Book. When do people take to the streets to protest against “the high cost of living”? And how do so-called spontaneous revolts arise? This is what the political science researcher at the CNRS Vincent Bonnecase wondered in his book Expensive life. From Africa to Europe by studying the “food riots” (an expression he rejects) that affected the African continent in 2008. Analyzing in detail the uprisings that took place in Burkina Faso, Egypt, Tunisia, Guinea, Cameroon… but also the protests that spread in Europe (United Kingdom, Germany, Greece, France…), it draws up a certain number of constants: “Mobilizations are always at the crossroads of heterogeneous populations” and are born outside the usual protest organizations, adopting methods different from conventional actions such as strikes or demonstrations, and oblige political organizations or trade unions to adapt – as we have seen, for example, in France during the mobilization of the “yellow vests”.
In fact, remarks Vincent Bonnecase, “none of these mobilizations can be reduced to the question of the cost of living: they are all anchored in a much broader spectrum of grievances”. As a matter of fact, “in each country, the high cost of living has combined with other reasons for anger, sometimes more telling for the populations concerned”. In Egypt, it all started with a strike in the textile sector; in Tunisia, in the Gafsa mining area during a recruitment campaign in a context of endemic unemployment.
From the precise analyzes of Vincent Bonnecase, it appears that the riots do not depend so much on material conditions as such as on the feeling of injustice which feeds both on the present and on “the way social justice has been administered in the past”. And which, coupled with the anger felt, reflects a questioning of the social compromises between the ruling cles and the working cles and reveals certain “moral expectations” towards the authorities.
By re-inscribing the events of 2008 in “vernacular historicities” that he apprehends over the long term, Vincent Bonnecase distinguishes European and African specificities. He first observes that “the neoliberal ideology, which consists in making responsibilities invisible in the functioning of markets (…), seems to have taken significantly less in Africa than in other parts of the world”. The myth of the market as an autonomous entity hardly functioning, the cost of living is seen as the result of decisions made by people and not by the market.
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