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“Risk of political violence and protest participation: evidence from contemporary Malawi”

9 April 2012

Participation in political protest is inherently risky, especially when violent repression is a real possibility. We argue that under the threat of violent repression propensity to protest is driven by a greater ability to mitigate risks. We study the contemporary context of Malawi, a unique setting in which violence against protesters in July 2011 and subsequent planned protests in August 2011 allows us to examine who participates in protest before and after the risk of violence is made more explicit to potential protest participants. To study who participates in protests, we surveyed randomly sampled residents of high-density neighborhoods in August 2011 in three Malawian cities: Lilongwe, Blantyre, and Zomba (N=303). In line with previous findings, we find that having social connections with participants, political knowledge, and access to resources all increase the likelihood of protest participation. In addition, we show that access to resources is an even stronger predictor of participation for the planned August protests, for which the perceived risk of government violence increased. These findings suggest that protest mobilization in contemporary Malawi – where risk of violence is high – is shifting to elites. The study’s implications extend beyond the contemporary Malawian context, however, by suggesting that the link between resource availability and protest participation is the ability of elites to mitigate risks.

That is the abstract of a paper I have written for the annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, to be held later this week in Chicago. It is co-authored work with John Kadzandira at the Centre for Social Research (University of Malawi) and Amanda Robinson at Stanford University. The paper draws on data from our protest study, conducted this past August. We are very fortunate that Boniface Dulani will act as discussant for our paper. Dr. Dulani is an expert on Malawian politics and I’m sure we’ll have a lot to talk about after the panel is over about what the future holds for Malawi (to see some of Dulani’s discussion of what’s in store for major players in Malawi, see this blog post of his).

Our paper is part of a panel coordinated by the African Politics Conference Group and the African Politics section. The details of the panel are below:

75-1 Representation and Responsiveness
Date: Thursday, April 12 at 4:35pm

Risk of political violence and protest participation: evidence from contemporary Malawi
Violence against protesters in Malawi in July and subsequent planned protests in August allow us to study who participates in protest before and after the risk of violence is made more tangible and explicit to potential protest participants.
Kim Yi Dionne, Texas A&M University
John Kadzandira, University of Malawi
Amanda Lea Robinson, Stanford University

The New Normal: Institutional Change and the Importance of Context in Understanding the Contentious Politics of Senegal’s Family Code
In this paper I present a history of the creation and evolution of the Family Code in Senegal. I underscore the necessity of historical context when analyzing current political events and the value of this context for guiding political action abroad.
Brian Alan Guy, University of Oregon

Analyzing the Substantive Representation of Women Cabinet Members in sub-Saharan Africa
Despite the increase in women’s presence in SSA cabinets, no known study has researched their substantive representation. We explore whether women in cabinets in sub-Saharan Africa represent women’s interest in policy making and how if they do.
Chiedo Nwankwor, University of Delaware

The Question of Inclusion and Democratization in Postwar Liberia
The first democratically elected Liberian government has promised to establish a new democratic style of governance. This paper seeks to assess its project of so called participatory democracy with a special focus on the inclusion of women.
Doerte Rompel, Frankfurt University

The World’s Worst Government: Corruption, Human Rights Abuse, and the Prospects for Reform in Equatorial Guinea
Equatorial Guinea, a small petrostate in West Africa, has long been among the world’s most repressive and corrupt dictatorships. This paper considers the prospects for reform when President Teodoro Obiang passes from the scene in the near future.
Robert E. Williams, Pepperdine University

Discussants: Boniface Dulani, Michigan State University; Brigitte Zimmerman, University of California-San Diego

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