“Historical and Contemporary Expressions of Populism in Africa and Beyond” Workshop

Albert Sharra presented his paper called “Creativity in populism: New faces, ideas and approaches in Africa” at the “Historical and Contemporary Expressions of Populism in Africa and Beyond” Workshop in Ann Arbour, USA on 17-20 November. The conference is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and is organised jointly by the University of Michigan African Studies Center (ASC) & the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WiSER) at the University of the Witwatersrand. For more information on the workshop, please visit here

Creativity in populism: New faces, ideas and approaches in Africa, Albert Sharra

Populism as a persuasive political phraseology continues to inform significant waves of grassroots contention across the world triggering seemingly extraordinary developments determining processes of democratization. However, despite observable developments in populism, researchers continue to focus mainly on populists in formal political structures such as Julius Malema in South Africa or Donald Trump in the USA, ignoring bottom-up populism created outside established political institutions and championed by charismatic leaders without history in populism or activism. Pastor Evan Mawarire, founder of #ThisFlagmovement in Zimbabwe, is one such example promoting right-wing populism. He created a populist video tied to the themes of the country’s flag, explaining how Robert Mugabe’s leadership was violating the nation’s core values. The video was shared online and went viral creating a national wide protest. In a world where populist protest messages are everywhere online, not all protest posts can lead into an online movement. It is, therefore, imperative to investigate how emerging populists create bottom-up populism. Most important to study is an investigation of creative ways emerging populists outside established political institutions use with social networks (Facebook) being the main tool for political mobilisation of mass constituencies against established elites. The focus is on both the leaders and the relationship between leaders and supporters, particularly how the leaders’ creativity at initiation point enables collective dynamics of politics of belief through digital media using a case study of Mawarire.

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