(North Africa is covered under E.V together with the Middle East, although naturally North Africa is included in some books below. As well as continental political and institutional links – for example the African Union – popular movements influence each other across the continent.)
Many examples of mass popular resistance in Africa have been to colonial rule (see Section B). The most famous struggle of all occurred in South Africa, where there were waves of resistance to various forms of racial discrimination throughout much of the twentieth century. The growing resistance to apartheid from the 1950s is covered in Section I below.
After achieving independence, many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa fairly soon became (for a number of political reasons) one-party states, or in some cases civilian government gave way to military rule. By the late 1980s, however, there was growing popular demand in many countries for free and fair elections with a genuine choice of candidates for both parliament and the presidency. This ‘wave’ of popular protest from 1988 to the early 1990s was quite often triggered by economic grievances, which then developed into political demands. It was also inspired by the movements of 1989-91 in the Soviet bloc overthrowing one-party regimes; the President of Gabon referred to the ‘wind from the East that shakes the coconut trees’. Rulers were also encouraged by western aid donors to bow to popular pressure for constitutional change and elections. The role of western governments and bodies like the IMF and World Bank is extremely controversial, since they tried to enforce neoliberal economic policies of ‘structural adjustment’ at the same time as calling for multi-party elections. There was often popular resistance to the first, at the same time as there was a demand for the second. The literature specifically on the movements for electoral democracy is limited, but the broad process of democratization in this period (and its failures) has been quite well analysed (see E.I.2.1. below).
A second wave of protests (listed separately under E.I.2.2) occurred after 2000, attempting to make political leaders honour their earlier promises of constitutional rule and in particular to demand that presidents did not exceed their constitutional terms of office. Most of these protests have been linked to specific elections, and often have been fairly brief. Only a few have been successful, but they have nevertheless been significant demonstrations of the popular demand for governments to be democratically accountable. Many of these protests have also highlighted the issue of political corruption. The most sustained campaign for political change has occurred in Zimbabwe since 2000, in opposition to the autocratic rule of Robert Mugabe, and this is also better documented in English than some of the other movements.
The popular resistance that began in Tunisia and engulfed much of the Arab world in 2011 also had repercussions across sub-Saharan Africa, although the full extent of this new ‘wave’ of protests starting in 2011 has yet to be assessed (see section E. I.2.3 below).
The literature specifically on unarmed or nonviolent action in Africa is (apart from South Africa) less extensive than that on many other parts of the world. One attempt to fill this gap is the series edited by: King, Mary Elizabeth; Miller, Christopher A., Nonviolent Transformation of Conflict Addis Ababa, University for Peace Africa Programme, , 2006, pp. 140 .
One of the series offers brief descriptions of a range of nonviolent campaigns in Africa in different periods: