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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Beyond Ethnicity: African Protests in an Age of Inequality

  • Author(s): Mueller, Lisa
  • Advisor(s): Golden, Miriam
  • et al.

What explains African protests amid rising prosperity? I show that the main cause of the increasingly frequent urban protests that we observe in 21st-century Africa is economic inequality despite substantial economic growth. Using cross-national statistical analyses of 38 African countries and original ethnographic and individual-level survey data from fieldwork in Niger, I find that African protesters are driven largely by economic or material concerns, and less by ethnic antipathies or preferences for democracy. Examining different forms of inequality and grievance, I show that Africans are more likely to protest, all else equal, if they perceive their future economic opportunities as constricting instead of expanding. Economic or material concerns, however, are not sufficient to cause protest participation. Corroborating other scholars' research, I also find that social networks are important for mobilizing aggrieved people by providing solutions for coordination and cooperation problems.

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