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Civic Agency in Africa

Civic Agency in Africa: Arts of Resistance in the 21st Century

Ebenezer Obadare
Wendy Willems
Foreword by Patrick Chabal
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 238
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  • Book Info
    Civic Agency in Africa
    Book Description:

    The recent wave of popular protests across North Africa and the Middle East has stimulated debate on the meaning and strategies of resistance in the 21st century. One key factor to emerge has been the absence of formal organizations in effecting the transformation of these states. To date, the literature on resistance in civil society in Africa has been dominated by exploration of the dynamics of formal NGOs, but this fails to take account of the changinglandscape of social change unfolding on the continent and the importance of both the local and informal. This book takes as its starting point what is actually happening on the ground, the expressions of resistance in thenon-governmental sphere and the various socio-economic, political, and artistic praxes that animate it. It examines the variety of organized and unorganized ways in which Africans exercise agency and resist state power. The bookevaluates the meaning of resistance and the politics of citizen action in Africa today; the way in which resistant practices impinge on the state and the kinds of state formations that are emerging as a response to citizen action;the use of popular culture as modes of resistance; and the power of cultural belonging in the public sphere. The book does not merely explore these practices but how agency and resistance engage, transform, co-opt, undermine, reproduce or reinforce the post-colonial African state. Ebenezer Obadare is Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Kansas; Wendy Willems is Lecturer in Media, Communication and Development in the LSE Department of Media and Communications. She was previously Senior Lecturer and Head of Department of Media Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand (2010-2012), where she remains affiliated as an Honorary Research Fellow.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-233-4
    Subjects: History, Political Science, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. vii-xi)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xii-xviii)
    Patrick Chabal

    The search for meaning in today’s African politics involves a dual exercise: an understanding of the nature of power and an exploration of the ways and byways of resistance to power. The former entails a reconsideration of the manner in which power is understood and exercised on the continent. The latter implies the use of methodologies capable of making sense of the behaviour of political actors. The standard approach to these questions has conceptualised power in terms of the state and resistance in terms of civil society – the one being the converse of the other. Much energy has thus been...

  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xix-xx)
    Ebenezer Obadare, Lawrence and Kansas Wendy Willems
  6. 1 Introduction African Resistance in an Age of Fractured Sovereignty
    (pp. 1-24)
    Wendy Willems and Ebenezer Obadare

    For scholars with an abiding interest in the subject of resistance – its enactment, forms, promises, even dystopias – recent global events could not have occurred at a more opportune moment. Across North Africa and the entire ‘Muslim World’, concerted popular action culminated in the unexpected demise of entrenched dictatorships. In the United States, the Occupy Wall Street movement both epitomised and canalised widespread antipathy toward not just the country’s ‘one percent’, but more significantly the global financial system. Outside the country, ‘Occupy’ proved a timely banner for those seeking to redress a wide array of local injustices. In Nigeria, to take...


    • 2 Global Technologies of Domination From Colonial Encounters to the Arab Spring
      (pp. 27-48)
      Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni

      Resistance in Africa is primarily a response to the coloniality reproduced by the postcolony and global multilateral institutions such as the World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary fund, and the World Bank. Coloniality is the location of power within which resistance emerges, radiates and is disciplined into emancipatory reformism bereft of revolutionary transformation. It is itself a central motif of global imperial designs, but it must not be confused with colonialism. Colonialism entails a political and economic relation in which sovereignty of a nation and a people ‘rests on the power of another nation, which makes such a nation an...

    • 3 Citizenship from Below The Politics of Citizen Action & Resistance in South Africa & Angola
      (pp. 49-62)
      Bettina von Lieres

      In many contexts of the global South, ideas and practices around citizenship extend beyond the liberal notion of citizenship as primarily about the vertical relations between individual citizens and rights-recognising states. For marginalised communities, citizenship is often not experienced primarily in relation to the state, but instead through highly localised processes of horizontal identification and mobilisation. Collective and horizontal forms of ‘citizenship’ practices often emerge in reaction to unresponsive states which are unable or unwilling to provide key services such as health, water and housing. Basic services are often provided not by states, but by non-state actors such as transnational...


    • 4 The Politics of Confinement & Mobility Informality, Relocations & Urban Re-making from Above & Below in Nairobi
      (pp. 65-84)
      Ilda Lindell and Markus Ihalainen

      Informal modes of earning a living are expanding rapidly in cities in Africa and beyond. This has its most evident physical expression in the vast unplanned settlements in the peripheries of cities. But a large number of urban residents also daily invade central areas of the city and operate in its interstices in the pursuit of their livelihoods. Their growing numbers are often understood as a problem by many city authorities. Concerned with projecting an image of a modern and orderly city and influenced by ideals of ‘cityness’ circulating internationally, urban authorities in many cities feel urged to deal with...

    • 5 Overcoming Socio-Economic Marginalisation Young West African Hustlers & the Reinvention of Global Capitalism
      (pp. 85-103)
      Basile Ndjio

      In a majority of African countries, urban youths are one of the main ‘victims of modernity’ (Bauman 2007). Since the late 1980s and early 1990s, they have endured social and economic marginalisation that has frustrated many in their legitimate aspirations of fulfilling their dreams of modernity. In addition, as a result of their disenfranchisement andde-citizenisationby corrupt and clientelist African governments, marginalised urban youths have become the ‘lost generation’. Some of them have been turned into ‘alien citizens’ who are treated as foreigners in their own country. But despite their undoubted ‘debasement’ and ‘disconnection’ from the mainstream of both...

    • 6 Accepting Authoritarianism? Everyday Resistance as Political Consciousness in Post-Genocide Rwanda
      (pp. 104-124)
      Susan Thomson

      In April 2013, Rwanda commemorated the nineteenth anniversary of the genocide that engulfed the country for 100 days in 1994, during which more than half a million people were killed, most of them from the Tutsi ethnic group, at the hands of their ethnic Hutu neighbours. The post-genocide government of Rwanda, led by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), has received international acclaim for its efforts to rebuild the country. According to the United Nations, Rwanda’s post-genocide reconstruction and reconciliation policies deserve to be emulated in other post-conflict societies in Africa and elsewhere (UNOHRLLS/UNDP 2006). An important cornerstone of these efforts...


    • 7 Participatory Politics in South Africa Social Commentary from Above & Resistance from Below
      (pp. 127-146)
      Innocentia J. Mhlambi

      The political and economic compromises to which the African National Congress (ANC) agreed during the settlement negotiations had an effect that saw enormous marginalisation of the poor majority of Africans in South Africa. This state of massive marginalisation presented a scenario which suggested that the excluded constituencies have been deprived of a critical vocabulary with which to challenge the new ANC-led government, save for the independent activism of new social movements such as the Anti-Privatisation Forum, the Treatment Action Campaign, the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee and other social movements that have been active during the mid-1990s (Rosenthal 2010; Dawson 2010)....

    • 8 Laughing at the Rainbow’s Cracks? Blackness, Whiteness & the Ambivalences of South African Stand-Up Comedy
      (pp. 147-166)
      Grace A. Musila

      On 6 April 2011, South African television audiences watched an unscripted flare-up between anchor Chris Maroleng,Afrikaner Weer-standsbeweging¹ (AWB) Secretary General Andre Visagie, and political analyst Lebohang Pheko during a live current affairs programme on race relations in South Africa, following the brutal murder of outspoken right-wing AWB leader Eugene Terreblanche. Terreblanche – a familiar figure in South African politics with strong views on race – was allegedly bludgeoned to death by his black farmworkers.² What stood out about the episode was not that Visagie and Maroleng almost came to blows on live television; nor that Visagie walked off the set...

    • 9 ‘Beasts of No Nation’ Resistance & Civic Activism in Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s Music
      (pp. 167-182)
      Jendele Hungbo

      This chapter examines resistance and civic activism in the music of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. Using Fela’s album ‘Beasts of No Nation’ (1989) as entry point, I seek to create an understanding of African music and popular culture in general as ‘sites of ideological struggle and resistance’ (Darts 2004: 316). The chapter locates Fela’s music within the sphere of nationalist resistance to hegemony and shows how he uses the popular art form to undermine the production and reproduction of dominant power structures at both the local and the global levels. Making use of interpretive textual analysis as analytical device, the chapter calls...


    • 10 The Power of Resonance Music, Local Radio Stations & the Sounds of Cultural Belonging in Mali
      (pp. 185-203)
      Dorothea Schulz

      Political liberalisation in Africa has spawned a growing literature on ‘media and democracy’ in Africa. Characteristic of much of this literature on private/local radio stations, and more generally on (new) media in Africa, is a focus on the supposed democratising potential of these media institutions (e.g. Senghor 1996; Opoku-Mensah 2000; Hungbo 2008; Hydenet al. 2002; see randall 1998).¹ Whether working on countrieswith a liberalised mediascape (e.g. Bosch 2006; Graetz 2000; Myers 2000; Mwesige 2009) or on those countries whose political conditions remain adverse to a diversified media landscape, such as in Zimbabwe and Cameroon (Nyamnjoh 2005; Hungbo 2008: 9),...

    • 11 Narrating the Contested Public Sphere Zapiro, Zuma & Freedom of Expression in South Africa
      (pp. 204-225)
      Daniel Hammett

      Political cartoons and other forms of political satire are widely regarded as key indicators of the health of a democracy. Cartoonists and satirists are important social and political actors whose work can hold elites to account and challenge excesses of state power. Critical and popular scholars of geopolitics view expressions of state power and of resistance to state power in political cartoons and popular culture as a vital and active component of discursive networks through which meaning and understanding are constructed. Individual cartoons and films can be used to ‘read’ or ‘decode’ a particular moment or event, acting as a...

  11. Index
    (pp. 226-236)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 237-237)