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Session Report: Authoritarian Regimes II – Social and Political Movements

On 17 July 2023, KPSRL organized a webinar on the potential for reforms of social contracts through civic and social movements in authoritarian and hybrid regimes. Our panel of speakers included Natalia Forrat from the University of Michigan and Freedom House, Michel Luntumbue from GRIP, Floribert Anzuluni, co-founder of Filimbi (Whistle) one of the major citizen movements in the DRC, and Walden Bello, a former member of the house of representatives in the Philippines (2007 to 2015).

Below are the webinar’s main learning points.

1.   The main factors associated with scaling up mobilizations are new leadership emerging from outside the established civil society, and the mobilization focusing on the same societal values that sustain the authoritarian regime but offering different solutions.

2.   Other important factors include repression dynamics, the internet, and social, diaspora. Repression works if the regime uses it before the movement grows past a certain threshold, but it causes a backlash and further growth if the regime represses after the movement has grown.

Civic and political movements have trajectories and natures that are different from NGOs and CSOs. They might, for example, mobilize around a specific initial demand (for example against unconstitutional bids by one politician, and after the initial fight is over have to discuss internally whether and how to evolve to fight more systemic issues. Additionally, they are not classical organizations with headquarters, offices, and business plans, and are instead flexible and fluid alliances. The peculiar challenges they face are:

1.   Demobilisation of activists after the initial fight.

2.   Capture by foreign donors when this is a source of criticism domestically.

3.   The goal of transforming society without being part of the power structure that guides society.

Social movements have also run counter to democracy. Since the 2010s, many conservative movements emerged when left-wing parties lost the support of the working class, their traditional base, due to their support for neo-liberal economic policies. Liberal democracy and leftist parties failed to deliver on the economic front because they failed to implement redistributive reforms and welcomed instead international competition that brought fragility to many people. Traditional working classes became vulnerable to anti-migrant and racist movements.

Recommendations to practitioners:

1.   Support professionals such as lawyers and journalists who will help movements once they emerge. However, be careful because such support will make them a target of repression.

2.   Connect activists across borders to learn how to build effective nonviolent movements from other countries.

3.   Facilitate broad cross-cutting networks and alliances inside the country between different groups of people who may collaborate in the future.

4.   Provide activists with the means to be one step ahead in terms of anti-monitoring technology.

5.   Respond rapidly in case the regime does not crack a movement down immediately.

6.   Foster complementary partnerships between movements and CSOs/NGOs that do not subject social movements to NGO-style reporting and financial requirements.

7.   During democratic transitions, support reforms that deliver positive rights, economic and social.

8.   International actors should not promise support that they won’t be willing to give because that will expose people to take risks from which negative consequences will arise.


Read the full session report here.


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