African Revolutions Must Avoid France's Yellow Vests Pitfalls

African Revolutions Must Avoid France's Yellow Vests Pitfalls

From Protest to Power: Critical Lessons that African Movements Can Learn from France's Yellow Vests Movement

Between 2018 and 2019, the gilets jaunes (Yellow Vest) movement shook President Macron’s government to the core. It was ignited by a simple online petition against rising fuel prices, rapidly evolved into a powerful force that shook the foundations of President Emmanuel Macron’s government. After the first protest in Paris on November 17th 2018, there were multiple other protests not just in Paris but across the country.

Every Saturday for several months, thousands of people from suburbs and small towns across the country gathered in city centers with a growing and sometimes conflicting list of demands: they called for Macron’s resignation, lower taxes, increased public services, and citizen referendums to replace decisions made by their overpaid elected representatives.

This Yellow Vest movement, though impactful, fell short of securing lasting change in France. There are six pitfalls that undermined their impact. Kenya’s current revolutionary movement and others that will sprout across Africa can learn from these pitfalls to ensure that their efforts lead to sustained transformation. 

Failure to Translate Street Protests into Political Power and systemic change

Pitfall: The Yellow Vests' minimal influence in subsequent elections and their inability to translate popular support into political representation hindered their ability to effect lasting change. Furthermore, their non-hierarchical nature, while initially a strength, eventually became a weakness as it hindered long-term planning and sustained action.

Solution: African movements should create flexible that organized structures and entities that can carry on the work beyond initial protests. Establishing citizens' lobby groups or grassroots centred political parties can help address ongoing issues and ensure that the movement’s momentum translates into lasting political and social change. Critically, this will ensure that politically inclined people within the movements ascend to influential positions of political leadership. 

Avoiding Media Bias

Pitfall: The Yellow Vests faced significant media bias, with coverage often focusing on violence rather than the movement's core issues. This distorted public perception and adversely impacted the movement’s optimal impact.

Solution: African movements should develop their own media strategies, utilizing social media to share their narratives accurately and consistently. Engaging independent journalists and creating content that highlights peaceful protests and core demands can help counteract biased reporting and keep the public engaged. 

Establishing Clear Organizational Structures and Strategies

Pitfall: The Yellow Vests struggled with conflicting strategies among leaders, with some favoring confrontation and others preferring negotiation. This lack of unified strategy led to internal divisions.

Solution: African movements should establish clear, unified organizational structures and strategic goals from the outset. Even if these movements remain leaderless, responsibilities for moving the movement forward should be shared accordingly. This will ensure a coherent approach, minimizing internal conflicts and presenting a united front. 

Maintaining Focused and Realistic Objectives

Pitfall: The Yellow Vests' broad and sometimes conflicting objectives diluted their impact. While they achieved some immediate victories, their long-term goals were not clearly defined or consistently pursued and hence never realized.

Solution: African movements should set focused, ambitious yet realistic, and achievable objectives. Prioritizing a few key demands and clearly articulating them can help maintain momentum and ensure sustained pressure on authorities. Regularly reviewing and adjusting goals based on progress and changing circumstances is also crucial. 

Effective Response to State Repression

Pitfall: The Yellow Vests faced severe police repression, including the use of violent crowd-control tactics. This not only caused significant injuries but also deterred participation in protests.

Solution: African movements should prepare for state repression by training participants in non-violent resistance. This will garner broader public support. Establishing legal support networks and documenting instances of state violence can help protect protesters and attract pan-African attention and solidarity. 

Concrete Alternative Policy Proposals

Pitfall: Inability to articulate concrete policy proposals and ensure their implementation. While the Yellow Vests succeeded in forcing some concessions, they struggled to translate their grievances into a cohesive set of implementable policies.

Solution: African movements should focus on developing clear, actionable policy proposals and a roadmap for their implementation to ensure lasting change beyond initial protests. 


By avoiding these pitfalls, revolutionary movements in Africa can enhance their effectiveness and ensure their efforts lead to meaningful, lasting change. We can do it Africa! We, the people of Africa are powerful. So powerful. Let’s use our power to transform Africa.
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