Protests in an Age of Distrust in Africa

In recent years, Africa has again become a theatre of protest. Whereas the surge of protests in the 1980s and 1990s were largely focussed on advancing democracy in autocratic governments, this new wave is different. The recent uprisings have largely been overt demands from the public for greater scrutiny of the internal affairs of their countries.

The notion that democracy is the ‘best’ form of government gained easily in some parts of Africa in 1990s as it aims to protect the human rights of citizens and gives voice to the will of the people. African citizens of the time believed democracy would help them to get rid of corrupt leaders whilst guaranteeing their own individual freedoms and political liberties.

New trends of citizen protests are increasing in the sub-Saharan region, usually in the form of civic activism to challenge political decisions. Civil societies, opposition leaders and youth-based movements, driven by political or economic concerns, are mobilising people on the streets. Through social media and other new technologies, local civil society groups and political activists have been able to mobilise large numbers of people and hold large gatherings. Many of the protests have been triggered by the extension of presidential terms, whilst others were sparked by economic hardships. Some succeeded and others failed.

As a case in point, in January 2012 in Senegal, when then-president Abdoulaye Wade announced his candidacy to stand for another term, protests erupted in Dakar. These protests were so fierce that Wade consequently ended his bid for re-election. Similarly, in October 2014, mass demonstrations broke out in Ouagadougou against the will of the then-president to extend his rule. Again, this led to his resignation. In September 2016, in Gabon when the sitting president was declared as the winner of a general election, Libreville became a scene of deadly protests. However, in many cases demonstrations failed – as was the case in Burundi – and consequently, governments opted for not to make political concessions. It is also important to note that some protests were economically driven. For example in July 2014, Ghana witnessed uprisings against high costs of living and in South Africa anti-corruption marches took place, demanding accountability due to several corruption scandals.

However, in many cases demonstrations failed – as was the case in Burundi – and, consequently, governments opted not to make political concessions. It is also important to note that some protests were economically driven. For example in July 2014, Ghana witnessed uprisings against high costs of living and in South Africa, anti-corruption marches took place demanding accountability due to several corruption scandals.

Unlike the Arab Spring of 2011 which saw some successes in North Africa, the ‘Black Spring’ failed. Protests would start with big numbers before fading after some weeks only to live on in the form of cyber-activism by a few. These protests, whether politically or economically driven, have some analogies; the participants were always the same (civil societies, political opposition, youth, middle-income citizens and women’s associations). Similarly to the Occupy movement and the Arab Spring, the marchers aimed to occupy public squares, often resulting in violent outbreaks between the protesters and the police.

It is significant to note that, although primary triggers were country-specific, there was usually an economic thread behind them, be it unemployment or inequality. Governments and protesters saw these movements through different lenses. The governments branded the protesters as foreign agents whereas the protesters described themselves as the agents of rule of law and social justice. It seems that a new form of democracy, ‘Monitored Democracy’, is emerging in

It seems that a new form of democracy, ‘monitored democracy’, is emerging in the 21st century. This may redefine the relationships between the governors and the governed. It is time that African leaders implement anti-corruption policies to address the acute corruption issues affecting their countries. As we have seen recently in places like Guatemala, South Korea, Malaysia, Ukraine and Romania, government corruption can often lead to mass protests of regular citizens. By promoting good governance, open government, transparency and accountability in the public and private sector, they will protect their states before citizens’ demands for transparency and accountability become the next wave of protest to hit the continent.

By Hendrix Nkamicaniye

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