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Political Science, International Development, and International Affairs


This article examines the ways individual and organizational activists peacefully resisted government repression in recent decades in three sub-Saharan Africa countries. It is based on both archival research and more than 170 interviews by the author with key activists and others in the countries at various times from 2002-2012. This qualitative study makes several contributions to the literature. First, by including individual activism as well as organizational activism, it reveals wider and more varied participation in human rights activism than is normally detected. Second, where the usual focus in resistance studies is on mass movements, this study presents a more complex mosaic of resistance efforts that at times involved a mass campaign but at other times involved small ones as well as individual acts of resistance. Third, building on previous studies, it helps fill a gap in the more static social movement literature by explaining how resistance movements actually start. Fourth, it documents how human rights activists often proceeded without the kind of political openings or external opportunities and material resources usually emphasized in social movement studies. International pressures for change were also important and are noted but are not the main focus of this study that argues that without the domestic resistance such pressures would not have come when they did.

Publication Title

Journal of Human Rights





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