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Centre of Governance & Human Rights (CGHR)


2nd March 2015

CGHR Research Group Seminar

Acephalous movements in Sub-Saharan Africa: the real basis for change?

Dr Marta Iñiguez de Heredia (POLIS, University of Cambridge)

Discussant: Dr Justin Pearce (POLIS)

Since Tahrir Square, horizontal, leaderless and structureless movements have grown around Africa. In some respects, this is not a new phenomenon if looked at from the perspective of the history of social movements worldwide, including Africa, since the 1990s. What seems to be a novelty is that, since the start of the 2010 decade, movements created spontaneously, without a hierarchical structure, have made more impact and have led to more social and political changes than traditionally led and structured movements, let alone political parties. Comparing four movements: Y’en a Marre in Senegal, the campaign against poverty and constitutional reforms in Burkina Faso, the housing movement in South Africa and LUCHA in Eastern DRC , the paper explores the tendency to organise under no or a lose leadership, no or lose structure, and with broad aims for social justice and political change. If means speak about ends, this way of organising is likely to represent not only a challenge to traditional structures of power, but also to how democracy, development and justice are defined and practice. Whether these movements may achieve all their goals is questionable, but they are certainly opening up a new page in the history of social movements and political change in Africa worth exploring.