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Interrogating the Contradictions of Social Movements and Collective Action as Agents for Improving Governance and Equality in Africa: Lessons from the Kenyan Case, with Special Reference to the Luo Community

Albert Gordon Omulo


Although social movements and collective action are undeniable mechanisms for pursuing inclusive socioeconomic and political development and accountable forms of governance in Africa, they are now under greater scrutiny, for they are thought to be contradictory. Research highlighting the contradictions of these change agents is, however, largely lacking. In an attempt to contribute to bridging this gap, this study examines the consequences of the persistent antagonism between the postcolonial Kenyan state and the country’s Luo community. It argues that given the dominance of neoliberal forces in global socioeconomic and political affairs, these change agents, which African leaders often consider to be “foreign funded agents of the opposition,” could be subtle traps aimed at subjecting Africa to more intense forms of neocolonialism. Framed around the “neoliberal—predatory state dialectic,” this research employs an ex post facto design and makes use of data from focus groups and budget speeches from independent Kenya to test its assumptions. It finds that the social movements and collective actions of the Luo, which often are responses to political marginalization by the Kenyan state, have had profound consequences at all levels of Kenyan society. A cozy relationship also appears to be developing between two erstwhile foes: the largely predatory African state and western-based neoliberal forces. This article partly concludes that Africa’s woes are both self-inflicted and exogenous in character.

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Published by the University of Florida Press on behalf of the Association of Global South Studies.