University of Sussex
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Defiant civil society: power and contestation in Mozambique

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posted on 2023-06-09, 15:09 authored by Marcio Pessôa
This thesis looks at defiance in civil society and aims to contribute towards a deeper understanding of contestation against regimes that restrict the expansion of the political playing field in sub-Saharan Africa. It also analyses the role of contemporary African activists in these contestations, and examines why some social contestation process are successful and others not. The role of Mozambican activists from aid-supported NGOs in relevant political movements between 2010 and 2015 is a key issue. The first part of the thesis offers a theoretical overview of civil society as contesting actor in Africa and Mozambique, and outlines the construction of concepts of civil society latency, defiance and co-construction through a theoretical framework that draws on the literature on moral economy, social movements, contentious politics, the public sphere, power and competitive authoritarianism. Analysis of two contrasting civil society organisations, the LDH (the League for Human Rights) and UNAC (the Mozambican Peasants’ Union), aims to give a better understanding of public spaces for participation and defiance, and to follow the movement of activists from urban areas towards traditional indigenous sectors so as to ensure that vital issues for communities are brought into the public sphere. It also looks at the neutralisation processes suffered by organisations that offer support and/or directly organise contestation of government initiatives and policies that have a negative impact on the population. The case studies draw on research over a period of three years in the city of Maputo and the provinces of Nampula, Cabo Delgado, Tete, Zambezia and Manica. They examine the reasons for contestations around land issues between 2010-2015, focusing on peasants' and NGOs' resistance to the ProSAVANA agrarian development project, and on urban protests against abductions and against the 2012-2015 return to civil war, investigating the role of European donors and government in the near destruction of one of the most well-known NGOs in Africa.


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  • International Development Theses

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  • doctoral

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  • dphil


  • eng


University of Sussex

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