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Article

African Masculinities  

Ndubueze L. Mbah

As a system of identity, African masculinity is much more than a cluster of norms, values, and behavioral patterns expressing explicit and implicit expectations of how men should act and represent themselves to others. It also refers to more than how African male bodies, subjectivities, and experiences are constituted in specific historical, cultural, and social contexts. African masculinities, as historical subjects embodying distinctive socially constructed gender and sexual identities, have been both male and female. By occupying a masculine sociopolitical position, embodying masculine social traits, and performing cultural deeds socially construed and symbolized as masculine, African men and women have constituted masculinity. Across various African societies and times, there have been multiple and conflicting notions of masculinities, promoted by local and foreign institutions, and there have been ceaseless contestations and synergies among the various forms of hegemonic, subordinate, and subversive African masculinities. Men and women have frequently brought their own agendas to bear on the political utility of particular notions of masculinity. Through such performances of masculinity, Africans have constantly negotiated the institutional power dynamics of gender relations. So, the question is not whether Africans worked with gender binaries, because they did. As anthropologist John Wood puts it, African indigenous logic of gender becomes evident in the juxtaposition, symbolic reversals, and interrelation of opposites. Rather, one should ask, why and how did African societies generate a fluid gender system in which biological sex did not always correspond to gender, such that anatomically male and female persons could normatively occupy socially constructed masculine and feminine roles and vice versa? And how did African mutually constitutive gender and sexuality constructions shape African societies?

Article

Culture and Society at the Cape of Good Hope, 1652–1795  

Gerald Groenewald

In 1652 the Dutch East India Company founded a “refreshment station” in Table Bay on the southwestern coast of Africa for its fleets to and from the East Indies. Within a few years, this outpost developed into a fully-fledged settler colony with a “free-burgher” population who made an existence as grain, wine, and livestock farmers in the interior, or engaged in entrepreneurial activities in Cape Town, the largest settlement in the colony. The corollary of this development was the subjugation of the indigenous Khoikhoi and San inhabitants of the region, and the importation and use of a relatively large slave labor force in the agrarian and urban economies. The colony continued to expand throughout the 18th century due to continued immigration from Europe and the rapid growth of the settler population through natural increase. During that century, about one-third of the colony’s population lived in Cape Town, a cosmopolitan harbor city with a large transient, and overwhelmingly male, population which remained connected with both the Atlantic and Indian Ocean worlds. The unique society and culture that developed at the Cape was influenced by both these worlds. Although in many ways, the managerial superstructure of the Cape was similar to that of a Dutch city, the cosmopolitan and diverse nature of its population meant that a variety of identities and cultures co-existed alongside each other and found expression in a variety of public forms.

Article

Dar es Salaam  

Eric Burton

Dar es Salaam, a major urban center in early 21st-century East Africa, was founded in 1862 as a mainland outpost of the sultanate in Zanzibar. From its very beginnings, the town was a cosmopolitan, polyglot, and multiethnic space. Following colonial conquest, the Germans used Dar es Salaam as their capital of German East Africa from 1891 onward, as did the British administration of Tanganyika, as the territory was renamed after the transfer of power following World War I, until independence in 1961. Colonial rule shaped the city’s geography according to racialized zoning, yet both colonial and subsequent postcolonial governments often found themselves reacting to dynamics (particularly immigration and informalization) rather than initiating them. Since the late colonial period, social and political dynamics in Dar es Salaam—such as the growth of nationalism—have had repercussions in all of Tanzania. In the 1960s and 1970s, the city became a transnational revolutionary hub at the crossroads of Pan-Africanism, anticolonial currents, and Cold War rivalries. At the same time, at the national level, the government tried to peripheralize Dar es Salaam and announced the relocation of the capital to Dodoma in 1972. Despite the antiurban bias of Tanzania’s policies of African socialism ( ujamaa ) and neoliberal reconfigurations from the 1980s onward, both of which put a brake on state investments in urban infrastructures and services, Dar es Salaam remained a commercial, cultural, and diplomatic center. With a population that grew from 22,500 in 1913 to 5.4 million inhabitants in 2022, it has become one of Africa’s major metropolises.

Article

Disease Control and Public Health in Colonial Africa  

Samuël Coghe

Disease control and public health have been key aspects of social and political life in sub-Saharan Africa since time immemorial. With variations across space and time, many societies viewed disease as the result of imbalances in persons and societies and combined the use of materia medica from the natural world, spiritual divination, and community healing to redress these imbalances. While early encounters between African and European healing systems were still marked by mutual exchanges and adaptations, the emergence of European germ theory-based biomedicine and the establishment of racialized colonial states in the 19th century increasingly challenged the value of African therapeutic practices for disease control on the continent. Initially, colonial states focused on preserving the health of European soldiers, administrators, and settlers, who were deemed particularly vulnerable to tropical climate and its diseases. Around 1900, however, they started paying more attention to diseases among Africans, whose health and population growth were now deemed crucial for economic development and the legitimacy of colonial rule. Fueled by new insights and techniques provided by tropical medicine, antisleeping sickness campaigns would be among the first major interventions. After World War I, colonial health services expanded their campaigns against epidemic diseases, but also engaged with broader public health approaches that addressed reproductive problems and the social determinants of both disease and health. Colonial states were not the only providers of biomedical healthcare in colonial Africa. Missionary societies and private companies had their own health services, with particular logics, methods, and focuses. And after 1945, international organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) increasingly invested in health campaigns in Africa as well. Moreover, Africans actively participated in colonial disease control, most notably as nurses, midwives, and doctors. Nevertheless, Western biomedicine never gained hegemony in colonial Africa. Many Africans tried to avoid or minimize participation in certain campaigns or continued to utilize the services of local healers and diviners, often in combination with particular biomedical approaches. To what extent colonial disease control impacted on disease incidence and demography is still controversially debated.

Article

Environmental History  

Emmanuel Kreike

Environmental history highlights the dynamic interaction between the physical environment and human society, respectively framed as nature and culture. Attributing agency to the environment is perhaps the most distinguishing attribute of environmental history as an approach while human society’s struggle to overcome environmental challenges is a major focus of environmental historians. Generally, students of the African past have tended to emphasize that Africa and Africans were more dependent on nature (including climate, geography, natural resources, “natural” population dynamics, disease) than societies elsewhere, especially those in the modern West. Thus, colonial and postcolonial analysts ascribe Africa’s past as the cradle of the human species, its present lack of political and economic development, and its bleak future in an age of climate change not to any African (or human) genius but to the caprices of an undomesticated environment and interventions by outside actors that disturb an environment-people balance. Historians emphasized that political subjugation, agricultural development, and conservation increased African societies’ vulnerability (to malnutrition, drought, and indigenous and exotic diseases, for example) in the face of environmental change because it enclosed and alienated such key natural resources as land, woodlands, wildlife, and water. More recently, historians of Africa have highlighted a more dynamic and interactive relationship between society and environment in Africa beyond the analytical and nested dichotomies of Nature-Culture, Indigenous-Invasive, and Victim/Subaltern-Perpetrator/Ruler. The perspective opens space for considering how societies perceived and shaped their environments physically and mentally in conjunction with other ideas and forces, including a variety of human and non-human agents, further enriching the study of environmental history.

Article

History of Higher Education in Kenya  

Michael Mwenda Kithinji

The history of higher education in Kenya is defined by a struggle for domination by the various forces that have sought to influence the country’s social, economic, and political trajectory in the colonial and postcolonial periods. During the colonial period, the church had a major interest in education, which they viewed as an important tool in their evangelizing mission. However, the colonial government regarded education as an agency for social control as it attempted to mediate the competing interests of the missionaries, white settlers, and African nationalists. Similarly, the postcolonial governments saw education, especially at the higher level as significant due to its role in forming the elite class and as a mechanism for ideological control. Consequently, Kenya’s higher education landscape has witnessed a striking transformation as it served as an arena for powerful competing interests from the colonial period to the present. The period between the inception of higher education in the late 1940s until the early independence period in the late 1960s was dominated by the colonial inter-territorial policy that severely limited the opportunities to access higher education. While the first postcolonial government of President Kenyatta largely upheld the colonial elitist ideas on higher education, this approach changed when President Moi came into office in 1978. President Moi wanted to leave his mark on education by increasing access to higher education. Many students were thus able to access university education, previously a preserve of the privileged few. University expansion remains an enduring legacy of President Moi’s administration, which the succeeding government of Mwai Kibaki inherited and enhanced.

Article

History of Sport in Lusophone Africa  

Andrea Marzano, Marcelo Bittencourt, and Victor Melo

Only in the 21st century has sport become part of the research horizon in the history of the Portuguese-speaking countries of Africa. “Modern” sporting practices accompanied the colonial expansion process from the very beginning. In the second half of the 19th century, evidence can be found of sport in Portuguese colonial areas. This presence, to a certain extent premature, led to the transformation of different types of sports into proof of the level of civilization of the Africans practicing them. Sporting practice was thus part of the strategies some Africans used to demarcate themselves from the majority of natives in those regions. This minority of Africans sought to escape the different forms of compulsory labor in the region as a means to be recognized as civilized. The expansion of Portuguese colonial domination was accompanied by the introduction of various sporting practices, justified by governmental authorities as a form of disciplining bodies, improving health conditions, and controlling workers’ free time. However, the colonial project for sport was appropriated and transformed by Africans. With the institutionalization of sport, the colonial powers sought to expand their control and domination, but in many cases they created resistance and new forms of social participation. In the post-World War II period, and especially from the 1950s onward, the increasing international distaste colonialism led Portuguese authorities, among other strategies, to attempt to use sport to attract the support of African populations. Due to its popularity, sport can be understood as a “window” for understanding the historic process and social dynamics of the colonial period, as well as during the anticolonial struggle and postcolonial times in Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau, Mozambique, and São Tomé and Príncipe.

Article

Interactions between North Africa and Spain: Medieval and Early Modern  

Camilo Gómez-Rivas

Arabic-speaking Muslim polities existed in medieval Spain and Portugal where they were superseded by Christian empires that gradually disavowed cultural connections to this past. Hebrew and Arabic were largely expurgated from homes and libraries. Jews and Muslims who refused to convert were expelled. And while an incipient study of that past existed, echoed even in popular literary forms, the need to disavow kinship prevailed, at least publicly and officially. The Maghrib, for its part, separated by a mere fourteen kilometers of sea from the southern tip of Spain, experienced Portuguese and Spanish imperial expansion firsthand, receiving the bulk of the displaced and interacting with fortified settlements and encroachments along the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts. Later European colonization of North Africa completed the galvanization of a Maghribi culture of resistance to and disavowal of European, Latin, and Christian cultural forms and connections. Spain and North Africa came to be conceived as separate worlds; domains of inimical faiths; divided by culture, language, religion, and a history of mutual hostility. This sense of separateness is deceptive, however, as the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa are bound by deep and extensive commercial, material, and cultural contacts. They share inextricable histories in which alternating movements of commerce, conflict, and migration have played fundamental roles in shaping recognizably Western Mediterranean societies. They should be thought of as areas of a unified region with a common culture, or at the very least, as areas sharing a common region, in which they interact regularly, creating extensive ties and parallel forms of cultural and social organization.

Article

Italian Settlers in the Horn of Africa  

Antonio M. Morone

Colonial settlement, understood as the emigration of Italians to the colonies, was an essential element in the history of Italian colonialism, for both the political planning and the socio-cultural processes that settlers from the mother country triggered in Africa. This was not a linear process. At the end of the 19th century, the intention of founding colonization on pre-existing migratory networks and communities in the Mediterranean was thwarted by the shift of Italian expansionist efforts to the Horn of Africa. When fascism attempted to organize a state colonization in the 1930s, it was the poor living and working conditions of many new settlers that forced the regime to bring those who ran the risk of “insabbiarsi” (literally being quagmired), that is, falling to the level of colonial subjects, back to Italy. In the post–Second World War period, Italy based much of its efforts to reclaim its colonies on the labor of its settlers in Africa but ended up politically ditching them and blotting them from historical memory. By 1949, any chance of returning to an old colonial policy was irrevocably gone. The settlers helped impose colonial order on the basis of the supposed racial and social superiority of Italians to their African subjects. It was precisely the end of colonialism and the departure of many settlers for Italy that called into question their own identity construct as champions of Italianness when they found themselves being discriminated against in their homeland for not being completely or sufficiently “Italian.” For those who decided to remain in Africa, the only thing left was to reshape their relationship with Africans and seek a space of economic and social action with the new postcolonial leaders. On the other side of colonial society, colonial subjects were not just subordinated to the colonizers but also became intermediaries in both their public and private relations, pursuing their own paths of social mobility. For this reason, the history of the colonial subjects is in many ways the other side of the coin from that of the Italian settlers.

Article

Land Resettlement and Restitution in Zimbabwe  

Joseph Mujere

Zimbabwe’s Fast Track Land Reform Program has attracted a lot of scholarly attention. While some scholars have argued that the process through which landless peasants reclaimed land was chaotic and violent, others have praised it for having been one of the most radical redistributive land reform programs in Africa. While these debates have dominated scholarship on land reform program in Zimbabwe since 2000, what has been lacking has been a historical analysis of the entanglement between land resettlement and struggles over restitution. Land restitution has been at the center of the land redistribution in Zimbabwe. In spite of the successes that the government has made in redistributing land, land restitution is the last frontier in the struggle over land. Ruins, ancestral graves, and sacred sites are important landscape features whose emotive presence and materiality enable communities to make land claims and counterclaims. Land restitution processes have been initiated in a variety of regional and country contexts. In former settler societies such as Zimbabwe, South Africa, Kenya, Canada, and Australia, indigenous populations have laid claims over land dispossessed under colonial rule. In post-conflict societies internally displaced people have also attempted to lay claims over land that they had to leave behind fleeing from violence. Further, where large-scale land deals have been unsuccessful or revoked through resistance land reclamation has also been instigated. Land restitution is concerned with restoring landed property to former owners. As compared to land redistribution, restitution is not concerned with ironing out of inequitable distribution of land to create a just future but with reestablishment of former rights based on principles of justice rather than equality. Restitution is therefore based on returning land to former owners who can prove claims. Land restitution is an elastic concept covering a range of processes designed to appease what are perceived as historical injustices around loss of land rights.

Article

The 1924 Revolution in Sudan  

Elena Vezzadini

The 1924 Revolution marked the first time in Sudanese history a nationalist ideology became the language of politics and was successfully employed to mobilize the masses. It was a part of a broader movement of anticolonial nationalist agitation that merits studying this Sudanese event as an illuminating example in world history of the period. Thousands of people from all over Sudan protested in the name of principles such as self-determination and the will of the Nation, and the right of citizens to choose their own destiny. Moreover, the movement that led it, the White Flag League, explicitly sought to include people from different backgrounds, statuses, professions, and religions, to counteract the colonial policy of reliance on ethnic affiliations and social hierarchies. Even though it was bloodily put down after only six months, the events of 1924 represent a revolutionary departure in the in the history of modern Sudan.

Article

Technological Change in Late 19th-Century South Africa  

William Storey

Societies and technologies were deeply intertwined in the history of late 19th-century South Africa. The late 19th century saw the significant development of capitalist agriculture, together with the expansion of mining. The technological side of farming and mining had a significant influence on social and political development. Meanwhile, as in many other colonial outposts, local innovators and entrepreneurs played significant roles in business as well as government. Technological developments were not simply imported or imposed from Great Britain. Everyday technologies, ranging from firearms to clothing, were the subjects of extensive debate across southern Africa’s different cultures.

Article

Transport in Tanzania  

Katie Valliere Streit

Tanzanian men and women have embraced, adapted, and innovated various transportation technologies over the centuries as part of their survival and wealth accumulation strategies. During the precolonial era, dhows and porterage caravans helped to draw mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar into ever-widening trade networks with Central-East Africa, the western Indian Ocean, and the capitalist world economy during the 19th century. The onset of colonialism brought attempts by German and British administrations to replace these “traditional” forms of mobility with “modern” railways, steamships, and motor vehicles. Europeans expected to use these tools to conquer and subordinate African populations according to the demands of the colonial economy. Europeans also perceived these technologies as material manifestations of their alleged intellectual and moral superiority. Colonial administrations, however, continually lacked the necessary resources to construct and maintain new transportation infrastructure amid challenging climates and terrain. Dhows and porters successfully competed with railways, motor vehicles, and steamships throughout the colonial era and remained integral components of the colonial economy. As new transportation systems gradually became integrated into Tanzania’s physical and socioeconomic landscape, ordinary Tanzanians utilized the technologies of mobility to pursue their self-interests. Throughout the process of building transportation infrastructure and using automobiles, dhows, railways, and airplanes, ordinary Tanzanians created identities that challenged discriminatory racial and gender social orders constructed by colonial governments and the Tanzanian nation-state.

Article

Urban Society in Colonial Sudan  

Ahmad Alawad Sikainga

As in the rest of Africa, the establishment of colonial rule has accelerated the pace of urban growth in the Sudan. During the period of British colonial rule (1898–1956), a number of new administrative centers, ports, and railway stations were established and metamorphosed into full-fledged cities. Among the most important towns and administrative centers were Khartoum, the capital of the Anglo-Egyptian administration; Atbara, headquarters of the Sudan Railways; the port city of Port Sudan; and Khartoum North, the headquarters of the steamers division of the Sudan Railways. These towns grew from small administrative headquarters into major urban centers and became the home of a diverse population that included Sudanese as well as immigrants from the Middle East, Europe, and neighboring African countries. The inhabitants of these towns engaged in a wide range of economic, social, and political activities that shaped the character of these towns and developed a distinctive urban culture.

Article

Western Education and the Rise of a New African Elite in West Africa  

Apollos Okwuchi Nwauwa

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.

Article

Witchcraft in Africa: Political Power and Spiritual Insecurity from the Precolonial Era to the Present  

Sean Redding

Historically, witchcraft in Africa has not comprised a stable or uniform set of beliefs. The idea of witchcraft, which might loosely be defined as the belief that people exist who use supernatural means to harm others, has existed in African societies from the precolonial, through the colonial, and into the postcolonial periods. But ideas about the kinds of powers that witches are alleged to use and the types of people often accused of using witchcraft have shifted in response to the changing political, economic, and social landscape. While witchcraft beliefs can sometimes be understood as metaphors for political forces and social ills, they must also be understood as separate systems of signs and meanings that have their own historical trajectories rooted in local cultures. Beliefs in witchcraft are beliefs in systems of power derived from unseen forces, and for those people who believe in supernatural powers those forces are quite real and are not merely metaphorical allusions to other phenomena. In the precolonial era, the political power that many chiefs and kings had was based in supernatural powers; these occult powers were potentially usable for either positive, socially accepted ends or for evil, selfish, and greedy ends. In the colonial and postcolonial eras, states and politicians have also been seen to have supernatural powers but are believed to have used them largely for self-enrichment or empowerment. Systems of global trade, including the trans-Atlantic slave trade and later colonial production of various commodities, both created wealth for a few and inflicted harm on many people. The perceived immorality of these economic and social networks was often captured in stories of witches ambushing people and selling them or consuming their life forces. The spiritual insecurity represented in these beliefs in witchcraft has continued into the postcolonial era.

Article

Women in Benin  

Jessica Catherine Reuther

The modern-day Republic of Benin in West Africa was historically a patchwork of precolonial kingdoms and acephalous zones. In the 17th century, the kingdom of Dahomey formed in the south central interior plateau region of modern-day Benin. In the 18th century, Dahomey grew to become the dominant regional power. Dahomey’s women were famed globally for their roles as government ministers, queen mothers, and warriors. Women had multiple means through which to achieve various forms of power. Women’s power was multi-faceted during the precolonial era; however, these women’s power required proximity to the king and incorporation into the royal palace. During the colonial era from 1894–1960, women had much fewer opportunities to achieve positions of formal power. After the conquest of the Slave Coast region in the 1890s, France established a colony named after the kingdom of Dahomey. Women’s roles in politics declined rapidly as part of the shift from the precolonial to colonial systems of governance. This shift continued a trend though, already unfolding in the 19th century, that reduced women’s power in the royal palace. Few women rose to formal positions of authority in collaboration with the French colonial administration. Colonialism irrevocably transformed gendered systems of power and authority in ways that removed Dahomean women from officially sanctioned positions of power. Despite these restrictions, Dahomean women always found ways to express their agendas and exert influence over the colonial government. During the colonial era, market women, in particular, found ways to protest colonial policies and developed gendered strategies of activism. In 1960, Dahomey gained independence from France and was renamed Benin in 1972. Beninese women have struggled to regain their active roles in political life. Since the end of the Cold War and the transition from socialism to democracy in the 1990s, individual Beninese women who had access to education and the opportunity to study and work for extended periods of time have managed to once again participate in national politics. However, they remain a disadvantaged minority in electoral politics.

Article

Women in Mali  

Madina Thiam

Over centuries, a variety of decentralized societies and centralized states have formed in territories across the western Sahel and southwest Sahara, and along the Niger and Senegal river valleys. Women have played central yet often unacknowledged roles in building these communities. By the late 11th century, some were rulers, as tombstones from the Gao region seem to suggest. A travelogue describing the Mali empire, and a chronicle from Songhay, tell stories of women who plotted political dissent or staged rebellions in the 14th–16th centuries. By and large, everyday women’s reproductive and productive labor sustained their families, and structured life in agricultural, pastoral, fishing, or trading communities. In the 1700s in Segu, women brewed mead, cultivated crops, dyed textiles, and participated in the building of fortifications. In Masina in the 1800s, girls attended qurʾanic school, and a woman was the custodian of the caliph’s library. Women also suffered great violence stemming from conflicts, forced displacement, and slavery. By the end of the 19th century, they made up a considerable portion (at times the majority) of enslaved individuals in the region. After the European conquest and creation of the French Soudan colony, the French administration imposed an export-oriented wage economy, in which women worked to supply crops and sustain infrastructure projects. From the regions of Kayes, Kita, and Nioro, many migrated to groundnut- or gold-producing regions of Senegambia. While women’s labor and migrations were seldom accounted for in administrative records, their attempts to leave unhappy marriages or escape enslavement do appear in court records. However, colonial domination was gendered: the administration ultimately shunned women’s emancipation efforts, seeking to channel its rule by reinforcing patriarchal authority in communities. In 1960, the Republic of Mali achieved independence. Under the democratic and military governments that followed, women built pan-African and transnational alliances. In 1991 and beyond, they fought to achieve more rights, and greater political power and representation. Their labor and migrations have continued to sustain a large portion of the economy. Post-2011, they have been both active participants in, and victims of, the conflicts that have engulfed the country, suffering displacement, loss of livelihood, and sexual violence, for which many have yet to receive justice.