Accepted Paper:

Conakry's 'ghetto youth' and Kampala's youth brigades: a comparative approach to urban youth protests  


Joschka Philipps (Swisspeace & Centre for African Studies Basel (CASB))

Paper short abstract:

This paper compares the role of different youth formations in recent urban protests. Their organizational, cultural, and political (dis-)similarities allow for a much-needed methodological differentiation of young people's involvement in urban protests, riots, and demonstrations.

Paper long abstract:

In recent years, many sub-Saharan African states have witnessed protests, riots, and demonstrations. Political pressure emanates particularly from (mostly male) youth collectives, who play key roles in the protests. Rallying demonstrators from their neighborhoods, violently confronting state forces, planning and carrying out marches, voicing and disseminating political criticism, they have entered the political scene with an enormous demographic weight and often surprisingly institutionalized social formations.

Based on empirical research from 2009 to 2013, this paper compares two different kinds of youth collectives: the self-proclaimed 'ghetto youth' in Conakry, Guinea and the so-called youth brigades in Kampala, Uganda. Besides providing new empirical material on how marginalized youth have become part of major political processes in quite different political settings, I focus particularly on the methodological merits of such a comparative analysis. Distinguishing the general characteristics from the case-specific ones, I hope to demonstrate the need for, and the possibility of, moving beyond the prevailing generalizations in the field of qualitative youth research. Given the uneven competition with the demographics-based youth bulge theory over perceptions and policies regarding youth, anthropological and sociological research has to develop more rigorous approaches to provide tangible and differentiated results.

The paper concentrates on two seemingly simple research questions: 'why have specific groups and categories of youth participated in the protests?' and 'why have these protests occurred in specific urban places?'. While the former breaks down the often-debilitating category of 'youth', the latter stresses the importance of urban spaces as the context for young people's political actions.

Panel P165
Novel spaces for African youth: creativity, entrepreneurship and political action