P092 – African Riots: Local Uprisings, National Politics, and International Attention
9 July, 16:00 – 17:30

Kirst Sarah / Freie Universität Berlin


Riots are currently the focus of numerous political and media debates, as well as in academic fields such as urban studies, research on political protest, and anthropological studies on everyday resistances. In Africa, during the 2008 food riots, the uprisings in the Arab world, the occupy movement and other protests, riots have acted as a specific way of articulating anger, and have consequently been paid attention by government, oppositional actors, civil society, media, and scholars. The panel will bring answers to these questions: In what contexts do riots emerge in Africa? What do we know about their emergence and the individuals and social groups involved? How do these riots differ from phenomena such as political protest and social movements? How do they relate to more ‘organised’ forms of contentious politics, such as the activities of trade unions and civil society organisations? How do governments, security forces, and opponents in Africa react to riots? How and in which ways are riots made ‘objects of politics’ by other actors?

Les émeutes africaines: soulèvements locaux, politiques nationales et attention internationale
Les mouvements de soulèvements populaires se trouvent actuellement au cœur des débats politiques et médiatiques, ainsi que du domaine académique comme tendent à le montrer les «urban studies» (études urbaines), les études sur les manifestations politiques, ou encore les recherches anthropologiques sur les mouvements de résistance quotidienne. En Afrique, les émeutes de la faim de 2008, les soulèvements dans le monde arabe, le mouvement Occupy Wall Street et les diverses manifestations contre la crise économique, ont permis de canaliser les revendications populaires et d’attirer l’attention des gouvernements, des acteurs de l’opposition ainsi que de la société civile, des médias et de la communauté scientifique.
Le panel va répondre à ces questions : Dans quel contexte surviennent les émeutes? Que savons-nous de leur émergence, et des individus et groupes sociaux qui y participent? Comment les émeutes se distinguent-elles des phénomènes tels que les protestations politiques et les mouvements sociaux? Comment s’identifient-elles davantage à des formes plus «organisées» de conflits politiques, telles que les organisations syndicales ou les organismes de la société civile? Comment réagissent les gouvernements, les forces de sécurité et les principaux acteurs de l’opposition face aux émeutes africaines? Comment ces émeutes sont-elles détournées en «objet politique» par d’autres acteurs ?

Paper 1

Demarest Leila / University of Leuven (KU Leuven)

“Riot politics” in Senegal: praxis, strategic performance, and opposition dynamics

International media commonly depict riots in (Sub-Saharan) Africa as spontaneous and violent outbursts responding to socio-economic distress (e.g. high food prices) – a narrative often characterized by images of rock-throwing youths and burning tyres. Many researchers as well, especially in quantitative conflict studies, see African riots as primarily caused by economic factors. This paper, however, will emphasize the detailed organization and planning behind so-called spontaneous riots, the social -and often political- networks involved with violent protests, and the underlying political motivations of the main actors involved. Inspired by the works of Paul Brass and others on “riot systems” in India, this paper takes the view that in the case of Africa as well, ideas about random collective violence are severely biased and often mistaken. Based on field interviews with members of political parties, youth movements and civil society organisations in Dakar, Senegal, I demonstrate how ‘spontaneous’ protests and riots during former-president Wade’s second term, and especially in the run-up to the presidential elections of 2012 are intrinsically embedded in opposition politics. Moreover, riot practices are strategically directed towards (international) media and while the image of ‘Senegal on the verge of political instability’ was consciously created at the beginning of 2012, “violent” actions themselves were performed within a restrictive normative framework.

Paper 2

Horakova Hana / Metropolitan University Prague

Xenophobic violence, identity politics and new nationalism in South Africa

In May 2008 xenophobic violence spread all over South Africa which resulted in the death toll of more than 60 Africans, mainly from Somalia, Mozambique or Zimbabwe.
The aim of this paper is to analyse recent outbreaks of violence in the cultural and political context of South African society. I attempt to examine their substance and causes, and their effects on South African society and their capability of nation-building and sustaining democracy. What are the factors that explain the use of violence against African refugees and immigrants in the new South Africa?
Existing accounts of these events emerge in terms of economic crisis, political transition, relative deprivation, or as remnants of apartheid. Yet, these individual explanations cannot offer the entire picture; it is important to understand xenophobic violence as a political discourse. Given the current shift of South African nationalistic discourse from the-all inclusive into the exclusivist form, I argue that xenophobia is a product of a nationalist discourse in postapartheid South Africa based on the politics of belonging and the construction of citizenship. New racially inflected African nationalism, driven by populism and nativism, instrumental in the new political cleavage between South Africans as “deserving citizens” and Makwerekwere as “undeserving outsiders” have far-reaching effects on a fragile postapartheid democracy.
The paper draws on scholarly literature and on my recurring study visits to SA.

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