#EndSARS And The Rise Of Africa’s Activist Generation
By Ms. K. Riva Levinson
On the morning of October 20, 2020, tens of thousands of young Nigerians camped at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos, Nigeria. The protestors were mobilized under the hashtag #EndSARS, a mass action campaign seeking to dismantle the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
What had started off two weeks earlier as a demonstration against police brutality was now something much more. The movement had morphed into a reckoning over the failure of Nigeria’s democratic institutions to stand stronger than its corrupt and unaccountable politicians.
It was about an empowered youth that has found their voice, and about the hopes for a new Nigeria, one able to realize its considerable productive, entrepreneurial, and artistic potential. The mood at the toll gate was celebratory as dusk approached. And then uniformed forces were deployed, and the shooting began.
When it was over, more than 12 people were dead, and dozens injured. After the carnage, the Feminist Coalition, a leader of the protest, called for a tactical retreat, urging Nigerians to live to fight another day.
The #EndSARS movement is part of the rise of an activist generation in Africa, and is the most important political trend on the continent over the last two decades. The demand for change echoes throughout Africa. It is being felt in Senegal, Burkina Faso, Uganda, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and beyond.
Unlike their parents before them, these young people are empowered through education and technology, with social media platforms connecting them with like-minded people across the globe. They are democracy’s keepers. History will judge them well, but their path ahead will not be easy.
As the Biden Administration formulates its policy for Africa, it ought to hold tight to the fact that the Democratic ticket was propelled to a significant extent by #BlackLivesMatter supporters—young and hopeful voters who reject the status quo of inequities in American society. Let us not overlook the obvious: that America’s greatest export to the world (despite its many imperfections bared for all to see during the 2020 election season) remains its democratic system of governance.
The Biden Administration should make a greater investment in global democracy promotion, an area where funding has been under attack over the past several years. Furthermore, a new playbook must be written to help the international community create enabling environments for political inclusion, and challenge laws that disenfranchise voters and repress media freedom. The days of accepting election outcomes rigged by ruling elites must be over.
- K. RIVA LEVINSON is President and CEO of KRL International LLC, an emerging markets consultancy based in Washington, D.C. She is also the author of Choosing the Hero: My Improbable Journey and the Rise of Africa’s First Woman President.