- PART 1:
- PART 2:
- PART 3:
Part 2: MOBILISATION
This section focuses on what research tells us on effective and inclusive mobilisation of youth in a transitional context. It will first present how research looks at and defines youth mobilisation and civic engagement. Then, it will highlight what can be learnt from research on civil resistance movements and democratic transitions. Finally, it will unpack how using online tools for civic mobilisation can have both positive and negative effects on civic mobilisation.
Youth mobilisation beyond voting
Young African citizens exercise their right to vote less frequentlythan older citizens. Different explanations are offered by researchers. The first considers that young people have less political knowledge than their elders. The second explanation is that young people do not feel that politicians respond to their needs and aspirations, which are different from that of older citizens. The third explanation highlights that young people are disenchanted by the political system, with ageing leaders who remain in power, elections who do not unseat them, and few options among political parties. These explanations are not mutually exclusive, and in fact, all contribute to the fact that young people vote less than older citizens (Resnick and Casale 2011).
Young people participate less in formal political activities such as voting, contacting politicians, or volunteering for political parties. This does not necessarily mean that young people are not interested in participating in their community, or that they do not want to be heard. There are more ways for citizens to participate in politics and in the community than merely by voting. The number and type of opportunities for political action have increased, and a variety of activities can be political. Informal activities such as organizing activities to benefit the community or protesting have become an integral part of mobilisation (Dalton 2008).
Indeed, over the past decade, we have seen many protests where young people gather to demonstrate against the ruling elites, from the Arab Spring in the Middle East in 2010-2011 to Senegal, Burkina Faso, South Africa, Zimbabwe and, of course, Sudan. These widespread protest movements are launched by young people, often students, protesting because they do not have jobs, they feel they do not have opportunities, and they want change.
This phenomenon has been defined as a state of “waithood” by scholars studying youth in Africa. “Waithood” is a “space in which [young people] are neither dependent children nor autonomous adults” (Honwana 2014, 2434). Young people find themselves in between childhood and adulthood. They do not have access to stable employment, cannot afford to establish themselves and build a family, and are excluded from political processes. They wait for something that seems to never come.
Youth played a central role in the ousting of Omer al-Bashir in 2019. Young people in Sudan have little faith in formal politics. They have instead engaged by volunteering in their communities (Aalen 2020). The resistance committees (El-Batthani 2021) and neighbourhood committees have served as mobilising structures for the youth
Research on youth political mobilisation across the world highlights general trends that seem to fit with what has been happening in Sudan:
- Low formal political participation (for example in elections)
- Higher informal engagement in the local community,
- Protest participation.
Free resources on formal and informal political activities of young people:
Dalton, Russell J. 2008. ‘Citizenship Norms and the Expansion of Political Participation’. Political Studies 56 (1): 76–98. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9248.2007.00718.x. Freely available at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/4734676_Citizenship_Norms_and_the_Expansion_Of_Political_Participation
Honwana, Alcinda. 2014. ‘Youth, Waithood, and Protest Movements in Africa’. African Dynamics in a Multipolar World: 5th European Conference on African Studies — Conference Proceedings, 2428–47.
Resnick, Danielle, and Daniela Casale. 2011. ‘The Political Participation of Africa’s Youth: Turnout, Partisanship, and Protest’. Working Paper 136. Afrobarometer. https://afrobarometer.org/publications/political-participation-africa%E2%80%99s-youth-turnout-partisanship-and-protest.
Freely available analyses of the events in Sudan:
Aalen, Lovise. 2020. ‘After the Uprising: Including Sudanese Youth’. 7. Sudan Brief. Chr. Michelsen Institute. https://www.cmi.no/publications/7420-after-the-uprising-including-sudanese-youth .
El-Batthani, Atta. 2021. ‘The Role of Local Resistance Committees in Sudan’s Transitional Period’. https://www.cmi.no/publications/7920-the-role-of-local-resistance-committees-in-sudans-transitional-period.
Protests, non-violent movements, and transitions
Even though young people are less eager voters than other citizens, that does not mean that they do not mobilize around political issues. The series of protests in Sudan since 2019 is of course a prime example of how young people can mobilize, protest, and successfully impact politics. The uprising in Sudan can be described as a civil resistance movement.
Civil resistance, also called non-violent resistance, is a term used for non-violent political engagement against the existing regime in power, outside of formal political activities such as voting. It can be used to describe a large variety of activities, such as demonstrations, labour strikes, or boycotts (Chenoweth and Cunningham 2013, 271; Pinckney 2018, 13).
The early successes of the movement in Sudan were followed by a coup in the autumn/winter 2021, but in general, civil resistance movements are more successful than violent movements at achieving their goals – such as overthrowing the regime in place ( Chenoweth and Cunningham 2013). Civil resistance movements also more often lead to stable democracies (Pinckney 2018, 18–19).
Research shows that mass inclusion increases the chances of success. To put enough pressure on the regime in power it is crucial to mobilize people from different backgrounds and who share a mutual goal. Otherwise, the regime can use repression, and isolate the group who protests. Bringing together people from different social classes such as students, peasants, professionals in labour unions, as well as people from various regions in a broad coalition is one of the keys for movements to succeed in removing a dictator, as was the case during the Arab Spring in Tunisia and Egypt (Goldstone 2011), or in Sudan in 2019.
But what happens once the starting goal has been achieved, and the dictator removed (or independence obtained)? How can civil resistance movements contribute to a transition to a more democratic regime? When the starting goal has been achieved it is easy to lose sight of what brought the coalition together in the first place: the shared will to remove the dictator, for example. Maintaining mobilization over time is important. For continued mobilization to take place independent civic groups, such as community organizations, play a pivotal role. These groups must support the interests of ordinary people, and hold politicians as well as new leaders accountable (Pinckney 2018, 44–50). By continuing to mobilize people from all social groups they can pressure new leaders to deliver on their promises. They can also contribute to building a shared vision of the future that is not just limited to removing the previous dictator.
Research on civil resistance movements shows that:
- Civil resistance movements are more successful than violent resistance
- They are successful when they include large parts of the population, across backgrounds, like social class and regions
- To achieve democracy, it is important to continue pressuring the people who get into power as a result of civil resistance
- Violent repression by of continued resistance movements is still a risk , even though civil resistance movements tend to face less repression than violent movements.
- Leaders of successful civil resistance movements risk being co-opted by the remaining institutions from the former regime.
- Continued mobilization after the dictator was first toppled, and after the military coup, keeps open the possibilities for democratization.
- Activists should keep the newly co-opted leaders accountable
- They should continue to build a shared vision of the future, beyond the goal of removing coup leaders.
Chenoweth, Erica, and Kathleen Gallagher Cunningham. 2013. ‘Understanding Nonviolent Resistance: An Introduction’. Journal of Peace Research 50 (3): 271–76. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022343313480381.
Goldstone, Jack A. 2011. ‘Cross-Class Coalitions and the Making of the Arab Revolts of 2011’. Swiss Political Science Review 17 (4): 457–62. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1662-6370.2011.02038.x.
Pinckney, Jonathan. 2018. When Civil Resistance Succeeds: Building Democracy after Popular Nonviolent Uprisings. International Center on Nonviolent Conflict. https://www.nonviolent-conflict.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/When-Civil-Resistance-Succeeds-ICNC-monograph-1.pdf
Freely available resources on independent organisations in Sudan
Lamoureaux, Siri, and Timm Sureau. 2019. ‘Knowledge and Legitimacy: The Fragility of Digital Mobilisation in Sudan’. Journal of Eastern African Studies 13 (1): 35–53. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17531055.2018.1547249
El-Batthani, Atta. 2021. ‘The Role of Local Resistance Committees in Sudan’s Transitional Period’. https://www.cmi.no/publications/7920-the-role-of-local-resistance-committees-in-sudans-transitional-period
The role of digital tools
Digital tools, and specifically social media, have been celebrated because they can facilitate community and political mobilization, especially among young people who face repeated economic crises (Iwilade 2013) or other disasters. Social media enables people across regions and social classes to connect and mobilize around shared goals. In Sudan, social media such as Facebook have been used for civic engagement in the past, for example to organize help during floods on the Nile in the summer 2013 (Lamoureaux and Sureau 2019), as well as for organizing protests. On such occasions, social media are a useful tool to mobilise volunteers who engage in their local community, but also abroad, to get support.
The days when digital tools were considered to be tools of liberation are however long gone (Morozov 2011). States have developed their capacity to control access to social media and internet during periods of high political tension, such as during elections (Freyburg and Garbe 2018), when there are demonstrations (Rydzak, Karanja, and Opiyo 2020), but also when civic movements become too threatening (Lamoureaux and Sureau 2019). Governments attempt to limit mobilization, in particular among young people, for example by shutting down or slowing down access to social media or internet hoping that cutting communications will lead the civil resistance to lose its momentum. Governments also use fake news and hate speech to justify shutting down social media and passing laws that restrict online freedoms (Garbe, Selvik, and Lemaire 2021). So far, civil resistance movements have not been systematically stopped from mobilizing by such state limitations.
Some researchers have found that internet or social media shutdowns do not have any impact on peaceful demonstrations or rioting. If peaceful protests or riots have started before the shutdown, they either increase, or continue in the same way (Rydzak, Karanja, and Opiyo 2020). Sudan is a clear case in this regard. Shutting down social media did not stop civil resistance between November 2018 and May 2019. On the contrary, riots almost stopped, but peaceful protests continued, despite widespread violence against the protesters.
Social media can undoubtedly be a tool, but are far from the only way of mobilizing and organizing young people and civil resistance. Too heavy reliance on social media creates a risk of excluding people who do not have access to the internet - either because they are in areas with bad connection, because using social media is too expensive, or because they do not have the required skills (Adjin-Tettey 2020). Some people also consider social media to be an unsuitable platform to discuss politics, due to security concerns.
- Social media are an important tool for political mobilization and civil resistance, especially for youth
- Government have developed strategies to control access to social media, but these do not successfully shut down protests
- Social media are simply one of many tools for mobilizing youth.
- Solely relying on social media to coordinate and mobilize will exclude those who do not have access to these tools.
- It also exposes activists to surveillance by the regime, and to being vulnerable to internet shutdowns, which are frequently used by the Sudanese state.
- Social media facilitate coordination and logistics.
- Social media make it easier to reach out to young and urban populations.
- Activists should continue not to rely on social media, but to use this tool in combination with other ways of coordinating and mobilizing.
Governments controlling social media, and its impact on mobilization:
Adjin-Tettey, Theodora Dame. 2020. ‘Can “Digital Natives” Be “Strangers” to Digital Technologies? An Analytical Reflection’. Inkanyiso: Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences 12 (1): 11–23.
Freyburg, Tina, and Lisa Garbe. 2018. ‘Blocking the Bottleneck: Internet Shutdowns and Ownership at Election Times in Sub-Saharan Africa’. International Journal of Communication 12: 3896–3916.
Garbe, Lisa, Lisa-Marie Selvik, and Pauline Lemaire. 2021. ‘How African Countries Respond to Fake News and Hate Speech’. Information, Communication & Society 0 (0): 1–18. https://doi.org/10.1080/1369118X.2021.1994623.
Lamoureaux, Siri, and Timm Sureau. 2019. ‘Knowledge and Legitimacy: The Fragility of Digital Mobilisation in Sudan’. Journal of Eastern African Studies 13 (1): 35–53. https://doi.org/10.1080/17531055.2018.1547249.
Rydzak, Jan, Moses Karanja, and Nicholas Opiyo. 2020. ‘Dissent Does Not Die in Darkness: Network Shutdowns and Collective Action in African Countries’. International Journal of Communication 14 (0): 24.