People Power Is Rising in Africa

How Protest Movements Are Succeeding Where Even Global Arrest Warrants Can’t

Protesters in Khartoum, Sudan, April 2019 Umit Bektas / Reuters

A new tide of people power is rising in Africa. On April 2, a nonviolent resistance movement in Algeria succeeded in pressuring Abdelaziz Bouteflika to resign after 20 years as president. Nine days later, protesters in Sudan were celebrating the ouster of Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s president of 30 years, after a three-month-long uprising against his regime.

The nonviolent overthrows of Bouteflika and Bashir are not aberrations. They reflect a surprising trend across the continent: despite common perceptions of Africa as wracked by violence and conflict, since 2000, most rebellions there have been unarmed and peaceful. Over the past decade, mass uprisings in Africa have accounted for one in three of the nonviolent campaigns aiming to topple dictatorships around the world. Africa has seen 25 new, nonviolent mass movements—almost twice as many as Asia, the next most active region with 16.

Since the 1970s, Africa’s nonviolent uprisings have also had the highest success rate in the world. Roughly 58 percent of the uprisings aimed at overthrowing dictatorships have succeeded, in countries as diverse as Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Madagascar, Mali, South Africa, Tunisia, Zambia, and, most recently, Algeria and Sudan. That far surpasses the success rate of 44 percent for movements against autocratic regimes in all other regions.

Since the 1970s, Africa’s nonviolent uprisings have had the highest success rate in the world.

What explains the striking effectiveness of African mass movements? One factor is Africa’s long legacy of resistance against colonial and neocolonial rule. Mahatma Gandhi, after all, laid the foundations of his civil resistance to British rule in India over 21 years organizing with migrant workers in South Africa. Contemporary African resistance movements have deep roots, from anti-taxation campaigns waged in the early 1900s against British occupiers to coordinated actions to boycott apartheid-supporting businesses in 1990 South Africa. The movements in Algeria and Sudan occurred in many waves and echo past protests—in Algeria, the general strikes that occurred during the independence struggle, localized micro-riots, and national upheavals from 2010 to 2012; and in Sudan,

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