Essays

African Futures essays reflect on African protest and democracy movements, with original contributions from both scholars and practitioners.


January 12, 2015

20 Years Later – The Role of Art and Justice in South Africa’s Democracy

At the entrance to the Constitutional Court of South Africa stands a sculpture of a large man yoked to a cart. His burden is a human one: a man and woman who themselves are seated on the back of a fourth figure kneeling on the cart. At first glance, the sculpture resonates with the history of servitude that marked the dehumanizing institution of apartheid. On closer reflection, the sculpture reveals a more complex message. The sculptor, South African artist Dumile Feni, did not create any racial differentiation between the four figures, and the man drawing the cart is the only figure large and strong enough to accomplish this task. The title of the work is History, and the four figures carry each other in a way that reflects the dependence, the interconnectedness and the tension that have always characterized human relationships. Read more…

December 9, 2014

Citizens’ Revolt in Burkina Faso

Even the long months of demonstrations and strikes that came before did not fully prepare the people of Burkina Faso for what they would accomplish during the last week of October 2014. In Ouagadougou, the capital, hundreds of thousands—organizers claimed a million—packed the central square on Tuesday, 28 October, to protest President Blaise Compaoré’s “constitutional coup,” as they called his plan to force through an amendment enabling him to run for reelection yet again, after more than a quarter century in power. Read more…

July 1, 2014

Protests and the Construction of National Security Threats in South Africa

The revelations by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden – that the United States (US) has developed surveillance capacities that make it possible for intelligence agents to surveil all Americans and many non-Americans – have provoked outrage and debate over the extent of their anti-terror policies far beyond their border. This massive overreach has even crept into the monitoring of popular mobilization. Read more…

March 21, 2014

Part II: Anxieties of West African Democracy: Six Presidential Elections in 2014-2015

In the first part of this article, the author describes the political context surrounding the high-risk presidential elections that will take place in six countries in West Africa in 2014-2015. It considered in particular, the anticipated intensity of electoral competition in each country, one of the three elements of risk he’ll use, to assess the likelihood of violence. In this second part, he examines the current security context of the different countries and the institutional environments that will oversee the electoral process. This essay was originally written in French and translated by African Futures. All issues of misinterpretation or mistranslation are therefore solely the editors’ responsibility. To ensure the author’s original nuance, please read the French version.

March 21, 2014

Partie II: La Démocratie de l’Angoisse: l’Afrique de l’Ouest et ses Six Élections Présidentielles de 2014-2015

Dans la première partie de cet article, l’auteur a décrit le contexte politique dans lequel se dérouleront les élections présidentielles dans les six pays d’Afrique de l’Ouest concernés par ces scrutins souvent à haut risque cette année et en 2015. Il a examiné en particulier l’intensité anticipée de la compétition électorale dans chacun des pays, un des trois éléments d’appréciation des risques de violence. Dans cette deuxième partie, il s’interroge sur le contexte sécuritaire actuel des différents pays et sur l’environnement institutionnel qui devra encadrer les processus électoraux. Anglais…

March 4, 2014

Anxieties of West African Democracy: Six Presidential Elections in 2014-2015

This contribution is the first of a two-part essay by Dr. Gilles Olakounlé Yabi on the anxious environment in West African countries preparing for elections in 2014/2015. The second part will be posted on African Futures in mid-March. This essay was originally written in French and translated by African Futures. All issues of misinterpretation or mistranslation are therefore solely the editors’ responsibility. To ensure the author’s original nuance, please read the French version.

March 4, 2014

La Démocratie de l’Angoisse: l’Afrique de l’Ouest et ses Six Élections Présidentielles de 2014-2015

C’est l’estomac noué et la gorge serrée que les citoyens de six pays membres de la Communauté économique des Etats d’Afrique de l’Ouest (CEDEAO) s’apprêtent à entrer dans une période électorale devenue synonyme, dans une trop grande partie du continent, de risque maximal de crise violente. Anglais…

October 11, 2013

Making Sense of the Protests in Khartoum

In the ten days following September 23, Sudanese cities witnessed the largest anti-government protests in many years. Many of the protesters aimed to bring down the government; others sought a reversal of its recent decision to reduce fuel subsidies. The police and security services responded with lethal force, and according to Amnesty International, killed more than 200 protesters. The ruling party played on the fear that, if the protesters should bring down the government, they would bring down the state as well. The protests have now since subsided.
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October 7, 2013

Social Protest, an African Perennial

Early one morning in March 2013, residents of Bujagali in eastern Uganda, upset by the deplorable state of the road through their village blocked it with logs and large stones. The protesters expressed anger that President Yoweri Museveni had not kept a promise to pave the road, which becomes virtually impassable during heavy rains and throws up dust clouds in dry weather. Although the residents seemed determined to keep the road closed—some youths jokingly planted banana suckers and maize across it—riot police eventually came from nearby Jinja, arrested several demonstrators, and dispersed the remainder. Read More…

August 21, 2013

Human Rights, Development, and Democracy in Africa: What Role for the Arts?

This essay written by Mike van Graan, the Executive Director of the African Arts Institute (AFAI) based in Cape Town, is the first of a mini-series we hope to publish on the role of arts in democracy, protest, and human rights movements in Africa. It aims to explore how arts are used to advance freedom of expression and representation throughout the region, and highlight these important stories of pro-democracy arts activism – Eds.
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