Language of Rights June 29, 2021

From Below, New Youth Politics in Africa

Alcinda Honwana

In this lecture, Alcinda Honwana gives an engaging and thought provoking introduction to some of the young Africans who are at the forefront of political movements across the continent, as new activists emerge, alliances are built and broken, and hopes are raised and dashed.  

“Social movements initially spurred by bread-and-butter issues often morph into [articulating] political grievances. The intersection of the socio-economic, the cultural, and the political appears to be central to the struggles of this generation.” 

Honwana situates the actions of these movements within the challenging circumstances and political contexts they are faced with, and explores how movements might sustain momentum beyond the street. In particular, she points to a trend towards grassroots political action, as activists from Tunisia to Angola to Sudan begin to engage in practical and political activity in municipalities and local government politics. Breaking away from exclusionary party politics is not easy – she uses the example of Tunisia to describe the struggle between bottom-up democratic change and the ambitions of an older generation clinging on to power.  

Youth movements across the African continent are experimenting, reimagining a new politics in conditions of economic fragility, social deprivation and restricted liberties, and honing the power of the collective. Honwana recalls a conversation with Fred Bauma from Lucha describing the informal and horizontal nature of that movement, which is founded on principles of collective responsibility – everyone is a leader and the responsibility is shared – collective risk taking – altogether in the streets and mutual protection – and non-violence – no stones, not burning of tires, non-aggression. She also describes how these movements are going beyond the local, pointing to solidarity networks emerging across the continent and with the diaspora. The young people involved are connecting the lessons of anti-colonial movements to their struggles today, as they counter inequalities and inequities within their communities and societies. 


Listen to Lucinda’s full lecture on African Arguments, hosted by the African Studies Center at Oxford University