P165


Novel spaces for African youth: creativity, entrepreneurship and political action 
Convenors:
Tuulikki Pietilä (University of Helsinki)
Daivi Rodima-Taylor (Boston University)
Helene Maria Kyed (Danish Institute for International Studies)
Tatiana Smirnova (CESSMA (Paris-Diderot-INALCO-IRD))
Send message to Convenors
Discussants:
David Pratten (Oxford University)
Mats Utas (The Nordic Africa Institute)
Bob White (Université de Montréal)
Location:
C4.08
Start time:
28 June, 2013 at 10:30 (UTC+0)
Session slots:
3

Short Abstract:

This panel explores how youth creativity and mobilization outside the formal sector contribute to developing alternative political strategies, social mobility, and new economic niches. Case studies focus on community policing, economic entrepreneurial activities, student movements, and music.

Long Abstract

Rising unemployment and inequality in African societies present challenges to development and security. Neoliberal deregulation have contributed to a declining formal sector and a crisis of public authority. This affects not least young men and women, who today represent the largest part of the African population. The creative survival strategies of the youth often remain vulnerable and ephemeral, but may also open opportunities for new forms of empowerment and social mobility. The panel focuses on how different forms of youth creativity and mobilization affect the creation of new political spaces and economic opportunities. Diverse engagements of youth outside of the formal sector include community policing or vigilantism, economic entrepreneurial activities, student organizations, arts, and music. Social movements of youth are contesting state policies and traditional institutions of power, bringing forth alternative discourses, modes of collective action, and structures of social activism. Along with socio-political movements, popular culture has emerged as a relevant sphere of youth empowerment. Musical production and performance have given rise to various novel entrepreneurial initiatives and critique with socio-political repercussions. The panel welcomes papers on the creative responses of contemporary African youth to current political and economic challenges, focusing in particularly on how their activities contribute to developing alternative political strategies, social mobility, and new economic niches. Please fit your paper into any of the following sub-themes of the panel: social movements and alternative political forms and ideologies of youth and students; socio-economic and security-related activities of youth; popular culture as a form of youth empowerment.

Accepted papers:

Author:

Julia Vorhölter (University of Göttingen)

Paper short abstract:

In post-conflict Northern Uganda, youth play a significant role in rebuilding Acholi society. They adopt different creative strategies to comment on and profit from current processes of and discourses on cultural change. The paper discusses two of these “strategies”: traditional dance and hip hop.

Paper long abstract:

The 20-year insurgency (1986-2006) in Northern Uganda has caused massive ruptures in the life of the Acholi population. Imaginations of a post-war Acholi society are heavily contested among different groups of actors. Youth take an active part in the discourses and practices concerned with rebuilding Acholi society. Due to the specific situation they have been confronted with in the past, and the specific challenges and opportunities they face today and regarding their future, their position is different from that of the adult/ elder population.

The paper looks at two, seemingly opposed, "creative strategies" youth pursue to voice their imaginations of a future society: traditional dance and hiphop. The former is practiced in the context of cultural groups, whose members aim to revive "traditional cultural practices" and support the widespread discourse on "retraditionalization". The latter is practiced by youth who hope to overcome the conservativeness they see as inherent in "Acholi traditions" and orient their styles and behavior towards what they label "Western modernity". Interestingly, there are quite a number of youth who participate in both, traditional dance and hip hop, and seem to "switch" between "traditionalist" and "modernist" cultural styles (Ferguson, 1999) and discourses depending on the situational context. This may also be due to the fact that both "cultural practices" can also serve as income-generating activities.

The paper contributes to current research on popular culture as a form of youth empowerment. It analyzes the self-organized strategies adopted by Acholi youth in the face of cultural and economic uncertainty.

Author:

Daivi Rodima-Taylor (Boston University)

Paper short abstract:

Novel forms of vigilantism have emerged in Tanzania-Kenya borderlands with the rise of certain commercialized forms of criminality. Informal cooperation in peacekeeping facilitates creative experimentation with local institutions of governance, creating new political spaces for the youth.

Paper long abstract:

The paper studies the rise of vigilantism and informal community policing in northwest Tanzania with a focus on a recent proliferation of certain forms of criminality, including commercialized cattle raiding, cultivation of illicit drugs, attacks on local gold mines, and other forms of lawlessness that affect the Kuria borderlands between Kenya and Tanzania. Informal cooperation both in peacekeeping as well as economic entrepreneurship in the local communities has emerged in the liberalizing post-socialist Tanzania in its contemporary form only in the last couple of decades. Diverse local cooperative activities draw upon existing cultural repertoires and traditional patterns of social organization - age grades and circumcision sets, various clan and lineage councils and secret societies, but also effect significant changes in those. The informal vigilante units and neighborhood courts display an intriguing tendency towards increased formalization, such as regularization of activities and routinization of procedures, pronounced importance of written by-laws, sanctions, and formal organizational hierarchies. This uneven and fragmented standardization that reveals an increasing emphasis on law and individual rights in local governance is situated within a pronounced relationality of Kuria freedoms and their notions of autonomy that are reproduced by the novel forms of cooperation. The paper explores how this hybrid character of the novel cooperative activities facilitates creative experimentation and innovation in local modes of dispute regulation and institutions of governance, and empowers youth in their negotiations with kin, community, and state authorities.

Authors:

Ingrid Marie Breidlid (Peace Research Institute Oslo)
Øystein H. Rolandsen (Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO))

Paper short abstract:

“Youth” in Jonglei, South Sudan is not on the margins of society or fully embedded in the “traditional” structures. War and recent large scale violence have changed structures for youth mobilisation and collective action,and transformed political, social and economic dynamics in Jonglei.

Paper long abstract:

This paper is based on in-depth research on youth organisation and mobilisation in the state of Jonglei, South Sudan. Widespread violence perpetrated by "youth" (young men from 15 to 40 years) is an obstacle to the post-war stabilisation efforts of the newly independent South Sudan. The state of Jonglei became the subject of international attention following the mass-killings in Pibor County in December 2011. This specific attack was, however, part of a larger spiral of violence with roots in the previous civil war (1983-2005). This "youth violence" is often attributed to a range of simplistic assumptions: breakdown of chiefs and elders' control of the youth, the "cattle complex" (raiding for gain and marriage), abundance of guns, meddling by external forces and even female infertility. The paper problematises these explanations and the conventional understandings of "youth" and youth mobilisation.

Preliminary findings indicate that "rural youth" in Jonglei is neither operating on the margins of society nor fully within the "traditional" social structures. The civil war shaped new structures for mobilization, which are still being used to mobilize young men in Jonglei's rural areas for community protection, economic activities, cultural events, and political processes. Concomitantly, war and large scale violence is transforming local economies and generational relations as well as blurring the historical urban/rural divide. Moreover, in the absence of a well-functioning state authority, systems for youth mobilisation are presently considered to be the main guarantees of security at the local level.

Authors:

Katherine Gough (Loughborough University)
Francis Chigunta (University of Zambia)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores youth employment insecurity in Lusaka. Despite young people being resourceful and entrepreneurial, employment insecurity is widespread and affected by insecurity in other parts of young people’s lives as well as by processes operating at global, national and local levels.

Paper long abstract:

Despite some African countries experiencing high levels of economic growth, this is rarely accompanied by corresponding levels of employment creation leading to 'jobless growth'. Although employment insecurity has long been a feature of many African economies, particularly since structural adjustment programmes were introduced several decades ago, it is becoming increasingly pronounced with young people being especially affected. In this paper we explore young people's employment practices and prospects, and how these are influenced by intergenerationality and intersectionality. Building on both quantitative and qualitative data collected in a low-income settlement in Lusaka, we analyse how young people themselves perceive their own employment situation and the practices they engage in when seeking ways of making a living. Although the prospects of gaining secure employment are slim, we show how resourceful many of the young people are highlighting their agency and entrepreneurial skills. Nevertheless, the work young people engage in tends to be characterised by high levels of insecurity. The paper highlights how the employment insecurity experienced by youth is influenced by processes operating at the global, national and local levels. Furthermore, insecurity in one area of young people's lives is shown to affect their insecurity in other areas, hence employment insecurity cannot be analysed in isolation from housing and household insecurity.

Author:

Michelle Engeler (University of Basel)

Paper short abstract:

The aim of this paper is to understand youths’ agency in the context of two youth groups active on the edge of the Guinean state: The motorbike taxi union and the scouts.

Paper long abstract:

Based on long-term fieldwork and in-depth life history interviews with young people in a small Guinean border town this paper contributes to ongoing debates on youths' agency amidst social and political transformation processes. The aim is to compare two different youth groups on the edge of the Guinean state: the motorbike taxi union and the local branch of the scout movement. How do the members of both groups address the at times challenging everyday and how do they perform and shape the political by driving around town or meeting at church? While answering these questions this paper has a closer look at how the young members of both groups relate to various actors and spaces of time. Whereas the young men of the motorbike taxi union point to the region's former war context and relate to national union authorities, the girl and boy scouts refer to the international scout movement active in Guinea since colonial times and distance themselves from the scouts-like pioneer movement of Revolutionary Guinea. Finally, both groups' members through their practices and discourses deal with their homeland's past and creatively participate at their society's future beyond merely affiliating to local and international NGOs.

Author:

Katrijn Asselberg (IARA / KU Leuven)

Paper short abstract:

Based on fieldwork carried out on the bus stand of Moshi, Tanzania, I examine the role of friendships in young street traders’ lives. More in particular, this paper focuses on friendship as an alternative resource of support in dealing with the challenges and enabling the opportunities of urban life.

Paper long abstract:

For many young people who migrate from rural to urban areas in search for a better or a different life, the street trade is one of the few possible avenues. Being a street trader is not only a means to provide in their daily needs, but becomes as much, if not more, a way to gain access to the opportunities of urban life they aspire to. In their striving for economic success and the social mobility that ensues, however, young street vendors are confronted with a number of obstacles, as municipal authorities enforce strict prohibitions on street trade. Whereas young street traders move and act with goals and hopes, after much struggle and effort they often have to face the fact that they are back at square one. Large, collective organizations have proven relatively unsuccessful in changing this. In this paper, then, I examine how friendship comes into play in this as a way to deal with these difficulties. Based on fieldwork among young street traders on the bus stand of Moshi, Tanzania, I study the varied ways in which friendship is invoked, used and understood in this context, illustrating the complexity of the notion in an uncertain environment. Through the help and support it generates, as well as through the sense of belonging young people find among their friends, friendship becomes an alternative resource that helps them to get a grip on their lives and future.

Author:

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.

Author:

Cindy Morillas (LAM-Sciences Po Bordeaux)

Paper short abstract:

The “Cameroon Students’ Rights Association” innovates by its claims, actions and duration among student movements in Cameroon. This paper underlines social conditions and processes which allowed the emergence of this autonomous space of expression for student claims despite authorities’ hostility.

Paper long abstract:

Since the beginning of the economic crises in the middle 1980's, a lot of young Africans suffer from a drop in their social and economic status (Cruise O'Brien, 1996). In some African countries, the hostility of regimes against youth movements worsens this situation (Mbembe, 1985) and contributes to collective demobilization (Pommerolle, 2008). Higher education, undermined by the constant rise of the number of students since 1990's, is directly affected. Nevertheless, some students manage to create autonomous organizations to free themselves from structural constraints. We will focus on the "Cameroon Students' Rights Association" ("Addec", "Association pour la Défense des Droits des Étudiants du Cameroun"), created in 2004 in Yaoundé.

Addec is an autonomous and innovative student association in the history of student movements in Cameroun for several reasons. It initiated hunger strikes as a means of action in Cameroon as well as the national student unrest of 2005. This one is the most important in terms of territorial expansion and duration since 1990's mobilizations led by another students group, the "Parliament". Contrary to the latter, Addec has a long-lasting existence and is still dynamic. Moreover, the biennial renewal of its leaders contrasts with the longevity of political and associative national leaders. With its innovative discourses and contentious repertoires, Addec contributes to modifying power struggle between students and authorities.

Based on press, associative archives and in-depth interviews with founders and leaders of Addec, this paper analyzes the conditions, social processes, strategies and tactics that allowed the emergence of Addec and its durability.

Author:

Nanna Schneidermann (Aarhus University)

Paper short abstract:

Why did a 70 year old incumbent African president release a rap song? Based on ethnographic fieldwork among singers and cultural producers, this paper investigates the transformations and connections between popular music artists and politics in the 2011 election campaigns in Uganda.

Paper long abstract:

In the 2011 election campaigns in Uganda popular 'youth' music was a strategy to mobilize support and voters for political parties and candidates. Singers crossed in to the sphere of politics as entertainers at rallies, as critical voices in the underground, and the singer and producer Eddy Yawe ran for 'Member of Parliament'. On the other hand, the incumbent president Museveni crossed into the sphere of music by releasing a rap song with a music video and taking on the artist name 'Sevo'. This marks a new tendency in how music is used in political communication in Uganda. What does it mean when the president becomes a 'celebrity'? And how do celebrities of the music scene 'cross-over' to the sphere of politics? The shared performance space of singers and politicians during the campaigns juxtaposes 'youth' and 'politics' in novel ways. Based on longterm ethnographic fieldwork among musicians in Uganda, this paper investigates transformations and connections between popular music and politics in the 2011 election campaigns. I suggest that musicians are an emerging elite in Uganda; an elite who can 'lend fame' to political candidates and parties at election time.

Author:

Tuulikki Pietilä (University of Helsinki)

Paper short abstract:

The paper studies musical entrepreneurship among urban black youth in South Africa. It argues that these enterprises often draw from earlier, local modes of organizing creative labor in musical production and accommodate these with ideas of ownership drawn from the global music industry.

Paper long abstract:

During the post-apartheid era new, hugely popular music styles have emerged especially in the urban areas of South Africa. Much of this music is made and performed by black youth who come from townships. In addition to artistic creativity, they have shown entrepreneurial initiative by establishing firms that produce and market music and other youth culture products. This is an important development because historically the possibilities for legal enterprising have been very restricted for the urban blacks especially.

This presentation studies how the youth draw from earlier, local cultural modes of organizing creative labor in musical production and accommodate these with ideas and structures of ownership drawn from the global music industry. While innovative, creative and courageous, the new forms of entrepreneurship also tend to reproduce certain problems that are familiar from the earlier local and contemporary global forms of musical production. My material for this presentation comes from numerous conversations and interviews with artists, musicians, recording industry insiders, promoters and fashion label owners in Johannesburg and Cape Town since 2004.

Author:

Christine Singer (School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS))

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores young people's participation in a South African film project aiming to raise awareness about youth and HIV, interrogating the making of these films, the representations of "youth" within them, and the discussions these films provoked in South African public spheres.

Paper long abstract:

This paper investigates a series of short films created by, for, and about young people from the Western and Eastern Cape of South Africa, all of whom are coping with the effects of HIV. These films are part of 'Steps for the Future', a media advocacy project commissioned by Social Transformation and Empowerment Projects (STEPS), one of the first South African nongovernmental organisations seeking to address the country's HIV and AIDS crisis through films that are both educational and emotionally engaging. In 2009, STEPS held a series of filmmaking workshops with local youth groups and so assisted individual young people in producing their own films. These films celebrate the strength of the young people who share their experiences, and they intend to provoke discussions around HIV and related topics such as discrimination, teenage pregnancy, and xenophobia among local youth. To do so, STEPS use mobile cinema units to screen their films in local schools, youth centres, and poor and remote areas. These film viewings are typically followed by a facilitated discussion with young audience members in order to engage them with the issues raised within the films. This paper discusses STEPS' participatory approach to filmmaking with young people, the discourse on South African youth constructed within the STEPS films, as well as these films' public circulation and reception. This discussion is guided by the ultimate question of whether these youth-centred films hold potential for carving out spaces for critical engagements with youth and HIV in South African public spheres.