numbers of people from across Africa’s populations have been taking to the streets to demand change.”

These protests are occurring “from Egypt to South Africa, Ethiopia to Senegal, Sudan to Angola.” They echo and resonate with other worldwide protests including the USA’s “Occupy Wall Street,” “The Arab Awakening,” anti-austerity protest in Greece and other countries, and protest for independence and governmental change across Asia and in Ukraine and other Eastern European countries.

The authors believe that while these protests are theorized about in political analysis as a worldwide movement for sweeping changes largely the result of growing wealth and political inequality, they are not helpful to understand protest in Africa. “This book seeks out what is specific to African protest.” The authors maintain that these specifics can be found in political philosopher Frantz Fanon’s famous quote, “The colonial world is divided into compartments.” They see the current protests as challenges to this “legacy of fragmentation.”

The first part of the book examines previous major waves of African protest and the latter half comprises case studies of four recent protest movements: Occupy Nigeria, Uganda’s Walk to Work, urban uprisings in Ethiopia, and pro-democracy uprisings in Sudan.

The concluding chapter sets these case studies in the context of Africa in a world of protest. The authors examine theoretical ideas and argument pertaining to questions such as, is this a middle-class revolt, a nascent global political society, and they dissect the dilemmas of protest.

They conclude by posing a question around political uprisings: political innovation or political failure? They point to the phenomenon of worldwide protests, mainly urban, building momentum and failing due to lack of leadership at all levels. Poorly organized protest that falters creates vacuums usually filled by (often tyrannical) military dictatorships.

While the authors do not directly state this they strongly imply that African uprisings (like others worldwide) lack “leadership, or set political demands, and without strong supporting organization, can be accused of political irresponsibility.” Almost universally these movements “dissipate under state violence or that steered by elites into ethnic, racial or nationalist violence.”

Nonetheless the authors conclude by pointing to the success of grassroots, social development projects at the local level operating on a minimal scale away from media glare and noise as potentially capable of slowly achieving societal change from within.