P094 – Urban Protests and the (Re)construction of Citizenship in African Cities
10 July, 14:00 – 15:30

Millstein Marianne / The Nordic Africa Institute
Oldfield Sophie / Department of Environmental and Geographical Science, University of Cape Town


This panel addresses the driving and underlying forces, as well as the implications, of the recent protests in many African cities. While the Arab spring may have shaped and inspired theses waves of protest, and open contestations are not new to African cities, urban protests and riots have acquired prominence as a form of contestation. Yet, frequently, protests are treated as extraordinary events with short-lived political effects. Alternatively, we reflect here on the ways in which they can be seen as part of broader and shifting struggles over the content and meaning of urban citizenship. In many cases, citizens might use both ‘ballots and bricks’ (Booysen 2007), protest only being one form that operates with other modes of mobilisation and action. Here we pay attention to these relations and the extent to which protests may emerge from or connect to everyday organizing, and to broader struggles for substantiating citizenship, areas largely under-researched. We aim to engage critically with theoretical debates on citizenship in postcolonial contexts, how citizen-subjects are (re)constructed ‘in and through’ civil and political society, and how urban citizenship and notions such as ‘the right to the city’ can be interrogated in the light of forms of political action often regarded as “illegitimate” or ‘contentious’ forms of politics.

Manifestations urbaines et la (re)construction de citoyenneté dans les villes Africaines
Ce panel aborde les forces motrices et sous-jacentes, ainsi que les implications, des récentes manifestations dans des villes africaines. Si le printemps arabe a marqué et inspiré ces vagues de manifestations, et si les manifestations publiques ne constituent pas une nouveauté dans les villes africaines, les manifestations et les émeutes urbaines sont devenues une forme de contestation très importante. Pourtant, ces manifestations sont souvent traitées comme des évènements extraordinaires dont les effets politiques ne seraient que de courte durée. Ici, nous examinons la possibilité de comprendre ces manifestations comme faisant partie de vastes luttes dynamiques ayant pour objet le contenu et la signification de la citoyenneté urbaine. Dans bien des cas, les citoyens utiliseront et des « bulletins de vote » et des « briques » (Booysen 2007, « ballots and bricks »), les manifestations n’étant qu’une seule pratique opérant simultanément avec d’autres modes de mobilisations et d’action. Ici, nous faisons attention à ces rapports et au degré auquel les manifestations peuvent résulter de ou être connectées à l’organisation quotidienne et aux luttes plus vastes pour l’établissement de la citoyenneté, domaine encore peu étudié. Nous avons pour objectif d’aborder de manière critique les débats théoriques sur la citoyenneté dans des contextes postcoloniaux, les manières dont les citoyens-sujets sont (re)construits dans et à travers la société civile et politique, et dont la citoyenneté urbaine, ainsi que des notions comme « le droit à la ville », peuvent être examinées par rapport à des formes d’action politique souvent jugées « illégitimes » ou « litigieuses ».

Paper 1

Benga Ndiouga / Department of History, University Cheikh Anta Diop, Dakar, Senegal

Yen a marre! Youth Mobilizations, Engagements and Citizenship in Contemporary Senegal

The analysis of the process of governance in Africa is dominated by a conception which does not give enough visibility to the dynamics of appropriation and domestication, to the permanent recreation of the public space by the practices of ordinary people (subaltern resistances). The experiences and the experimentations of the everyday life (possibilities of becoming) offer unfinished geographies, going against the reducing imaginary of the politicians and the bureaucrats. In Senegal and particularly in Dakar, the protest movement is carried by young people, inscribing their presence in the political and social space. The claim to justice and recognition on the one hand, and the desire to moralize the political field on the other one, have found their field of expression and legitimacy in the street demonstrations, in 2011 and 2012, to oppose themselves to the authoritarian excesses of the President Abdoulaye Wade. The Y’en a marre movement reflects the production of new imaginaries of engaged citizenship and responsibility. It articulates the slogan of the “New Type of Senegalese” (NTS), around a variety of technics of mobilization, such as the urban cultures (graffiti, rap), the barricades or the call to vote on the elections’ day. First, I analyze the reconfiguration process of youth mobilizations and second, I explain the new link of youth to citizenship in Senegal. This imaginary citizenship served as inspiration in neighboring countries (Burkina Faso, Mali and Guinea).

Paper 2

Zelenova Daria / Institute for African Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences

From “Quiet Encroachments” to Collective Mobilizations: Everyday Struggles for the Right to the City in Contemporary South Africa

South African cities are known to be the most unequal and simultaneously most rebelling in the world. While urban protests waged in townships often fall under the alarmist discourse and stigmatization of a ghetto based violence lacking organizational potential and positive agenda, struggles waged by poor urban communities demonstrate high potential of self-organization and community based solidarity. Using the ethnography collected between 2009 and 2014 in the course of my PhD research I examine and compare self-organization practices and mobilization tactics of the three urban grassroots initiatives (Orange farm electricity crisis committee based in Johannesburg, Symphony way pavement dwellers based in one of the TRA’s in Cape Town and a popular shack dwellers movement Abahlali baseMjondolo). The stories of everyday resistance told by the actors unfold in different urban environments: informal settlements, townships and transit relocation areas and touch upon the issues of commercialization and commodification of urban land and space, failures of the urban governance and social services provision.
Simultaneously they demonstrate positive examples of the direct democracy and autonomy in action. The paper focuses on grassroots initiatives with their daily practices of anti-eviction struggles and self-organization and analyzes how urban dwellers reconceptualize and reconstruct the notions of the right to the city and citizenship in contemporary South Africa

Paper 3

Choplin Armelle / Universitê Paris-Est

Ciavolella Riccardo / Universitê Paris-Est

Urban Subaltern (de)mobilisation: from Depoliticized Protests to Political Change

Focusing on residents’ reactions to slum clearance and displacement in an African city (Nouakchott-Mauritania), this paper seeks to interpret the meaning of urban protests. Analyzing the political agency of “urban subaltern” groups, their discourses and their “everyday forms of resistance” (Scott) to contest power and authority, we observe contradictory dynamics. In one hand, urban dwellers do not claim citizenship neither a “right to the city” in a lefebvrian perspective. The resistance seems to be depoliticized, individual and limited to local-level. But, on the other hand, these embryonic urban protests could be considered as a harbinger of broader political mobilisation and yearnings for a more inclusive citizenship. This paper seeks to explore and confront these two opposite theses about politics – the quiet encroachment paradigm (Bayat) vis-à-vis the post-political thought (Swyngedouw). This contradiction calls for deeper reflection on the concrete possibilities for the protests of slum-dwellers to become a structured political movement. Are they able to change the urban reality in which they live and the exclusive citizenship regime? Following a Gramscian perspective (which plays with the overlapping between cittadinità and cittadinanza), we wonder if and how the African postcolonial city could be the place to transform local protests into political change and be the place for new forms of citizenship and emancipation (Ciavolella, Choplin)?

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