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Recent African Youth Protests

A Nigerian scholar, Akin Iwilade observed that African youth-led protests–against austerity programs that increase the cost of food and fuel–bypass the established opposition such as labor unions. The global economic crisis destabilizes established politics, thereby enabling “a global youth culture of protest” and criticism of neoliberalism. African youth are motivated by the economic crisis to construct “hybrid identities” using social media to address local issues. Urban lower-middle class youth are the new activists because of their access to cell phones and the Internet, as they were in recent protests in Uganda, Nigeria, Senegal, Kenya, Mozambique, Tunisia and Egypt. He says, “What emerges from this identity construction process is a hybrid youth that is acutely aware of global discourses of development and democracy and at the same time in touch with the local dimensions of exclusion and disempowerment.” Being part of a protest is seen as cool in youth culture, unlike the more differential attitudes of older generations. Using Twitter, Facebook and texting they use their technical expertise to organize leaderless uprisings, joined by poor uneducated youth as in Mozambique. For example, food riots occurred in Mozambique in 2010 and protests against cuts in fuel subsidies in Nigeria in 2012. As in other youth uprisings, music, dancing and humor were on stage at protests. The problem arises when negotiating a settlement with the government without leaders and specific demands, so the organized old guard moves in as the military did in Egypt after the revolution and the unions did in Nigeria. Isilade is optimistic that “Africa is at last showing signs of emerging from its underdevelopment.”

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