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Emerging Africana Social Movements

Why Africana Social Movements Matter Today


Patrick B. Litanga, PhD.

Vol 1, No.1 March 2024.

As Frantz Fanon postulates, “each generation must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it, in relative opacity.” Admittedly, Fanon wrote in the context of decolonization struggles, and he was diagnosing the colonized world while simultaneously prescribing possible pathways for the liberation of colonized people (Fanon, 1961). While controversially endorsing political violence—or what I call reciprocal political violence—as a way out for oppressed groups, Fanon also advocated for the development of a new consciousness in the attempt to address and resolve political and economic subjugation. I interpret this side of Fanon’s argument as a call for enduring political responsibility. In fact, above and beyond the call for political violence, Fanon indicated that “colonized” or “repressed” groups had the responsibility to restructure their political priorities from within. While Fanon’s call for reciprocal political violence is reactive, his stance on the renewal of political consciousness is proactive; it seeks to restructure a polity from within in order to transform its historical trajectory.

There is a case to be made whether or not emerging Africana social movements are reactive or proactive. I submit that the social movements we have seen sprouting out of Africa and African diasporas during the last two decades are largely proactive. These movements are primarily oriented toward restructuring political priorities. When, for instance, in October 2015, South African students stormed the streets of Pretoria, Johannesburg, or Cape Town, brandishing picket signs and chanting, “fees must fall!! Fees must fall!!” they were demanding that the ruling African National Congress government prioritize the economic needs of the youths in South Africa (see Booysen, 2016). Likewise, when Pastor Evan Mawarire and the #ThisFlag movement, successfully launched a no-work day boycott in Zimbabwe on July 5, 2016, they were demanding better governance and accountability from the governing party (Nenjerama, 2021). In fact, Pastor Mawarire’s speech, the very one that launched the #ThisFlag movement in Zimbabwe in April 2016, argued that Zimbabweans had to reinterpret the meaning of the Zimbabwean flag to reclaim their place in the polity and history (Mawarire, 2020). Similar movements have emerged or reemerged in Great Britain, Burkina Faso, Ecuador, Panama, and Lesotho, to name but a few.

Perhaps more notably, here in the United States, is the case of the Black Lives Matter movement. In the wake of the murder of a teenager, Trevon Martin, by a neighborhood watchman, George Zimmerman, in Florida in 2012, African American activists began to organize in an effort to shed light on police brutality toward black communities (Lebron, 2017). Since then, the Black Lives Matter movement has gained national and international visibility, especially after the death of George Floyd under the custody of the Minnesota Police in 2020. In solidarity with Black Lives Matter’s protests in the US, social movement activists in South Africa, Great Britain, and elsewhere descended to the streets to support the cause of Black Lives Matter while highlighting police brutality and structural inequalities in their respective countries. Of course, solidarity between Africana social movements predates the George Floyd case. For instance, in 2015, activists from the Senegalese social movement Y’En A Marre and the Burkinabe’s movement Le Balai Citoyen were arrested in Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as they were participating in a conference organized by the Congolese Operation Filimbi movement (Roger and Kibangula, 2015).

Undoubtedly, geopolitical changes that followed the end of the Cold War, along with dizzying advances in telecommunication technologies and the media facilitated opportunities and impetus for civic grassroots organizing in Africa and elsewhere. The democratization process that began in the early 1990s, amid periods of civil wars and armed conflicts in many parts of the developing world, coincided with greater demand for governance accountability, environmental responsibility, gender rights women’s representation in politics, etc. Amid the flux in political demands and rapid progress in communication technologies, Africana social movements pressured governments and institutions for more inclusion and political participation.

Social movements, including emerging Africana social movements, tend to develop from the ground up in an attempt to address specific and structural social, economic, and political issues, and they possess real disrupting possibilities. Borrowing from John Gaventa (1980), I argue that emerging Africana social movements are busy mobilizing biases and formulating and reformulating issues while providing strategies for political participation. These movements have the potential to increase the bargaining power of the masses. They matter.  Thus, in the attempt to explore the issues, challenges, methods of political mobilization, opportunities, and promises of these movements the African and African American Department at Eastern Kentucky University (EKU), under the supervision of Dr. Ogechi Anyanwu, launched a series of discussions about emerging Africana social movements. We will conduct monthly discussions about a specific social movement, its leadership, goals, achievements, prospects, constraints, etc. Our monthly discussions will begin with a short opinion/reflection paper about the social movement of interest.

This discussion series aims to inform and engage academic and professional communities at EKU and elsewhere about the types of civil grassroots organizing that could contribute to the long-term political, economic, and social change in Africa and the African diasporas. Of course, you are welcome to join us with your questions, commentaries, and suggestions on our Meta page @ Emerging Africana Social Movements.

See you there.


Patrick B. Litanga is an Assistant Professor of International Relations at Eastern Kentucky University



Booysen, Susan. (Ed.). 2016. Fees Must Fall: Student Revolt, Decolonization and Governance in South Africa. Johannesburg, South Africa: Wits University Press.

Fanon, F. 1961. The Wretched of the Earth. New York, NY: Grove Press.

Gaventa, John. 1980. Power and Powerlessness: Quiescence and Rebellion in an Appalachian Valley. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.

Lebron, Christopher. 2017. The Making of Black Lives Matter: A Brief History of an Idea. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Mawarire, Evan. 2020. Ending Corruption, Empowering the Citizen. Journal of International Affairs. Vol. 73, No. 2, pp.225-232.

Nenjerama, Joseph. 2021. Conceptualizing Social Movements as a Practical Theology: Case of Pastor Evan Mawarire’s #ThisFlag Movement. Politics, Religion & Ideology. Vol. 22, No. 2, pp. 189-208.

Roger, Benjamin and Tresor Kibangula. 2015 (March 16). RDC: Ce que Kinshasa Reproche à “Y’En A Marre” “Balai Citoyen” “et “Filimbi.” Jeune Afrique.

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