Joschka Philipps: Explosive youth: Political protests in Conakry and Kampala

PhD thesis in Sociology, University of Basel

The magnitude of recent youth‐led movements and upheavals in urban Africa begs inquiry into common patterns across cities. This doctoral research compares Conakry (Guinea) and Kampala (Uganda) to develop a theory why certain categories of youth engage in protests more than others, and why protests tend to be concentrated in specific urban areas.


Across the world, youth seem to translate their socio‐economic precariousness into political instability. Numerous sub‐Saharan African cities have recently become the sites of political riots, demonstrations, upheavals and other forms of political contestation. Despite their diversity, they also exhibit numerous similarities. The instrumentalization of the urban youth’s rage by political actors, for example, is as widespread as the concentration of protests in areas with a specific socio‐political history (rather than a particular socio‐economic make‐up). In Conakry, for instance, youth gangs have staged protests on a regular basis in an area that has been the contested centre of ethnic‐political conflicts over urban landownership. In Kampala, youth collectives have organized and incited recent opposition protests at a downtown market for car spare parts.


Since most youth in African cities remain outside of political processes, the question is: who are the ones who force their way into contentious politics? Contrary to the prevalent analyses of national demographics and poverty, I argue that the central factors for young people to engage in overt political contestation are far more nuanced. They concern historical developments of specific youth groups and categories in the city, their neighbourhood context with its particular history, and the political networks that they are entangled in. The comparative method, applied to different cities as well as different neighbourhoods, enables a systematic analysis of these aspects.


Sub‐Saharan Africa is the world’s fastest‐urbanizing region, and the only one where the percentage of youth continues to rise drastically. To sharpen our understanding and possibilities of addressing urban youth and conflicts, the details of contestation need to be analysed, with an emphasis on the fact that protests are not only an outcome of a specific combination of variables, but inherently political, i.e. shaped by history and agency.


Joschka Philipps completed his PhD at the Centre for African Studies Basel in 2016. He studied Political Science, Sociology, and Psychology at the University of Freiburg, Germany and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His MA thesis (published by Editions L’Harmattan) investigated into the role of urban youth gangs in political protests in Conakry, Guinea. Between 2009 and 2012, Joschka has also worked as a fellow and youth employment consultant at several UN institutions and NGOs, particularly in Guinea-Conakry.

Currently, Joschka Philipps is an SNSF Early Postdoc.Mobility fellow at the Laboratoire d'Analyse Socio-Anthropologique de Guinée (LASAG) at the Université de Sonfonia à Conakry.


Elísio Macamo (Basel)
Mahmood Mamdani (Columbia, USA; Makerere, Uganda)

Humer Foundation (Humer‐Stiftung zur Förderung des wissenschaftlichen Nachwuchses)

Download Poster:
Explosive Youth (2012)

Ambivalent Rage. Youth Gangs’ Inner‐City Protests in Conakry, Guinea. Paris: Editions L’Harmattan (2013)

“Youth Gangs and Urban Political Protests. A Relational Perspective on Conakry’s ‘Axis of Evil’.” In Living the city, eds. Brigit Obrist, Veit Arlt and Elísio Macamo. Zürich: LIT Verlag (2013)

“Explosive Youth.” D+C 37(05/2005): 190‐193, online: 



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