Activists navigate an increasingly complex political landscape under African governments claiming to adhere the rule of law while simultaneously enacting autocratic measures aimed at curtailing basic freedoms. This paper explores rights activists in Côte d’Ivoire and Mali, where human rights activists must operate under the insecurity associated with post- conflict transitions. This paper draws on interviews with more than 150 activist organizations in Côte d’Ivoire and Mali to understand how political oscillations have affected activists’ strategies. We ask: How do different types of political environments affect rights activists’ strategies? We examine responses from a range of activist groups, including women, environmental, and political rights activists, as they navigate two different regimes. We compare activists’ strategies in Côte d’Ivoire, historically a closed semi-authoritarian regime that now enjoys a relatively peaceful, but increasingly authoritarian context, with those in Mali, historically more pluralist, but which has become more repressive after three coups. This paper has the potential to contribute meaningfully to our understanding of how human rights can be expanded under political uncertainty and which actions can be effective in protecting rights activists in countries where civic space is shrinking.

Leonardo Arriola

Associate Professor at University of California, Berkeley and Affiliated Senior Researcher