How do popular protests about the basics of everyday life, specifically about energy, come about in settings where political authority is fragmented and conflict and repression common? How do state and political actors respond to protests which disrupt social and economic life, and undermine public authority? To what extent do such mass protests, often justified as inherently moral struggles over the basics of everyday life, empower the powerless or hold the powerful to account in such political settings? And how do external actors shape these events?
These are the questions addressed in this paper, part of a research project under the UK Aid-funded Action for Empowerment and Accountability (A4EA) programme at the Institute of Development Studies, Sussex. It is a preliminary effort to make sense of a specific category of popular protests, mass protests about the affordability or availability of fuel or energy, seen as among the contentious ‘politics of provisions’, or elite-mass struggles over policies governing the necessities of everyday life.
The paper aims to: (a) contribute to theoretical debates about the kinds of social and political action that strengthen accountability and empower the marginalised in fragile and conflict-affected settings; (b) make an empirical contribution to the contentious politics literature with new evidence about the nature of energy-related protests (or ‘fuel riots’) in developing countries, to strengthen the political economy analysis of energy subsidy reforms and austerity programmes, shedding new light specifically on the tendencies of non-democratic regimes to maintain high fuel subsidies; and (c) generate knowledge about how the behaviour and practices of external actors shape how energy protests play out in these fragile political settings, in order to inform policy and practice.