Do protests in Nigeria, Uganda, and Burkina Faso have anything in common?
Despite similarities, the protests in these three African countries don't symbolize a broader movement for change in Africa.
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With different motivations driving the protests, we can’t say they all form one coherent movement. Nor can we say – although many sub-Saharan Africans are aware of the Arab protest movement – that the protests in northern Nigeria and Burkina Faso are directly inspired by the Arab revolutions. The case of Uganda is slightly different in that Ugandan opposition leaders have referenced the Arab protests, but even in Uganda the primary drivers of unrest seem local.Skip to next paragraph
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Finally, the responses of leaders have differed. Jonathan has appealed for calm but Nigerian police have also attempted to quell the riots by force. Museveni has cracked down. And Compaore has reorganized his government while attempting to regain the political upper hand.
Still, despite the differences, it’s worth thinking about commonalities. One is economic frustration. From northern Nigeria’s underdevelopment in comparison to the south of the country, to the burden of high prices in Uganda, to the soldiers’ empty pockets in Burkina Faso, economic unease is creating popular anger at political elites.
Another commonality is political frustration, specifically electoral frustration: Nigeria, Uganda, and Burkina Faso have all held elections since November, and in each case the incumbent won reelection. Jonathan, Museveni, and Compaore all have significant popular support, but their victories have also left large groups of voters feeling marginalized.
A third commonality is the role of security forces – in each case, there has been some degree of repression. This repression has, in the eyes of many northern Nigerian rioters, Ugandan protesters, and Burkinabe mutineers, further delegitimized the central government.
These protest movements are likely to go in different directions. The only government that I think has a serious chance of falling is Compaore’s, and he may well outlast this uprising. But all of the protests are, as Michael Ralph reminds us, worth paying attention to. Local movements, however different their origins and trajectories, are offering us insight into problems that many groups in sub-Saharan Africa are experiencing, and protesting.