On 17th March 2015 we published an article entitled “Troubles en Afrique Francophonie” which discussed increasing anti-government protests across Francophone Africa, not seen in either Anglophone or Lusophone regions. We assessed that in our globalised world it appears that language still has an important influence on the contagion effect of political protest. The countries we identified as experiencing unrest over the past year were Burkina Faso, Burundi, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Niger and Togo. Since then: unrest has intensified in Burundi leading to an attempted coup on 13th May 2015; Gabon has been beset by a series of protests and strikes; and violent clashes have erupted between opposition supporters and the security forces in Guinea’s capital Conakry.
In stark contrast, unrest and political protests have been muted in Anglophone and Lusophone Africa. Despite deteriorating economic conditions in Ghana, allegations of mass killings by the security forces in Angola, and the continuation of the rule of two of Africa’s longest serving ‘Strongmen’ in Uganda and Zimbabwe, these countries have largely avoided anti-government protests like those seen in Francophone Africa. Although South Africa experienced unrest caused by xenophobic, or ‘afrophobic’, riots in April 2015, these were not protests aimed at the government and therefore less dangerous to the ruling ANC.
The unrest seen in Francophone Africa over the past year is particularly anti-government in nature. Protestors have called for greater democracy, criticising long term rulers and those who they believe are exploiting their positions of power in order to prolong their rule. The protests appear to be well co-ordinated by highly active civil society groups and opposition parties which possess clear aims. This is therefore much more of a threat to ruling parties and presidents.
It is not clear why this unrest has been a particular feature of Francophone Africa but it seems that different movements have taken inspiration from each other. It is possible that this has spread through the reporting of events on social or conventional media, which has been expedited by a shared language. However, it is also possible that it has been caused by increased co-operation between different civil society groups. There was an indication that this could be the case in March 2015, when 40 pro-democracy activists were arrested in the DRC, including members of Senegalese and Burkinabe civil society groups. Thus, it could be that civil society groups in Francophone Africa are beginning to operate transnationally; sharing ideas, experiences and acting as inspirations for movements in other countries.
Nonetheless, whatever the reason behind the increasing unrest it appears that Francophone Africa’s autocratic leaders are going to face continued protests in 2015.