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Article

Amina Mama

African feminist thought refers to the dynamic ideas, reflections, theories and other expressions of intellectual practices by politically radical African women concerned with liberating Africa by focusing women’s liberation, and as such cannot be easily defined or captured. However, the conditions out of which Africa’s feminist movements form, and the intellectual labor that they carry out in the pursuit of women’s rights and freedoms can be explored and discussed. African feminist thought is the potentially limitless product of movements that are themselves constantly in the making, succeeding in changing the conditions of their formation by their very existence. African feminist political thought can be traced to the world’s women’s movements that formed in the context of transnational liberal and emancipatory political discourses of the late 19th and 20th centuries of European empire. Out of these liberal emancipatory reformist, international labor, communist, socialist revolutionary, and Pan-African Diasporic and African nationalist movements were all formed. However, following the flag independence of over fifty nation-states, women who joined the anti-colonial freedom movements have had to pursue further struggles in independent nation-states, because Africa’s new states often hesitated or reverted to conservative patriarchal views when it came to extending freedom and equality to African women. It is as citizens of new nations that 20th century African women have formed independent feminist movements that continue to demand freedom, equality and rights, for example, by seeking freedom of movement, political representation, educational and economic equality, and perhaps most commonly of all, freedom from sex and gender-based violence. Contemporary publications and writings by African feminists are the primary sources consulted here, because of the need to correct the spurious mis-representation of African feminism as “un-African,” a position that hinges on the definition of feminism as exclusively Western. This view is advanced by conservative African men and women who seek the restoration of pre-colonial cultures, as well as in some of the early scholarly literature on the subject. African feminism is a radical proposition: it refers to the liberatory political philosophies, theories, writings, research and cultural production, as well as the organizing work of the transnational community of feminists from Africa. These respond to objective conditions of global systemic inequality that have led African women to resume the struggle for freedom and liberation. African feminists in 2019 identify with earlier generations of women freedom fighters but enunciate visions of a future in which the women of Africa will be afforded human rights and freedoms, on a continent liberated from a global neoliberal capitalist system that continues to marginalize the vast majority of the world’s peoples and exploits natural and human resources to a degree that now threatens planetary survival.

Article

Samuel Fury Childs Daly

The Ahiara Declaration was a speech made by Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, the head of state of the secessionist Republic of Biafra, on June 1, 1969, in the town of Ahiara. It was issued in the final year of the war between Nigeria and Biafra, also known as the Nigerian Civil War. The Eastern Region of Nigeria seceded from Nigeria as the Republic of Biafra in May 1967 following a series of mass killings of easterners, especially members of the Igbo ethnic group, in northern Nigeria the previous year. In his address, Ojukwu gave a partisan account of the war and the events leading up to it, rallied Biafrans to continue the fight, and set out a political philosophy that would guide Biafra from that point on. It was written by a committee of Biafran intellectuals, most notably the novelist and poet Chinua Achebe. The declaration had multiple meanings: it was both ideology and propaganda, and it served both proscriptive and descriptive purposes. Its influences included the broader intellectual currents of black internationalism, a novel theory of radical anticolonialism, and the idea of “African Socialism”—a communitarian philosophy that emerged in distinction to socialist thought in other regions of the world. The Ahiara Declaration was not meaningfully implemented, both due to limited resources and to the fact that Biafra was defeated six months later. Nonetheless, the declaration is an important source for Nigeria’s history, and for the broader study of political philosophy in postcolonial Africa.

Article

Abel Djassi Amado

Amílcar Cabral, the founding father of Cabo Verde and Guinea-Bissau, was one of the African political leaders who masterfully exercised key and decisive roles in the twin realms of political action and theoretical development. As the founding leader of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cabo Verde, Cabral wore several hats: he was the chief diplomat and the commander in chief of the liberation movement; he was also the master organizer of the party and of the incipient state in the liberated areas. Yet, Cabral was far from solely a man of action; he developed a complex and sophisticated political theory of national liberation that gave substance and meaning to political action.

Article

Jacob Wiebel

The Red Terror was a period of intense political and inter-communal violence in revolutionary Ethiopia during the late 1970s. This violence erupted two years after the revolution of 1974 and was concentrated in the cities and towns of Ethiopia, particularly in Addis Ababa, Gondar, Asmara, and Dessie. In the struggle over the direction and ownership of the revolution, opposition groups of the radical left violently opposed a military regime that itself came to embrace and promulgate Marxist-Leninist language and policies, and that relied heavily on the use of armed force to stifle dissent. While much of the violence was carried out by security personnel, the delegation of the state’s means and instruments of violence to newly formed militias and to armed citizens was a defining feature of the Red Terror. The number of casualties and victims of the Red Terror remains heavily contested and is subject to divergent counting criteria and to definitions of the Terror’s scope in relation to other concurrent conflicts in the region, such as the Eritrean and Tigrayan civil wars; plausible figures suggest more than 50,000 deaths, in addition to many more who were subjected to torture, exile, personal losses, and other forms of violence. To this day, the Red Terror constitutes a period that is remembered in Ethiopia as much for the forms of its violence as for the extent of its harm. Its ramifications, from the support it triggered for the ethno-nationalist insurgencies that overthrew the military regime in 1991, to its role in the emergence of a sizeable Ethiopian diaspora, make the Red Terror an episode of defining and lasting significance in the modern history of Ethiopia.

Article

Newspapers have become increasingly important as a source for African history, and the range of historical questions newspapers have been employed to address has expanded dramatically. Newspapers are not only sources for political history, they also have much to teach us about the social, cultural, and intellectual history of Africa. They were spaces of literary and textual experimentation. They also played an important role in the creation of new identities. It is essential, however, that we approach newspapers critically as sources and think carefully about their limitations, as well as the opportunities they present to the historian.

Article

The heyday of African socialism as the animating force behind African political developments has passed. Yet, like other political doctrines of great revolutionary movements, its name and principles continue to be invoked by political and social leaders today. As recently as 2005, the Rev. Johnson J. Chinyong’ole of the University of KwaZulu-Natal argued that the principles of African socialism should guide the Anglican Church’s efforts in reducing poverty in Tanzania. As part of the zeitgeist of early postcolonial Africa, the traditions and principles of African socialism have had a profound impact on how Africans have seen and shaped their world. An understanding of the central tenets of African socialism helps to explain the unique ways in which Africans have responded to and appropriated features of Marxism, socialism, and capitalism, as well as to illuminate distinctly African traditions of communalism, philosopher-kings, aestheticism, and perfectionism in politics.

Article

Postcolonial West African history can be understood in terms of transitions across three successive eras: a post-independence era of high nationalism; the military era, characterized by profound political and socio-economic instability; and, finally, since the early 1990s, a democratization era, marked by continued swings between fevered hopes and anguished realities. These temporalities arguably converge on a singular leitmotif, namely, the attempt by state power to preserve its privileges and the struggle by social forces to resist the state and draw effective boundaries between the private and public domains. Gloomy for most of the “lost decade” of the 1980s, the prospect for such a project appears brighter today, especially in the aftermath of pivotal shifts in the global and regional political landscapes.

Article

The Black Consciousness movement of South Africa instigated a social, cultural, and political awakening in the country in the 1970s. By the mid-1960s, major anti-apartheid organizations in South Africa such as the African National Congress and Pan-Africanist Congress had been virtually silenced by government repression. In 1969, Steve Biko and other black students frustrated with white leadership in multi-racial student organizations formed an exclusively black association. Out of the South African Students’ Organization (SASO) came what was termed Black Consciousness. This philosophy redefined “black” as an inclusive, positive identity and taught that black South Africans could make meaningful change in their society if “conscientized” or awakened to their self-worth and the need for activism. The movement emboldened youth, contributed to the development of Black Theology and cultural movements, and led to the formation of new community and political organizations such as the Black Community Programs organization and the Black People’s Convention. Articulate and charismatic, Steve Biko was one of the movement’s foremost instigators and prolific writers. When the South African government understood the threat Black Consciousness posed to apartheid, it worked to silence the movement and its leaders. Biko was banished to his home district in the Eastern Cape, where he continued to build community development programs and have a strong political influence. His death at the hands of security police in September 1977 revealed the brutality of South African security forces and the extent to which the state would go to maintain white supremacy. After Biko’s death, the state declared Black Consciousness–related organizations illegal. Activists formed the Azanian People’s Organization (AZAPO) in 1978 to carry on Black Consciousness ideals, though the movement in general waned after Biko’s death. Since then, Biko has loomed over the history of the Black Consciousness movement as a powerful icon and celebrated hero while others have looked to Black Consciousness in forging a new black future for South Africa.

Article

Ujamaa  

Michael Jennings

The idea of Ujamaa emerged from the writing and speeches of Tanzania’s first president, Julius K Nyerere, from the late 1950s and into the 1960s. Usually translated as “familyhood,” it was a form of African socialism that blended broadly conceived socialist principles with a distinctly “communitarian” understanding of African societies, and a strong commitment to egalitarian societies. It was to form the bedrock of efforts to institute profound social change from the late 1960s, directed and shaped by the state. At the heart of the idea of Ujamaa were ideas around self-reliance (people should build for themselves their futures), total participation of all in developing the nation (“nation building,” and self-help), communal labor in the rural sector and communal ownership of land, and nationalizations in the private sector and of public services. Ujamaa as an idea was to have a profound impact on Tanzanian economic and development policies from the late 1960s, but also had a wider continental impact in contributing to and shaping a distinctive form of African socialism in the 1960s and 1970s.

Article

Uthman dan Fodio (1754–1817), an emblematic figure of Islamic history in West Africa, was born in 1754 in Maratta in the Tahoua region (present-day Niger) and died in 1817 in Sokoto (present-day Nigeria). The role of Sheikh Uthman (Osman) dan Fodio is well known to all who are familiar with West Africa’s Muslim culture. Sometimes referred to in West Africa as “Nûru-l-zamân” (the Light of Time) and in Western literature as the “Great Pulaar Jihadist Sheik,” Uthman dan Fodio was one of the greatest Muslim theologians and thinkers in West Africa and is regarded as the founder of the last Muslim Empire. He studied under the Fodiawa family as well as with the great scholar Sheikh Jibril. As a successful teacher himself, he attracted attention from the royal palace. As a preacher, Uthman dan Fodio was listened to and followed by the religious devout, which led to him being persecuted by the successors of Bawa Jan Gorzo, consequence the jihad of 1804 and the foundation of the Islamic Empire of Sokoto. Despite this, in the tradition of prominent spiritual masters of Islam (Al-Ghazali, Al-Muhâssibi, Azzaruk, As-Suyûtî, Abdel Wahab, etc.), Uthman dan Fodio’s legacy remained strong in the Muslim world between the end of the 18th century and the end of the 19th century. The sheikh described his contributions in terms of moral and religious rebuilding; he felt as if he was invested in a messianic mission to save his community from perils. In other words, his tasks included promoting widespread change as it pertained to societal norms, morals, and education. Uthman dan Fodio’s reform project is part of the reformist heritage movement, which is also known as “the wave of the reformist current of the 18th century.”

Article

With the arrival of Europeans in West Africa in the 15th century, which preceded formal conquest and pacification, missionaries took the lead in introducing Western education as an indispensable tool for effective evangelism. Subsequently, the various European colonial governments appropriated education as a means of consolidating colonial rule in West Africa. By the middle of the 19th century, Western education began to produce a new, educated elite, at the core of which were “liberated slaves” in Sierra Leone. Western education produced its own contradictions. On the one hand, it produced educated hybrids who were alienated from their own peoples and cultures and who collaborated with Europeans to entrench colonialism in West Africa. On the other hand, the new elite, educated both in Africa and overseas, subsequently morphed into the new nationalists who became valuable agents for the liquidation of European imperialism in Africa. The emergent institutions of higher learning and the three new universities in West African founded in the aftermath of World War II became hotbeds of intellectual discourse just as the debate over the need for adaptation and Africanization resurfaced. Following the end of colonial rule, the “new elite,” now expanding in number, continued to provide contentious, neocolonial leadership and direction for development in postcolonial West Africa. Thus, despite its undesirable effect on European colonialism, Western education played into the hands of the educated elite who appropriated and deployed its latent, potent force in order to dislodge Europeans from Africa.