Inside Africa’s non-protesters’ protesting toolbox

What is a protest? The image that usually comes to mind is one of huge crowds marching down a street, waving banners and chanting slogans. “Make your voice heard” and “stand up and be counted” are typically the leading calls to action.

Often however, exclamations of dissent soon turn to whimpers and those who stand up can expect to be swiftly knocked down. Marches and demonstrations in countries led by insecure, repressive governments come with huge risks. Moreover, a noisy march may not always be the best way to shine a light on an issue in a sustained and effective way.

But rallies and explicit criticism are not the only ways to show dissent and solidarity.  And particularly in the last few years, citizens in Africa fed up with the status quo have found creative ways to protest without “protesting”. They have developed strategies for expressing opposition through means that may be less visible and direct than traditional methods, but are still powerful, subversive and effective in their own way.

Below is a partial list of just a few of these methods. It is far from exhaustive, and we invite readers to help us fill in the gaps by commenting below.

Blowing the whistle

Ahead of Chad’s 2016 elections, civil society groups demanded a fair election and wanted to speak out against injustice, impunity and nepotism. But with the government ramping up its restrictions on rallies and free speech, protesting on the streets was a dangerous option.

As an alternative therefore, protesters came up with the “citizen whistle”. From the safety and anonymity of their own homes, people were encouraged to all whistle as loudly as they could for 15 minutes at 4:30am and then again in the evening. In previous years, Chadian activists had done a similar thing but by banging pots and pans.

“Express your anger from your home, without the risk of violence,” read a statement from the Enough is Enough coalition. “With your ‘citizen whistle’ you become the referee of change.”

Seeing red

Through much of the second term of Benin’s President Yayi Boni, there were suggestions he wanted to amend the constitution to allow him to extend his rule. Many were not best pleased by this prospect and so decided to show their discontent in a way that was peaceful and non-confrontational yet still crystal clear and sustained.

The Mercredi Rouge (or Red Wednesday) movement was born. From July 2013, residents of the capital Cotonou donned bright red clothes every Wednesday. Many engaged in marches on these occasions too, lighting up the streets with a flash of their vibrant reds, but others simply wore the now politically-charged colour on the day – sometimes surreptitiously – to express support for the movement.

Boni’s derivative counter-campaign – White Friday – failed to capture nearly the same level of support. And in September 2013, the proposed amendments were rejected by the National Assembly’s law commission, with a number of the president’s former allies joining those opposing his plans.

Continue reading on African Arguments

By James Wan

Credit picture: Afp/Getty Images