Academic journal article African Studies Quarterly

Ebenezer Obadare and Wendy Willems, Eds. 2014. Civic Agency in Africa: Arts of Resistance in the 21st Century

Academic journal article African Studies Quarterly

Ebenezer Obadare and Wendy Willems, Eds. 2014. Civic Agency in Africa: Arts of Resistance in the 21st Century

Article excerpt

Ebenezer Obadare and Wendy Willems, eds. 2014. Civic Agency in Africa: Arts of Resistance in the 21st Century. Martlesham, Suffolk: James Currey. 236 pp.

Resistance takes many forms; from huge public demonstrations and individual acts of defiance, to anywhere in between. The majority of the literature has been consumed with understanding how the politics of mass demonstrations work, mostly when facilitated by mediating or amalgamating groups of civil society. However, the authors of this thoughtful book seek to understand smaller modes of resistance that may not result in outstanding changes of government or in statehood, but rather on the minor modes of resistance that bring less a grand change but rather, minute changes in social attitudes that slowly build power amongst the subaltern.

The book's major contribution is in its identification of the diverse forms of resistance (and compliance) across contemporary Africa. Rather than viewing Africa as a site of the perpetually oppressed, this collection moves beyond the typology of victimhood that taints many understandings of resistance. Particularly stimulating is Basile Ndjio's chapter on West African hustler's development of criminal enrichment opportunities. These hustlers are not prey to the typology of victimhood; instead they identify potential victims to steal from. Susan Thomson argues that apparently powerless Rwandans exercise tactical compliance to subversively develop and sustain dignity. Although this everyday resistance is yet to translate into collective political consciousness, tactical compliance and everyday resistance undermines our assumptions of victimhood in Post-Genocide Rwanda.

Contemporary South African democracy is strongly represented over four chapters where scholars examine civil society groups, stand up comedians, and political commentators. The chapters show the diverse forms of resistance that are underway in the nascent democracy. The two chapters examining stand-up comedy are revelatory in their understanding of contemporary South African democracy. Recognizing that stand-up comedians largely relate to middle class and elite audiences the authors of both of these chapters note that comedians can both undermine and contribute to larger debates on democratic politics. Comedians, through their invocation of laughter, can offer catharsis, but can depoliticize, neutralize and dilute political exchange. …

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