Institute of African Studies - Columbia University

A take on the Politique de la Rue conference

Friday, January 13, 2017

The conference Politique de la rue : Mobilisations citoyennes, violence et démocratie en Afrique was hosted in Paris last November 21 and 22 as part of Joint African Studies Program between Columbia University, Université Paris 1 and Sciences Po. The event, organized by Professor Richard Banégas from Sciences Po and Thomas Fouquet from the French National Centre for Scientific Research, brought together more than 30 panelists from academia, activism and urban art to discuss street political resistance and citizenship in Africa. The four roundtables aimed at discussing the heart of the practices, techniques and circumstances of citizen resistances but also the values and references, from History in particular, that these movements promote.

The first panel covered the political power of streets in West African countries. In particular, it focused on the “Y’en a marre” movement in Senegal, and the “balai citoyen” in Burkina Faso. The panelists emphasized the peaceful character of the movements and their intention to safeguard the rule of law and democracy in their countries. This topic was discussed further in the second panel, which compared the movements in West Africa with the situations of Central Africa where the political regimes are more repressive and less tolerant of political contestation.

While the morning brought about conversations between members of civil society and activists, the second part of the day was more centered on research and academia. Mamadou Diouf from the Institute of African Studies at Columbia University presented on the debates around “the Second Independence.” A third roundtable discussed the role of violence in civil insurrection, engaging in conflict and political repression. The day was concluded by a debate on the “Y’en a marre” movement with Senegalese band Keur Gui.

The second day of the conference was dedicated to a reflection on historic storytelling and imagination of a democratic future discussed in two roundtables. It started with rapper Valséro from Cameroon opening the conversation with a spoken word performance. The rapper explained that the government of Cameroon used a strategy to turn the people into “zombies”, thereby preventing crowds from coming together. Senegalese rapper Fou Malade then insisted on the reflexive links between artistic creation and political engagement. One of the highlights of the debates was: “we do not want alternating government, we want an alternative”.

The rest of the day left the scene to the arts, with a screening of the documentary Une Révolution Africaine presented by directors Boubacar Sangaré and Ismaël Compaoré and Sams’K le Jah and Serge Bayala, founders of the “Balai citoyen” movement of Burkina Faso. The evening was then concluding with a three-hour concert with African musicians playing rap and reggae music.

Thomas Fouquet, co-organizer of the conference, said the conference was a success thanks to the diversity of speakers taking the conversations out of academia to mix them with narratives anchored in grassroots realities and politically engaged, including emotions and life-experiences. He was concerned the conference would be used as a platform to criticize the France’s political role in Africa. On the contrary, he said the conference brought up important issues and highlighted the importance of civil society in Africa.