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Banda, Hastings Kamuzu  

Joey Power

Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda was an American- and British-trained medical doctor born in Nyasaland at the turn of the last century. He became leader of the Nyasaland African Congress (NAC) from 1958 to its banning in a state of emergency in 1959; became president of its successor party, the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), after his release from detention in April 1960; and in September became that party’s “life president.” He was the prime minister of Malawi’s first independent government formed in July 1964, its first president when Malawi assumed republican status in 1966 under a single-party system, and in 1971 became its life president. Schools, airports, highways, and hospitals bore his name, and his portrait could be seen in every public and private office and home. He was the embodiment of personal rule. The Banda regime became known for its collaborationist politics vis-à-vis apartheid South Africa and Portuguese Mozambique and for the ruthless repression of all political dissent at home. Banda defended his foreign and domestic politics as necessary evils. White regimes were far too powerful to be antagonized by a small land-locked emerging nation state. To do so would be to cut Malawi’s economic, political, and military throat. He maintained cordial relations with the United Kingdom after 1964 and formally eschewed association with communist states during the Cold War. Western states ignored widespread allegations of human rights abuses until the early 1990s when economic decline, the beginning of the end of apartheid, and the thawing of the Cold War led to a resurgence of protest, both foreign and domestic. In the face of this pressure, Banda allowed for a 1993 referendum on multiparty democracy, which led to multiparty elections the following year. He stood and lost as the MCP presidential candidate, and Bakili Muluzi, leader of the United Democratic Front (UDF), formed a government. The Muluzi administration approved a commission of enquiry into the May 1983 deaths of four MCP politicians in a “car accident” that had long been suspected as a cover for state murder. The Mwanza Enquiry (so named for the highway near the border with Mozambique where the “accident” took place) resulted in a criminal trial in which Banda and four others (see Cabinet Crisis and the Establishment of the Politics of Single-Party Personal Rule) were charged with conspiracy to murder but acquitted for lack of evidence. Banda went into retirement and stepped down as life president of the party in July 1997, a move, it has been suggested, to secure his legacy as elder statesman and father of the nation. He died at the Garden Clinic in South Africa on November 25, 1997.


The Central African Federation  

Andrew Cohen

The late 1940s and early 1950s saw British government policy align, albeit briefly, with European settler desire in Southern and Northern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe and Zambia) for a closer association of their territories. Widespread African opposition was overlooked, and on September 1, 1953, the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (more commonly known as the Central African Federation) came into existence. Nyasaland was included at the insistence of the British government. The federation was a bold experiment in political power during the late stage of British colonialism and constituted one of the most intricate episodes in its retreat from empire. Explanations for the creation of the federation center on attempts to stymie the regional influence of apartheid South Africa and the perceived economic advantages of a closer association of Britain’s Central African colonies. African opposition to the formation of the federation was widespread. Although this protest dissipated in the early years of the federation, the early promises in racial “partnership” soon proved to be insincere, and this reinvigorated African protest as the 1960 federal constitutional review drew close. The end of the Central African Federation is best explained by several intertwined pressures, including African nationalist protest, economic weakness, and hardening settler intransigence. By the end of 1962, there was large-scale African opposition to federation in both Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland, and the Rhodesian Front had come to power on a platform of independence free from the federation. The final death knell for the federation rang with the British government’s decision that no territory should be kept in the federation against its will.


The History of Gabon  

Douglas A. Yates

Primeval rainforest at the Equator on the west coast of Africa, the land we know as Gabon, was settled prehistorically by Pygmies during the late Stone Age, and then by Bantu-speaking migrants during the Iron Age. These culturally diverse peoples did not develop a common language or political system with one another until after their violent conquest by Europeans during the colonial era. The Age of Discovery in the 15th century brought European explorers to the coast. The Atlantic triangle trade, with its slave barracoons and entrepôts, transformed some African communities along the coast into centralized kingdoms, and turned other clan-based societies of the forested interior into hunted peoples suspicious of any and all outsiders, European or African. The Scramble for Africa brought military expeditions into Gabon in the 19th century, when French colonial rule was established. Colonialism bestowed on the ethnic groups of Gabon a protonational identity of being “Gabonese,” although this nationalist impulse was muted in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by the effort of French authorities and missionaries to assimilate black Africans into France’s culture and civilization. Unassimilated colonial subjects in the interior of the newly conquered territory violently resisted French colonial rule until the world wars, by which time the assimilation project had sufficiently fashioned a new coastal French-educated Gabonese elite. The two world wars weakened France and led these assimilated elites to a call for political reforms, at first taking the form of mono-ethnic-based political parties, but eventually coalescing around multiethnic coalitions, largely francophone in outlook, while retaining many elements of older precolonial identities. Independence in 1960 brought to power three authoritarian rulers—Léon Mba, Omar Bongo, and Ali Bongo—as well as consolidation of an oil-rentier state and an oxymoronic dynastic republic. “Gabonese” national identity emerged, an imagined community constructed out of African music, literature, and art, yet incorporating French as its lingua franca.


History of Malawi  

Joey Power

The boundaries of Malawi in the early 21st century are rooted in European imperial expansion of the late 19th century and the establishment of the British Central African Protectorate (1891–1907) and, later, the Nyasaland (1907–1964) Protectorate. In 1953, Nyasaland was merged with Northern and Southern Rhodesia to constitute the Central African Federation. African opposition to this led to violent disturbances in 1953 and 1959. A state of emergency was declared in March of 1959 and the Nyasaland African Congress (NAC), the largest African political party in the protectorate, was banned and many of its leaders detained. The NAC was replaced by the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) during the state of emergency. The state of emergency ended in June of 1960 and party leader Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda led the MCP to a territorial election victory in 1961. Vows to end the “stupid federation” were realized in 1963 with the secession of Nyasaland from it. Nyasaland became the independent state of Malawi in July 1964 under an MCP-majority government. Within months of independence, the government and party unity were rocked by a “cabinet crisis” in which key ministers differed with Dr. Banda over foreign policy and domestic politics. Many key leaders resigned or were dismissed and thereafter left the country. This initiated a thirty-year period of autocratic rule that only ended in the early 1990s as a result of internal protest and international financial pressure. A 1993 referendum prompted a return to multiparty governance, and the 1994 elections led to the ouster of the MCP/Banda regime. Since then, Malawi has maintained a multiparty political structure, albeit with enduring challenges wrought by colonial and autocratic legacies.


Political History of Cameroon  

Emmanuel M. Mbah

First visited by the Portuguese in the 1500s, Cameroon was eventually colonized first by the Germans from 1884 to 1916 and later by the French and British until independence in 1960 and 1961. The division of the former German colony between the French and the British after Germany’s defeat during World War I laid the foundation for a complex postindependence history of Cameroon. This complexity, chaperoned by two presidents, has witnessed a trajectory that starts with a federation and continues with Cameroon becoming a republic that was increasingly challenged by separatists of the former British section. External challenges from a war with Nigeria over Bakassi as well as conflicts with Boko Haram have only made the process of nation-building more complexed.


The Copperbelt of Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo  

Iva Peša

The Central African Copperbelt, a region which straddles the boundary between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia, holds exceptionally rich and high-grade copper deposits. These deposits have been worked from as early as the 6th century ce. Still, the commencement of large-scale industrial resource extraction at the start of the 20th century, spurred by imperial rivalry between Belgian and British interests, initiated fundamental processes of change. The Copperbelt urbanized rapidly, as the mines attracted thousands of migrant workers from hundreds of miles away. The social, cultural, economic, and political lives of these new urbanites have attracted much attention from colonial administrators and mining officials, as well as from generations of social scientists and historians. These observers have tended to depict the Copperbelt’s history in terms of stark dichotomies, as part of a transition from rural to urban; from subsistence agriculture to industrial wage labor; from extended kinship to nuclear families; or even from “tradition” to “modernity.” The protracted economic crisis which held the Copperbelt in its sway between 1975 and 2000 painfully revealed the boom-and-bust nature of copper mining. This period of “decline” made scholars question earlier modernization frameworks. Examples showing how kinship ties have been creatively reworked, how gender roles have constantly been subject to negotiation, and how economic precarity was part of urban life throughout the 20th century, suggest that Copperbelt scholarship should abandon narratives of “transformation” and exceptionalism. The Central African Copperbelt, instead, exemplifies African history’s rich complexity.


Uwilingiyimana, Agathe  

Jennie Burnet

Agathe Uwilingiyimana was the first woman prime minister of Rwanda and only the second woman prime minister on the African continent. A Hutu from southern Rwanda, she was among the first Rwandans killed in the 1994 genocide of Tutsi. She was a political moderate from an opposition political party who rejected ethnic extremism. As the constitutional leader of the country in the wake of the president’s assassination, Hutu extremists killed her so that they could take control of the government. Born to uneducated parents, Uwilingiyimana was among the first women to obtain a bachelor’s degree from the National University of Rwanda in 1985. Before entering politics, she taught high-school science for over a decade. She dedicated her life to promoting women’s equality, removing obstacles to girls’ education, and speaking on behalf of the poor. As one of Rwanda’s first prominent women politicians, Uwilingiyimana faced intense misogyny, particularly from members of extremist Hutu political parties. The media frequently portrayed her naked or in sexual contexts. She was attacked in her own home on multiple occasions and menaced when she appeared in public. She was killed on April 7, 1994, along with her husband and an aide. The Belgian United Nations peacekeepers guarding her were also killed. Her death paved the way for Hutu extremists to take over the government and carry out a genocide targeting Tutsi, members of opposition political parties, human rights activists, and journalists.


Women in Gabon  

Claire H. Griffiths

Gabon, a small oil-rich country straddling the equator on the west coast of Africa, is the wealthiest of France’s former colonies. An early period of colonization in the 19th century resulted in disease, famine, and economic failure. The creation of French Equatorial Africa in 1910 marked the beginning of the sustained lucrative exploitation of Gabon’s natural resources. Gabon began off-shore oil production while still a colony of France. Uranium was also discovered in the last decade of the French Equatorial African empire. Coupled with rich reserves in tropical woods, Gabon has achieved, since independence in 1960, a higher level of export revenue per capita of population than any other country in sub-Saharan Africa in the postcolonial era. However, significant inequality has characterized access to wealth through paid employment throughout the recorded history of monetized labor. While fortunes have been amassed by a minute proportion of the female population of Gabon associated with the ruling regime, and a professional female middle-class has emerged, inequalities of opportunity and reward continue to mark women’s experience of life in this little-known country of West Central Africa. The key challenge facing scholars researching the history of women in Gabon remains the relative lack of historical resources. While significant strides have been made over the past decade, research on women’s history in Francophone Africa published in English or French remains embryonic. French research on African women began to make a mark in the last decade of colonization, notably with the work of Denise Paulme, but then remained a neglected area for decades. The publication in 1994 of Les Africaines by French historian Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch was hailed at the time as a pioneering work in French historiography. But even this new research contained no analysis of and only a passing reference to women in Gabon.


Women in the Central African Republic  

Juan Fandos-Rius

Throughout history, women in the Central African Republic (CAR) have never escaped from the control of men. For women the daily routine of life was for the most part highly demanding and full of worries and frustrations and alleviation of any of these was rarely a priority among any ethno-cultural communities in the country. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the CAR was drawn into the world economy and traditional societies succumbed to the pressure of European colonization. The acculturation process to European-dominant norms also affected Central African women in all domains (work, social, familial, religious, economic, political, and concerning way of life.) Only in the 1960s were the first women able to take responsibility for their own lives, but real women’s equality and inclusion at all levels came much later, where it has done so at all. Since the mid-1990s recurrent political crises and social distress has resulted in a nearly complete reversal of the achievements made by prior generations of women in the CAR.