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Africa's Passive Revolution: Crisis in Malawi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
JournalTransactions of the institute of british geographers
Publication statusPublished - 22 Feb 2016


King's Authors


Recent protest movements in sub-Saharan Africa have failed to affect progressive transformations. Social change is frustrated as governing elites continue to utilise their vacillating and unequal relationships with the external environment to sustain power. Although the leading figures may change the dominant African class can re-establish leadership through new alliances with domestic and international networks of capital. To effectively understand this change-without-change we use Antonio Gramsci’s development of ‘passive revolution’. The comparative character of Gramscian analysis enables his philosophy of praxis to be translated to work in very different historical and geographical settings. With this in mind we draw together recent engagement with passive revolution as a mode of historical development from both Geography as well as African Studies; in particular Bayart’s concept of extraversion. To apply Gramsci’s method this article engages with the politics of transition in Malawi. In his second term in office the autocratic and unpopular president, Bingu wa Mutharika, implemented economic policies that ran against neoliberal orthodoxy and suppressed protest during a period of crisis. Mutharika was replaced following his death in 2012 by Joyce Banda, a previously marginalised vice-president who ushered in a reengagement with transnational capital. Working through the state she led a transformation from on-high and moved to impose new economically liberal policies including a major currency devaluation, which reduced living standards. We draw our empirical material from Chancellor College, a major site of protest against Mutharika in 2011. Evidence from interviews with staff and students demonstrates how restoration-reformation in Malawi, a country distant from the western historical experience, can be explained through Gramsci’s socially differentiated understanding of politics.

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