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Article

African Feminist Thought  

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

The Ahiara Declaration  

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

Amílcar Lopes Cabral, 1924–1973  

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

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

Eduardo Mondlane  

Livio Sansone

Eduardo Chivambo Mondlane (1920–1969) was one of the founders of the Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo) and its first president until his assassination. Generally considered one the “fathers” of independent Mozambique and the unifier of this young country, in recognition of that and his academic standing—he had a PhD in sociology—the main university of Mozambique is named after him. His singular, exciting, cosmopolitan, and engaged life has thus far attracted less international attention than could be expected, even though, over the last decade, also on account of his centennial in 2020, a growing national and international scholarship is developing around several facets of Mondlane’s biography. One aspect that is still relatively unexplored is his academic training and many years spent abroad studying in South Africa, Portugal, and the United States. His international training and showing how this had a profound impact on his performance as leader of Frelimo.

Article

The Ethiopian Red Terror  

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

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

Joshua Nkomo  

Eliakim Sibanda

Joshua Nkomo was a dominant force in the anticolonial independence movement in colonial Rhodesia between 1949 and 1980, and then a major political figure in independent Zimbabwe from 1980 until his death on July 1, 1999. Four historical themes emerge, however, themes that form the context of Nkomo’s life and work and that have intersected in the larger story of Zimbabwe’s independence. First is the politics of the state, which revolves around the question of state power and who controls it, and which has ethnicity as its subtext. Second is the struggle over property ownership, pitting the haves against the have-nots, which has informed class formation. Third is the politics of land, which has likewise informed the nature of class formation and political cleavages. Fourth is the theme of ethnicity and race, especially pitting one ethnicity or race against another. Nkomo rose from a railway welfare officer to lead a militant union, and then three political parties between 1957 and 1987. He made significant contributions to the downfall of a white supremacist colonial regime in Zimbabwe. After independence, the anticolonial revolutionary became a statesman who championed both reconciliation and social justice until his death in 1999. After independence, Nkomo, would become a Member of Parliament, Minister of Home Affairs, and rose eventually to be Vice-President of Zimbabwe.

Article

Newspapers as Sources for African History  

Emma Hunter

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

Obafemi Awolowo  

Insa Nolte

Obafemi Awolowo (full Yoruba name: Ọbafẹ́mi Jeremiah Oyèníyì Awólọ́wọ̀, b. 1909–d. 1987) was one of the most important statesmen and political thinkers of Nigeria in the 20th century. After losing his father at the age of ten, Awolowo worked as a teacher and journalist to complete his secondary education before moving into business. Following his marriage to Hannah Awolowo in 1937, he was able to mobilize the resources to travel to the United Kingdom, where he obtained a law degree in 1946. Confronted with ethnic rivalry during his early activism in the Nigerian Youth Movement, Awolowo developed a federalist vision for Nigeria. Building on his understanding of grassroots Yoruba politics, he mobilized Yoruba ethnicity and solidarity through the cultural organization Ẹgbẹ́ Ọmọ Odùduwà. Awolowo’s party, the Action Group, became the dominant Yoruba party in the 1950s, and Awolowo served as the first premier of the Western Region in 1954–1960, when he presided over an ambitious modernizing program. Reduced to the leadership of the opposition in 1960, Awolowo was subjected to a politically motivated trial in 1962 and imprisoned. The loss of his eldest son while in prison encouraged a turn toward the spiritual but also gained him widespread sympathy: after his release from prison in 1966, Awolowo was recognized as the leader of the pan-Yoruba politics, to the emergence of which he had contributed. As he also embraced a more distinctly socialist politics, many of his supporters also saw him as a potential reformer for Nigeria. However, as the vice chairman of the Federal Executive Council (1967–1970) and as federal commissioner for finance (1967–1971) during the Nigeria–Biafra War (Nigerian Civil War), Awolowo also attracted bitter criticism by eastern Nigerians, who held him responsible for the loss of human lives caused by the war. In 1979, Awolowo returned to party politics with more explicitly socialist policies but, having failed to win the presidency, resumed his role as the leader of the opposition. When another military coup ended the Second Republic in 1983, Awolowo retired from active politics. Following his death in 1987, Awolowo became a focal point of struggles within the Yoruba elite both over his succession and over the nature of Yoruba politics. In the process, he was posthumously ascribed virtues, agency, and powers beyond the historical record. However, in the context of a broader Nigerian politics, he was also seen as having larger-than-life negative qualities. His legacy continues to divide Nigerian public debate in the 21st century.

Article

Pan-Africanism  

Harry Odamtten

Pan-Africanism is an idea that calls for unity for all peoples of African heritage in order to overcome inequitable global systems, especially racial capitalism. However, defining Pan-Africanism requires a survey of definitions to delineate areas of historical consensus. Thus, this work makes a historical distinction between a prior period of Pan-African ideas and a subsequent Pan-African social movement era, dating from the 1900 Pan-African Conference in London. It also recognizes that Pan-Africanism is dynamic and not static; it evolves within various historical contingencies. Furthermore, a distinction between the canon of Pan-African ideas and the Pan-African social movement is paramount. Black intellectuals, such as Edward Blyden, were the producers of the series of ideas in the 19th century that would catapult Pan-Africanism into a worldwide social movement for global Black unity, racial equality, and legitimize African histories and cultures. Building on these forerunners were the leading lights of the social movements, Henry Sylvester Williams, W. E. B. Du Bois, Anna Julia Cooper, Marcus Garvey, Amy Ashwood Garvey, Amy Jaques Garvey, Paulette Nardal, Jane Nardal, George Padmore, and Kwame Nkrumah. The latter two are included in the pantheon for imbuing the Pan-African ideas and social activism of two prior generations. They were distinctive by their explication of Blyden’s 19th-century African Personality and adopting the symbolism of Garvey’s United Negro Improvement Association in the early 20th century and working with DuBois to organize the 5th Pan-African Congress in 1945. Finally, they also pushed for the Organization of African Unity’s (OAU) formation in 1963. In the aftermath of the seventh Pan-African Congress organized in Dar es Salaam, from 1974 to the end of the 20th century, Pan-Africanism reached its organizational nadir. Beset by neocolonialism, bad leadership, and the complex demands of nation-states in Africa, the movement struggled to maintain worldwide interest even as Pan-African activities and Black internationalist engagements proliferated in various regional enclaves including North and South America, as well as the Caribbean. In the 21st century, the exuberance of Muammar Gadhafi and the sentimental pragmatism of Thabo Mbeki rose to the fore. This new dynamism generated a restructuring of the OAU into the African Union, and the African diaspora became a region of the African continent. Beyond this, while belief in Pan-Africanism as a liberation tool remains, questions persist about African leaders’ agency and institutional frameworks for achieving Pan-African goals.

Article

Pepetela  

Alexandra Santos

Pepetela (b. 1941) is one of the most awarded Angolan writers and a successful creator of the myths and epics sustaining Angolan identity in the symbolic domain. He has played many roles throughout his life, from revolutionary socialism ideologist to guerrilla fighter, government member, university professor, and civic activist. Most notably, he is a prolific writer; his dozens of novels, chronicles, plays, and fables constitute an incomparable testimony to 20th-century Angola. His writing articulates a strong sociological awareness with a world vision that feeds on the ideological currents of nationalism and socialism. This surprising junction makes the basis for literary works in which the struggle for independence, the construction of the Angolan nation, the socialist revolution, and social analysis assume great relevance, as does the quest for the symbolic roots of national identity. Pepetela has been the most thorough explorer of Angolan historical sources and autochthonous myths, from which he assembled narratives that are considered foundational to the nation. His work is the object of numerous academic essays in several languages. Just as importantly, he is a favorite among readers worldwide.

Article

Philosophical Perspectives on the History of African Socialism  

Ajume H. Wingo

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 States and Societies in West Africa  

Ebenezer Obadare

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

Steve Biko and the Black Consciousness Movement  

Leslie Anne Hadfield

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 (Osman) dan Fodio (1754–1817): Life and Religious Philosophy  

Seyni Moumouni

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

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.