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Cartography in Colonial Africa  

Lindsay Frederick Braun

Cartography, which includes maps and plans as well as the processes and contexts of their production and use, played an important role in shaping colonial encounters in Africa. The early manuscript and print maps of the limited spaces of interaction, where Europeans expressed power prior to the 19th century, tended to be broadly representative of wide areas or focused closely on key locales, usually forts or coastal settlements. Until the late 18th century most tended to be imprecise and relational, with few clear markers of dominion or signs of administrative structures, and heavily dependent on local exchanges of knowledge. As with other European fields of scientific knowledge that intersected African spaces and places, however, cartography accelerated in importance and changed in character with the expansion of colonial rule and the emergence of modern bureaucracies from the late 19th century. Although manuscript maps never lost their importance to local administrators or their place in the collection of information, cheap lithography after about 1850 assured colonial governments a greater number of precise and elaborate representations than ever before, which created a variety of notional spaces and spatial notions for the deployment of colonial power. Into the 20th century, compilation mapping from variegated data continued to yield slowly—and incompletely—to even more precise survey-based maps that claimed to approach truly objective representational accuracy. This claim of accuracy in turn abetted a variety of new economic, social, and political schemes under colonial auspices. Overall, the relationship between cartography and colonialism was cyclical in that mapped processes framed colonial visions of African territory and spatiality and translated these illusions into instruments of power to advance those colonial designs on people, land, and resources. A lack of consideration for spatialities beyond the idealized model of planimetric positional representation or, thematically, colonial priorities and schemas of organization may be the most consistent characteristic of mapping in colonial Africa. At the same time, this cartography continued to depend on the knowledge of African informants or assistants and, ultimately, the work of locally trained professionals through political independence, which created spaces for interpretation, opposition, and coproduction that shaped the map output. The colonial relationship and colonial priorities thus framed cartography in African spaces throughout the era, although the discursive nature of mapping and its processual nature meant influences traveled in more than one direction, and the map was not simply a direct imposition.

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

HIV and AIDS in Africa  

Krista Johnson

Africa has the largest number of people living with HIV, with an estimated 25.7 million HIV-positive people in Africa by the end of 2018. This figure represents over two-thirds of infected people globally. African women and girls represent a majority of those infected, and Africa is home to three-fourths of all HIV-infected women and girls. Across African countries, there are differences in the sizes and trajectories of HIV epidemics. Southern Africa has the worst epidemic, with the numbers infected still rising in some countries. Prompting a development and governance crisis in many southern African countries, HIV prevalence rates are as high as 20 percent of the adult population in some countries and nearing 50 percent of the adult population in certain communities. East Africa too has been hit hard by HIV, leading to high mortality and morbidity rates in that region as well. In most of West and North Africa, there has been limited spread of HIV, with most countries in these regions having HIV prevalence rates of less than 3 percent. Africa’s encounter with HIV and AIDS began before it was first identified as a medical condition early in the 1980s. However, it was not recognized as an epidemic in most parts of Africa until much later. Framed largely as a public health crisis rather than a developmental one, much of the world’s focus on the AIDS pandemic in Africa has centered on access to treatment, and developing effective prevention strategies that have principally focused on behavior change practices for targeted populations. However, the HIV and AIDS pandemic in Africa did not emerge in a vacuum. It is the consequence of longer historical processes such as massive demographic growth, urbanization, and social change, as well as global inequalities and historical legacies of colonialism and imperialism. In this regard, a historical account of HIV in Africa offers an important corrective to the dominant biomedical response to AIDS in Africa. It is important to take note of longer historical processes that have shaped both the virus and the human response to it.

Article

Mass Media in North Africa: From Print to Digital  

Emilio Spadola

The emergence, spread, and transformation of media technologies in North Africa has attracted much attention over the past decade. Yet the disruptive effects of technological mass media have been a defining feature of North African modernity from the mid-19th century to the present. Classically distinguished from pre-modern oral and scribal transmissions by “technological reproducibility,” mass media offer capacities both for simultaneous collective address (i.e., broadcast), and for nearly limitless copying (i.e., reproduction) and re-transmission (i.e., sharing). As such, dramatic expansions in mass media, from print journals, or “the press,” to electronic broadcast media of radio and television, small media of audio and video cassettes, and Internet-based and mobile digital media, have sustained modern North African political movements and mass publics, from anticolonial nationalism to postcolonial nation-state building and the 21st-century Arab Spring. Any understanding of contemporary mass media, including digital media, in North Africa must consider how these current media movements reprise and transform earlier forms of political consciousness, community, and protest grounded in a century of new media.

Article

Money and Currency in African History  

Jane I. Guyer and Karin Pallaver

African peoples have managed multiple currencies, for all the classic four functions of money, for at least a thousand years: within each society’s own circuits, in regional exchange, and across the continent’s borders with the rest of the world. Given the materials of some of these currencies, and the general absence of formalized denominations until the colonial period, some early European accounts defined certain transactions as barter. The management of multiplicity is traced through four eras: a) the precolonial period, with some monies locally produced and acquired, and others imported through intercontinental trades, such as the Atlantic slave trade, and eventually under the expansion of capitalism to Africa; b) the colonial period, when precolonial monies, in some places, still circulated with official monies; c) postcolonial national monies for the new African states; and d) the most recent phase of multiplicity in use, due to migration and sales across borders as well as to the use of new technologies, such as mobile money. The management of multiplicity thereby has a long history and continues to be an inventive frontier. History and ethnography meet on common ground to address these dynamics through empirical study of money in practice, and broader scholarship has drawn on a large variety of original sources.

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

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

The Tangier American Legation Museum  

Diana Wylie

The Tangier American Legation Museum reflects the evolution of Moroccan–American relations over two centuries. Morocco, the first country to recognize the independence of the United States (1777), became the site of the first overseas American diplomatic mission in 1821 when the sultan gave the US government title to the museum’s current home—8 rue d’Amérique (zankat America)—in the old city of Tangier. The building went on to house the US consulate (1821–1905), legation (1905–1956), a State Department Foreign Service language school (1961–1970), and a Peace Corps training center (1970–1973), before becoming a museum dedicated to displaying art and artifacts about Morocco and Moroccan–American relations (1976). Despite the official story of the origin of the forty-one-room museum, its holdings and activities since the late 20th century derive more from unofficial American relationships with Morocco than from US government policy. The private actions of individual Americans and Moroccans, with some State Department support, led the museum to become in the late 20th century a research and cultural center serving academics and the broad public, including the people in its neighborhood (Beni Ider). In 1981 the US Department of the Interior put the Legation on the National Register of Historic Places, and in 1982 it became the only site outside the United States designated as a National Historic Landmark due to its past diplomatic and military significance, as well as to the building’s blend of Moroccan and Spanish architectural styles.

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 Precolonial Africa  

Christine Saidi

In precolonial Africa, relations between women and men were varied, changing, and culturally specific, yet there were some common themes. Most African societies attempted to attain forms of heterarchy, which meant they often created several centers of authority and aspired to establish communities where gender relations between women and men were equitable. Additionally, throughout history most Africans determined status by the amount of labor a group or individual could control, and in a historically underpopulated continent, this meant that motherhood and giving birth to children was very important. The result is that women, as both biological and social mothers and as grandmothers, were highly respected throughout the history of the continent. The earliest ancestors of modern humans originated in Africa, and so the history of women starts earlier in Africa than anywhere else, probably around 200,000 bce. Anthropologists of early humanity have proposed that the most successful human families in the earliest eras were based on family units that situated grandmothers at the center, a family structure found in many parts of Africa in the early 21st century. Around 5,500 years ago, a small group of Bantu-speaking people migrated from West Africa and over time populated large portions of Africa below the Sahara Desert. Heterarchy and gender equity were features of most Bantu-speaking societies. Their worldviews were manifested in the matrilineal social structure that most Bantu societies preferred until recent history. Even the earliest empires in Africa, Nubia and Egypt, were organized matrilineally. The West African Sahel empires from 700 ce were also matrilineal, and there is a long history of Muslim African female rulers. However, with the creation of empires and more centralized societies, hierarchy among some societies replaced heterarchy. This change motivated a shift in gender relations: Women from elite lineages maintained their status, while other women tended to lose their traditional positions of authority as mothers and elders within their clans. Overall, the Atlantic slave trade severely challenged heterarchical social relations and threatened women’s authority and status in West Africa. Another element of this period is the transference of African gender relations to the Americas. During the 19th century, as Europeans arrived in greater numbers, they imposed new gender ideologies as they began to structure how the rest of the world viewed Africans. From the so-called White Man’s Burden to Social Darwinism, new definitions of the Other placed African women at the bottom of this new social order. While women played key roles in the long term history of Africa, the Western analysis of African gender dynamics began to inform colonial policies, dominate world opinion, and shape academic research.

Article

Youth Activism in 21st-Century North Africa  

Christoph Schwarz

In the 21st century, North African societies have been counting with the largest cohorts of young people worldwide. These demographics, in combination with the highest youth unemployment rates worldwide, have been a cause for concern since the turn of the millenium. But in the respective debates in social research and among policy makers, the political subjectivities of young people themselves were rather overlooked. Instead, the situation of young people was often discussed either as a question of deficit—they were regarded as lethargic and apolitical and in need of help—or security—they were discussed as potential adherents of radical interpretations of Islam, as prone to political violence and as a threat to “stability.” However, in 2010 and 2011, mass protests initiated mostly by young people, starting in Tunisia and soon spreading to Egypt, Morocco, Libya, and, to a lesser extent, Algeria and Sudan, very quickly and effectively mobilized large swaths of the population and thus illustrated young people’s social agency, political relevance, and capacity for inclusive solidarity. To many observers, the events that were soon dubbed the “Arab Spring” came out of the blue and appeared as a sudden “generational awakening.” But the region-wide protests, and in particular the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt in 2011, not only mobilized people from all walks of life, they were also the result of at least a decade of persistent experimentation by young and not-so-young activists with different forms of collective action under extremely unfavorable conditions. Youth activism in 21st-century North Africa has been operating and strategizing under the constraints of authoritarianism, surveillance, and violent repression. Young people, particularly young women, have long been excluded from most institutional forms of politics. Against this backdrop, many political activists eschew the terms politics or the political, which they associate with corruption, manipulation, and illegitimate rule. Many other young people who appear at first sight “apolitical” have nevertheless engaged in different meaningful endeavors to improve everyday lives in their communities. Following a critical youth studies and youth cultures perspective, as well as a feminist perspective, young people’s activism can thus be analyzed along a spectrum that ranges from rather innocuous forms of everyday quiet encroachment, to public, but “apolitical” forms of mobilization, to highly committed and exposed social movement activism, as well as digitally networked forms of engagement and explicitly political demands for new forms of citizenship. A decade after the Arab Spring, and despite a “Second Wave of the Arab Spring” in Sudan and Algeria from 2018 to 2020, authoritarian rule has gained the upper hand in the region, even in Tunisia, the country that, for a long time, was considered “transitioning” to a representative democracy. Despite these setbacks, the experience that young people, as part of an organized citizenry, were able to oust long-ruling authoritarian presidents within a matter of a few weeks has arguably had an impact on political culture in the region. In the mid-2020s, their example continues to inspire youth activists in North Africa and elsewhere and will likely continue to pose a challenge to authoritarianism.