P046 – Taming Contingency, Anticipating Progress: African Youth’s as Leaders and Targets of Collective Mobilisation
8 July, 17:30-19:00

Tadesse Julian / Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO)
Gaibazzi Paolo / Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO)


The panel examines the connection between collective mobilisation and projects of progress with a focus on youth in Africa as crucial actors and target group of mobilisation. Processes of mobilisation are often informed by discontent regarding the present situation. Different actors and movements may lay claim on particular notions of progress (i.e. utopian, revolutionary, developmental) to overcome a present situation in order to advance towards a better future. We posit that processes of mobilisation are always inherently ambivalent and multivocal, thus their outcome may engender unexpected dynamics. In other words these processes are essentially contingent. Furthermore collective mobilisation cannot only be understood in terms of contestation of power. In some cases the state or non-governmental actors seek affirmation of their projects by means of collective mobilisation. Youth in Africa have been framed as a liability and a potential asset. As such they are and have been the target of mobilisation attempts by different actors, in the name of ‘development’ for instance, but also leaders of collective mobilisation in the form of youth movements and (urban) rebellions.

Dompter l’imprévu et anticiper le progrès : la jeunesse africaine en tant qu’actrice et cible de mobilisations collectives.
Le panel interroge la relation entre mobilisation collective et projets progressistes, en se concentrant sur la jeunesse en Afrique à la fois en tant qu’actrice et groupe cible de mobilisation. Les processus de mobilisation tiennent souvent à un mécontentement face à une situation présente. Différent(e)s acteurs/trices se réclament de certaines notions de progrès (qu’il soit utopique, révolutionnaire ou de développement) afin de surmonter une situation présente et d’atteindre un futur meilleur. Nous suggérons qu’ambivalence et multiplicité de voix sont toujours inhérentes aux processus de mobilisation, si bien que l’issue de ces derniers peuvent engendrer des dynamiques inattendues. En d’autres termes ces processus sont essentiellement contingents. De plus la mobilisation collective ne peut être uniquement comprise en termes de contestation du pouvoir. Dans certains cas l’État, ou des acteurs non-gouvernementaux sollicitent l’approbation de leurs projets à travers la mobilisation collective. La jeunesse en Afrique a souvent été conçue comme une valeur sûre, un atout potentiel. En tant que telle, cette jeunesse a été et est la cible de tentatives de mobilisation menées par différent(e)s acteurs/trices. Que ce soit au nom du « développement » par exemple, ou sous l’influence de leaders de mouvements collectifs sous la forme de mouvements de jeunesse et de rébellions (urbaines).


Paper 1

Rommel Carl / SOAS, University of London

Darlings of the revolution? Emergent masculinities, success and contingency in the political mobilisation of Cairo’s revolutionary Ultras

Ultras Ahlawy (UA), the Cairean football team al-Ahly’s largest supporter group, actively participated in Egypt’s revolutionary struggle in 2011. In February 2012, 72 UA members were killed in a stadium massacre in Port Said, an event widely understood as the security forces’ revenge for UA’s revolutionary politics.
The ethnography in this paper hones in on a period after Port Said, when UA launched a campaign that called for ‘justice for the martyrs’ and a progressive and revolutionary Egyptian football. I show how UA quickly gathered unprecedented momentum and support, and how several demands were met. This was a result of UA embodying a particular ‘emergent masculinity’ of discipline and purposeful action that was well in sync with the revolutionary, socio-political atmosphere. I also illustrate how UA got immune to previously wide-spread accusations of ‘thuggery’ and ‘fanaticism’. The paper thus exemplifies how subjectivities at particular historical junctures can avoid powerful machineries of scrutiny, othering and securitisation. The period of offensive mobilisation was however short-lived. Soon, UA’s revolutionary-respectable masculinity began to be questioned. I argue that this development was a result of a combination of factors: while the group’s strategies and actions did matter, some factors were outside UA’s control. The chapter thus also highlights the contingency and precariousness of mobilisations that rely on positively coded emergent masculinities.

Paper 2

Ranta Eija Maria / Development Studies, University of Helsinki

Political Patronage, Ethnic Networks and the Politics of Development: The Case of Youth Political Participation in the 2013 Kenyan Elections

It is commonly claimed that the organization of free elections is a prerequisite towards liberal democracy. In the name of ‘development’, many international aid agencies put considerable amounts of resources into democracy promotion, electoral support, and, for instance, youth political mobilization and leadership promotion. Through the examination of youth political participation in the 2013 Kenyan elections, the article examines relationships between aid actions and the complexity of real-life politics of youth. Drawing on experiences of politically active young men and women, it shows that despite major improvements in numerical terms, youth political participation is still permeated by an overwhelming influence of political patronage and ethnic networks, whose mastering is often at the hands of elder male figures. To a large extent, their radical political activism is attempted to be tamed and co-opted. Theoretically, the article argues that there is an unsolved discrepancy between the logics of aid discourses and practices and the logics of national and local political systems in each specific empirical context. Due to colonial legacies and postcolonial dependency relations, state formation processes tend to diverge from Western-promoted normative ideals in many parts of the Global South. Subsequently, the politics of development appears to, simultaneously, maintain the status quo and support alternative political voices; to depoliticize and politicize.

Paper 3

Balcha Gebremariam Eyob / University of Manchester

Urban Youth Mobilization under “Democratic” Developmentalism in Ethiopia

The central thesis of the paper is that, the dominant feature in the urban youth mobilization in present day Ethiopia exhibits an instrumentalist nature whereby socio-economic rights of youth are promoted at the expense of their civic-political rights. This can be the result of the historical relations between the post-revolution regimes in Ethiopia and the youth which is heavily influenced by the polarized political culture. Most importantly, however, the ideological orientations of the incumbent regime and the subsequent political, legal and policy frameworks have immense role in shaping state-youth relations in the 21st century Ethiopia. In studying the urban-youth mobilization in today’s Ethiopia, the paper critically examines both the democratic and developmental endeavours of the EPRDF led regime. The paper builds on the argument that consolidation of democracy is an essential requirement for the transformative elements of development to be institutionalized without threateni ng the political and economic interests of the elites. The Ethiopian case presents a scenario where instrumentalist youth mobilization is used as a justification to showcase the procedural democratic nature of the regime. The inculcation of instrumentalist state-youth relation is equally influenced by both the ideological, legal and political beliefs of the ruling elite and by the developmentalist policies.

Paper 4

Gaibazzi Paolo / ZMO – Zentrum Moderner Orient

Contingency: a category for studying youth and progress in Africa

This paper reflects on contingency as a meaningful analytical category for the study of the youth-progress nexus in Africa. As a meta-group projected towards the future and invested with the renewal of generations, youth are often a privileged site for imagining and executing particular visions of societal and political progress. The paper is not interested, however, in whether African youth are or can be a bearer of specific normative ideas of progress (e.g. democracy), but in the epistemological premises in the study of such ideas and the youth that embrace them. In particular, although progress is often thought of telos and order-driven ideology, the paper shows how it can be viewed as a mode for grappling with the very contingency of present circumstances and of future-oriented trajectories in which ideas and actors of progress emerge. This reckoning with, and taming of, contingency in its various manifestations will be shown to be an important element for understanding youths’ sentiments and meanings as bearers of progress across a number of social and historical contexts.

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