Driving regime change in Africa: an assessment of the role of civil society

P08 – Driving regime change in Africa: an assessment of the role of civil society

Edalina Sanches . Instituto de Ciências Sociais, Universidade de Lisboa

Civil society is considered to have a weak influence on African politics vis-à-vis the state. Still there are many historical events which contradict this piece of conventional wisdom, and thus allows us to paint a more nuanced picture of the role of civil society in bringing about regime change in Africa. Indeed, in countries like Zambia and South Africa a vibrant civil society played a vital role during democratic transition, even if its ventures changed dramatically ever since. Likewise, in many francophone countries (e.g. Benin, Togo, Niger and Mali) popular protests, from workers and students, put a strong pressure on the ongoing authoritarian regimes and preceded major political reforms leading to democratization. More recently, many scholars speak of an ‘awakening of civil society’ while addressing the sources of the Arab spring. Furthermore, civil society organizations remain key agents in the post-transition period to the extent that they can influence the design of public policies, voice interests and channel participation.  The main objective of this panel is to discuss the many ways in which agents from civil society may have contributed to regime change in Africa. Papers givers are invited to discuss the following (or related) questions: What is the role of civil society on regime change in Africa (e.g. during independence or transition to democracy)? Who are the brokers of change (e.g. religious groups, students, trade unions)? Why is it that in some regimes the civil society has more leeway to act in the public sphere than in others (e.g. differences within and across authoritarian and democratic regimes)?


Uprisings in Tunisia started a new are in the region of Arab countries. Street activism, manifestations took place in the country not only after the immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi but also even after the Jasmine Revolution had happened. As a result of these manifestations, Tunisian people changed the political regime in the country. Transition to democracy from autocracy brought discussions regarding the new political spectrum. In addition to these discussions, people started to question the place of religion and the compatibility of Islam with democracy. Consequently, from the beginning of the Arab Spring, Tunisia has always been in the spotlight of international politics. The journey of a great country with its majorly Muslim population became the latest example of how street activism might shape the political life. Although the initial phase of the aftermath of the revolution brought much hope to the people in Tunisia, it is also possible to say that within the discussions of forming a new political system, place of religion, and inter-state relations with other countries, a large portion of Tunisian population have disappointments. Within this context, in order to analyze the frustration of the people and understand their hope for the future of their homeland, the authors have spent seven months in Tunisia between July 2013 and February 2014 for the project titled “SpringArab – Social Movements and Mobilisation Typologies in the Arab Spring” and financed by the Marie Curie Actions 7th Framework Programme.
Didem Doganyilmaz Duman . Halic University . didemduman@halic.edu.tr
Goshen Duman . Istanbul Aydin University . gduman@aydin.edu.tr

Ghana has a long history of civilian protest and social movements: In the country’s history, students, workers, members of the middle class and of different professions successfully protested on the streets and at the courts, applying different forms of resistance. Already in the 1890s, some inhabitants of the Gold Coast were fighting a land bill by the British that threatened traditional land tenure. Discussions among the local population culminated in the foundation of the Aborigines’ Rights Protection Society which sent a delegation to London to explain the locals’ point of view to the British government. This laid the foundation for political action which finally lead to independence. Protests of different groups trying to assert their demands remained no exception also after the struggle for independence. In 1978, members of the middle class protested against a model called Union Government by which the then military head of state Acheampong sought to perpetuate the military into government. Today in democratic Ghana, civil society organizations remain key agents in putting pressure on the government: In 2014, frequent power cuts and rising fuel prices persisted, an economic boom seemed to give way to an economic crisis. In July 2014, several hundred activists protested in the country’s capital Accra against the crisis, expressing frustration and anger about the current government. Following this demonstration, several new pressure groups evolved, among them “Occupy Ghana”. The proposed paper will discuss the role of civil society and social movements in bringing about regime changes in Ghana’s history. It will assess the possibilities to act and the success of different agents of civil society against the backdrop of different political regimes in Ghana’s history.


Andrea Noll . University of Hamburg . nollan@uni-mainz.de
Jan Budniok . University of Hamburg . jan.budniok@uni-hamburg.de

In April 2011, an Egyptian delegation of popular diplomacy visited Addis Ababa to promote Egyptian relations with Ethiopia. This visit has taken place after the January 25 revolution. In the same month, Ethiopia announced the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. In order to finance the dam, the government has mobilized its diaspora community to purchase bonds issued for supporting the construction of the dam. Since 2011, both regimes in Egypt and in Ethiopia have been in transition that has encouraged the civil society participation in the Nile politics together with the officials and technocrats who used to dominate the issue of the Nile water management. For Egypt, the January revolution has opened the public arena for civil society in general. Building up community dialogues with other Nile peoples became a possible sphere where different forms of civil society were then able to participate and specially within enjoying the state blessing. On the other side, the GERD is considered in Ethiopia as a key component in economic transition because water is an initial natural resource to generate energy for strategic development plans. Aside from the Ethiopian and Egyptian governments’ inducement of the civic engagement in the Nile issue for different purposes, it is an opportunity for the civil society to consolidate its roots in the political system though the political systems are not tolerant enough with civil society. Accordingly, this paper aims to explore the states’ causes and tools to allow their peoples to have voice in the Nile politics, to assess the forms of civic engagement in the Nile management and to identify which form is able to attain a meaningful influence in the Nile management.

Beer Rabei Youness . Faculty of Economics and Political Science – Cairo University  . abeer_rabei@feps.edu.eg

Many scholars have conceptualized in the last years the wave of protests that has taken place since the Arab Spring. Probably, Manuel Castells’ concept of “Networked social movements” (2012) has been one of the most praised and discussed ideas. By this, Castells argues that, despite all these protests take place for locals reasons, they all share some common global features, such as: the leading role of an urban youth precariat, the use of social networks and innovative practices as new repertoires of social action, as well as the presence of underlying demands (social justice, protection of common goods, political transparency and accountability, democratic participation…)  that show a huge crisis of democratic representation. Nevertheless, in this global discussion about the pattern of the protests, Sub-Saharan African uprisings have been tremendously absent and overlooked. Likewise, authors as Branch and Mampilly (2015) have also challenged that this general framework might be applied to African protests, since, according to both authors, African protests are just a continuation of resilience and social-political action that characterizes the post-colonial history of many African societies. By analysing some relevant African protests (from Senegal 2012 to DRC 2016), the purpose of this paper is to discuss to what extent this kind of social mobilizations fits into Castells’ concept, which are the main limits and contradictions of this debate when reflecting on the African reality, which are, all in all, the most important aspects that might be characterising these mobilizations and that could, at the same time, nurture the debate about the global wave of protests since 2011.

Oscar Mateos . Blanquerna School of Communication and International Relations (Barcelona’s Ramon Llull University) . omateosm@gmail.com

Since colonial times, Equatorial Guinea has a long history of autocracy. The Spanish colonial regime was authoritarian and, after the independence, in 1968, Francisco Macías Nguema inaugurated the first Nguemist dictatorship. Since the 1979 coup d’état, Teodoro Obiang Nguema has been the head of what is known as the second Nguemist dictatorship. The colonial and postcolonial authoritarian regimes asphyxiated civil society, especially regarding individuals and groups that sought political participation. Nonetheless, the country’s political history is also made by “possible transitional periods”. They are possible and not actual transitional periods because democracy never superseded the authoritarian regime, but were felt by civil society actors as opportunities to change. In my paper I do a historical comparative analysis of three moments that could predict a regime change: 1931 (transition from the Bourbon Restoration to the Second Republic), 1979 (transition from the first to the second Nguemism) and 1991 (transition from the single-party system to the multi-party system). I also consider the independence context, in 1968, a hinge moment between the colonial and the post-colonial forms of authoritarianism. The objects of my analysis are the instruments and discourses used by excluded individuals and groups who had the goal of participating in the political reforms and ultimately change the regime. In addition to identifying and characterising these groups both socially and politically, I will also take an in-depth look to the characteristics of the authoritarianisms where these individuals and groups acted.


Ana Lúcia Sá . CEI-IUL . ana.lucia.sa@iscte.pt

At the beginning of the 1990s, Cameroon, like many African countries, was swept by Huntington’s “third wave of democratization”. One main characteristic of the democratization process in Africa was the birth of the civil society with associations which mushroomed in many African countries. They played important roles in some of these countries, notably in Benin, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Senegal, and Congo, where they contributed in regime change. Curiously, in Cameroon, in spite of the existence of the civil society, no regime change has taken place. Instead, the regime has been strengthened as elections have been organized. The Head of State is serving the fifth term in office and his party, the Cameroon People Democratic Movement is overwhelmingly dominating the parliament. It is evident that the civil society has failed in changing the regime in Cameroon as there has been no alternation. What explains this failure of the civil society in Cameroon? This paper, through a keen analysis of the political process started in 1990, contends that, in Cameroon, the regime in power when the democratization process started, amalgamated the civil society with the opposition and cracked them down so fiercely that the civil society died. It resurrected thanks to a regulation that gave less leeway to the civil society to undertake actual politically-oriented actions. This new civil society is yet to gather enough courage and imagine new avenues and methods in order to contribute significantly towards a regime change in Cameroon alongside other segments of the Cameroonian society.


Mokam David . University of Ngaoundere . david.mokam@gmail.com

After blazing a trail in the first two decades of Africa’s independence, the continent’s brain trust seems to have gone on a hiatus after this period. This is the contention of this paper, which seeks to challenge the “ivory tower” mentality that seems to typify most of Africa’s intelligentsia in the 21st Century. Its main argument is that Africa’s intelligentsia is not playing its critical role in Africa, that is, of being change agents. In this regard, the paper argues that the intelligentsia needs to be a group of activists and not conformists, as seems to be the case now. Arguably, Africa’s intelligentsia did not rise to the occasion, in the last two decades, to practically and effectively change the deplorable socio-economic and political conditions on the continent. Even now, it has not robustly challenged the oppressive and dictatorial political systems on the continent as well. Rather, it seems to be more preoccupied with esoteric endeavours. The intelligentsia’s non-engagement in critical matters of democracy and social advancement on the continent has in fact made it complicit to misrule, tyranny and political myopia in Africa. The paper advances the idea of academic activism which will fill the void that is, to the most, occupied by reactionary and retrogressive forces in Africa.


Ndangwa Noyoo . University of Johannesburg . ndangwan@uj.ac.za

The end of 2015-beginning of 2016 is marked by an unprecedented South African student movement, which a lot of international media presented as a new Soweto ; making reference to the events of 1976. The South African youth (mainly black) providing the allegiance to the ANC came to an end, as result of challenges linked to access to tertiary education. With the ♯feesmustfall movement, the youth grabe their place in the political arena, as an integral part of the Civil Society, protecting the interests of a category of individuals and their rights to a free and quality higher education. The aim of this paper is explore the place of students’ movement in the trajectory history of social movement which sheped and still shape political landscape in various countries. It also examines whether students’ activism encompass generation generational divides between the elder and younger generations with special attention to historical references from the apartheid era. In addressing these questions, the paper consider current students’ movement as an integral part of the Civil Society, and their role in fostering transformation starting from the apartheid period until today.


Marianne Séverin . Les Afriques dans le Monde » (LAM)/Sciences Po Bordeaux -France

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