The panels welcome papers exploring the dynamics, ideas, movements and political actors involved in populist politics and how these actors operate within African states and societies.
Populism is currently much debated in North America and Europe, but there has been little discussion about its manifestation in Africa, or whether the concept itself is useful for understanding African contexts. Yet, the label has been used with reference to African political actors, such as Ugandan Yoweri Museveni (Carbone 2005), Ivorian Laurent Gbagbo (Piccolino 2014), Michael Sata of Zambia (Cheeseman and Larmer 2015) and also Julius Malema (Mbete 2015) and Jacob Zuma in South Africa (Beresford 2011). These actors share a populist political style: they portray themselves as true defenders of the 'people' against an 'elite' who has betrayed them. However, African populism sits uncomfortably with the categories used to analyse European populism, such as rights wing vs left wing populism. Moreover, while scholars of Europe and North America often lament populism as a threat to democracy, the potential impact of African populism on democracy is unclear. Some scholars have alleged that African populism has a progressive potential and that African populist politicians would be well placed to build multi-ethnic coalitions (Cheeseman, Casal Bértoa, Storm and Dodsworth 2018). In a context of rapid urbanization, populism would allow young, poor urban voters to have a voice. Others allege, on the other hand, that African populism could encourage exclusionary nationalism and offer vague, but ultimately vacuous promises of reconciliation, rekindled aspirations and realised dreams. The panels welcome papers exploring the dynamics, ideas, movements and political actors involved in populist politics and how these actors operate within African states and societies.