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Article

Aili Marie Tripp

While women were never fully equal to men in the political sphere, women in precolonial Africa governed kingdoms, established cities, launched military conquests, and founded states. Some governed as sole rulers often as queens, while others governed together with a king, as a mother or sister of the king. A third arrangement involved a tripartite sharing of power among the king, mother, and sister, and a fourth arrangement involved societies in which an age set or group of elders governed the society and in which women exerted either direct or indirect power. Women lost out in such arrangements, first, with the spread of Islam and Christianity and later with colonization. Women participated actively in nationalist movements, but their motivations sometimes differed from those of men, and were related, for example, to taxation and the desire to improve female education. After independence, women were further sidelined from political life with a few exceptions. It was not until the 1990s that we began to see the reemergence of women political leaders. This happened with the opening of political space, which allowed for the emergence of women’s organizations, coalitions, and movements that pressed for an increased political role for women. The decline of conflict after 2000 created greater stability that enhanced these trends. Pressures from the United Nations after 1995 and from foreign donors strengthened domestic actors pressing for women’s-rights reforms in the area of political representation.

Article

The Maghrebi tradition of historical literary production extends back to the early centuries of Islamic expansion and conquest in North Africa and comprises a rich corpus including dynastic chronicles (tarikh), biographies (tarajim), and hagiographies (manaqib/rijjal), and, since the 20th century, positivist national histories as well. While this tradition had evolved since its inception, 19th- and 20th-century Maghrebi historical production both influenced and was influenced by the extension of European military, economic, and political power into the Maghreb. Grappling with the legacies of colonialism, nationalism, and pan-Arabism, among others, Maghrebi historians continue to sow the rich terrain of historical literary production in the postcolonial period by absorbing, reacting to, and building upon new trends in the historical profession.

Article

The term “Zanzibar Revolution” refers to (1) the overthrow in January 1964 of the islands’ first postcolonial regime, barely a month after gaining independence from British rule; (2) a period of several weeks following the overthrow when Africans targeted islanders of mostly Arab heritage and identity for violence, plunder, and vengeance seeking; and (3) the years from 1964 through the 1970s, when Zanzibar’s revolutionary regime sought to level island society at the expense of Arabs and South Asians, whose numbers continued to dwindle, mostly through emigration, some of it coerced. While aided and advised by socialist experts from overseas, and inspired by socialist models such as China and the Soviet Union, the regime charted its own unique course, a course influenced by the revolutionaries’ own understanding of the role of race in island society. The Zanzibar Revolution was exceptional in several ways. Arguably, it was the most lethal outbreak of anti-Arab violence in Africa’s postcolonial history. It was also remarkable in the extent to which it attempted to bring an end to long-standing social and economic inequalities. Since the early-19th century, all the wealthiest and most privileged islanders were Arab or South Asian. Yet after a decade of revolutionary policies, they and their less well-off kinsmen were killed, forced into exile, or reduced to relative poverty. Thus, despite its modest size and population, Zanzibar produced one of sub-Saharan Africa’s only postcolonial revolutions. While scholars may disagree as to what constitutes a “revolution,” if that term refers to a situation in which one regime overthrows another, and then afterwards seeks to “turn society upside down,” then it is an accurate characterization of Zanzibar in the 1960s and 1970s.

Article

At the end of World War II, Britain and France tried to find new bases for the legitimacy of empire. Their hesitant moves created openings that African political movements exploited. Scholars have tried to capture the excitement of this process, first focusing on the drive to create nation-states, then exploring other possibilities, both regions within territorial states and federations among them. Historians have drawn on archives and interviews as well as a wide variety of texts produced by political movements. Although Africans had long conducted politics through both local idioms and pan-African connections, the postwar openings led political movements to focus on arenas where they could achieve results. In French Africa, this entailed a partially successful struggle for French citizenship, representation in both the French and territorial legislatures, and social and economic equality with other French citizens. Eventually the French government tried to diffuse claim-making by devolving internal autonomy to territorial governments. When Guinea obtained independence in 1958 and other African leaders differed over whether they should create a francophone African federation within a Franco-African confederation or participate as equals in a French federation, the movements shifted to seeking independence and a new relationship with France. Britain failed to get African politicians to focus on local governance. Instead, politicians demanded power in each colony. Meanwhile, Britain tried to appease African social movements with a program of economic development only to face escalating demands and heightened conflict. Although fearful of disorder and corruption, the government decided that the best it could hope for was to have attracted Africans to a British way of life and to achieve friendly relations with African governments that, led by Ghana, came into power.

Article

Throughout history, North Africa’s native Berber-speaking populations have been central to the mix of political, social, cultural, and linguistic attributes that rendered the region distinct. At the dawn of the 20th century, Berbers still constituted a substantial majority of sharifian Morocco’s population, and a significant minority of French Algeria’s Muslim populace; their numbers were smaller in Ottoman Libya and smaller still in France’s Tunisian protectorate. Nationalism began to spread in North Africa during the first decades of the 20th century. Each nationalist movement was shaped by a particular combination of factors; all of them, however, foregrounded the Arab and Islamic components of their collective identities, downplaying or ignoring the Berber ones. Berbers actively participated in the struggles for independence in both Algeria and Morocco, often in leadership roles. This pattern would continue during the decades after independence, even as both the Algerian and Moroccan states placed supreme value on the Arabization of the educational system, and of public life in general. The state’s overall view of Berber identity was that it should be consigned to the realm of folklore. However, even as the number of Berber speakers continued to decline, there arose a modern Berber (Amazigh) identity movement that demanded a reexamination of the underlying premises of their countries’ collective identities, one that would bring the Berber language and culture to center stage. It also demanded genuine amelioration of the dire conditions of poverty that characterized much of the rural Berber world. As ruling regimes struggled to maintain their legitimacy after a half century of independence, the Berber “question” now took on a new salience in North Africa’s increasingly contested political space.

Article

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

Article

Heike Becker

Women have had a significant role throughout Namibian history. Prior to colonization men were generally dominant, but certain women of high rank attained powerful positions. Namibian societies and politics became thoroughly gendered during the German and South African colonial periods. After independence the postcolonial Namibian state drew on the intensive involvement of women in the liberation struggle and adopted a legal framework and policies that emphasized gender equality. Nonetheless, little real improvement has been achieved for the majority of women in postcolonial Namibia. The country’s high level of social inequality continues to be profoundly gendered. Namibia’s independence in 1990 followed prolonged colonial rule by South Africa, which ruled the country, named “South West Africa,” as a de facto fifth province. Post–World War II South Africa retained the full range of apartheid legislation and policy in Namibia until about 1980, when the apartheid state’s colony became a laboratory for social engineering geared toward limited change. Namibia was divided into two distinct zones in 1907 and throughout the South African colonial period. Southern and central Namibia were governed similar to South Africa and the northern regions experienced colonial rule more akin to the British doctrine of indirect rule. Both colonial projects were profoundly gendered. Thus anticolonial resistance was both varied and gendered, including its defiance of apartheid.

Article

While the single most consequential event in Africa during the 19th century was European colonization of the continent, most of the century was characterized by tremendous growth and innovation in African political and economic institutions, as well as the expansion of literacy and the development of enduring intellectual traditions. Many African societies were making strides toward the creation of new self-governing nations over the course of the 19th century, as the ending of the transatlantic slave trade made way for the development of new industries and commercial systems. Large powerful states governed in numerous places across the continent, including the Sokoto and Tukulor Empires, Asante, Dahomey, Egypt, Buganda, Bunyoro, and Ethiopia. Many African states had powerful armies and distinct political identities. The emergence of modernities in 19th-century Africa also came in the form of religious change. This era saw the expansion of Islam in rural areas of western, northern, and eastern Africa, accompanied by the rapid growth of Islamic education and literacy. At the same time, Christian mission societies facilitated the establishment of mission schools and colleges based on European institutions of higher education. The new class of mission-educated African elites included teachers, clergymen, doctors, civil servants, law clerks, journalists, private entrepreneurs, and academics. These individuals, mostly men, had a profound influence on African visions of modern nationhood, particularly in West and Southern Africa. In many ways, Africa was becoming modern in the decades prior to the European conquests of the late 19th century. For the purposes of this article, “modernity” refers to the cultural and social revolution that accompanied the rise of industrial capitalism and included an expansive universalism. The development of modernity in Africa and elsewhere was linked to the new age of science, economics, realism, rationalism, and humanism dawning toward the end of the 18th and start of the 19th century. In particular, the newly founded colonies of Sierra Leone and Liberia became centers for the diffusion of African-American cultural influence, as liberated former slaves and their descendants from the British Empire, the United States, maroon communities, and captured slave ships settled there. In order to appreciate the 19th-century development of African modernity, it is important to remember, as A. Adu Boahen once explained, that European colonization of the African continent occurred suddenly and unpredictably. As late as 1880, there was little indication that European nations intended to dramatically alter the map of Africa by force. Most African states and societies were entirely autonomous and controlled by their own rulers. The unexpected European conquest of African territories at the end of the 19th century thwarted much of the progress Africans had made throughout that century and arguably reversed key processes of modernization. And while colonial regimes also introduced new modernities into Africa, these were mainly destructive and exploitative in nature.

Article

The workings of modern empire can better be viewed through the lens of gender because gendered hierarchies illuminate broad, intersecting aspects of the colonial project. Community, kinship, household economies, religion, education, sexuality, social engineering, nationalism, and transnational reform movements were all inflected by imperial patriarchy in various guises. This perspective is especially rich for “French” North Africa (Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco) from 1830 until 1962 since the region and its peoples were subjected to intense forms of “European” settler colonialism. From the start, the “woman question” assumed particularly fraught and contentious dimensions whose repercussions can be detected even today. Nevertheless, colonial North Africa did not represent a self-enclosed container. Transimperial and global processes shaped the sociopolitical terrain, and in turn. Policies, practices, and resistance in the Maghrib exerted a powerful torque far beyond its limits. Key to understanding women, gender, and settler colonialism is the state of the “archive,” the sprawling corpus of records, writings, words, things, and images left in an empire’s wake. The voices of women, children, and “ordinary” people, those labeled “the colonized,” have until recently been missing in conventional narratives. As Antoinette Burton observed, the archives themselves structure “the conceptual frameworks of women’s and gender history.” In the imperial historical context, the task of recuperating and restoring lost voices is all the more problematic, yet urgent. One might also add that the fundamental question is “whether ‘women’ is a category at all.”

Article

Popular politics have influenced the development of East Africa’s political institutions from roughly two millennia ago up to contemporary times. Among the discernible political dynamics over this time period were pressures to include or exclude peoples from key institutions of belonging, the decisive role of patron–client relationships across all political institutions, the role of generational conflict, the source of political authority based on command of the visible and invisible worlds, and the changing role of indigeneity and “first-comer” status claims. These dynamics can all be found at work in the development of conventional political structures that span this time frame—that is, from the small chieftaincies and kingdoms of the precolonial era; to cults of public healing and medicine making; to engagement with European colonial institutions and the 20th-century creation of “traditional” indigenous authorities; to the growth of associational life that led to political parties, one-party states, and their postliberalization successors. Yet there was also tremendous diversity of these experiences across East Africa, which goes some way toward explaining the differences not only among the region’s contemporary nation-states but even within those nation-states. Popular pressures for inclusion either resulted in the expansion of existing political institutions or created demands for new institutions that directly challenged the exclusionary and often brittle existing political structures.

Article

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

Jeremy Ball

Angola’s contemporary political boundaries resulted from 20th-century colonialism. The roots of Angola, however, reach far into the past. When Portuguese caravels arrived in the Congo River estuary in the late 15th century, independent African polities dotted this vast region. Some people lived in populous, hierarchical states such as the Kingdom of Kongo, but most lived in smaller political entities centered on lineage-village settlements. The Portuguese colony of Angola grew out of a settlement established at Luanda Bay in 1576. From its inception, Portuguese Angola existed to profit from the transatlantic slave trade, which became the colony’s economic foundation for the next three centuries. A Luso-African population and a creole culture developed in the colonial nuclei of Luanda and Benguela (founded 1617). The expansion of the colonial state into the interior occurred intermittently until the end of the 19th century, when Portuguese authorities initiated a series of wars of conquest that lasted up until the end of the First World War. During the 20th century, the colonial state consolidated military control over the whole territory, instituted an infrastructure of administration, and developed an economy of resource extraction. A nationalist sentiment developed among Luso-African thinkers in the early 20th century, and by the 1950s these ideas coalesced into a nationalist movement aimed at independence. Simultaneously, anticolonial movements developed among mission-educated elites in the Kikongo-speaking north and in the Umbundu-speaking central highlands. Portugal’s authoritarian New State leaders brutally suppressed these disparate nationalist movements during more than a decade of guerrilla war. A revolution in Portugal in 1974 ushered in negotiations leading to Angolan independence on November 11, 1975. Competing nationalist movements, bolstered by foreign intervention, refused to share governance and as a result plunged Angola into a brutal civil war that lasted until 2002.

Article

Nomusa Makhubu

The intersecting histories of African women artists are often found in three historical categories: traditional/classical, modern, and contemporary. As historical categories they mark the transitions in conceptualizations of gender, race, and class. Treated as a linear progression of history, these categories may, on the one hand, be useful in understanding the radical impact of imperialism and colonialism on African societies and specifically African women and their creative practices. On the other hand, however, they obscure the intricacies of intertwined creative practice, separating urban and cosmopolitan art forms from rural, localized ones, drawing more attention to art that circulates in market-driven international exhibitions, making it harder to comprehend and account for nuanced historical narratives of African women artists. Furthermore, the hangover of hypermasculine colonial bureaucratic structures not only displaced African histories but more specifically silenced gendered perspectives on art and creative practice in general. The modern African nation, though liberated, confined women to colonially constructed gendered spaces. However, through nationalist ideologies the figure of the woman—or at least as male artists generally portrayed her—came to symbolize rebirth and the rising nation. This artistic rendition of women did not materialize into the formal recognition of the work of women artists, making it possible to declare that “African women artists remain unknown to the Western world,” as art historian Freida Tesfagiorgis states. This is affirmed by the sparse literature on African women artists and analyses of their work. There are more resources about internationally recognized contemporary women artists than there are about modern women artists or women whose work has been foundational in the so-defined traditional category. These categories, then, are indicative not only of the gaps in art history but also of the incongruent methodological approaches to how that gendered history is constructed. In this article, these categories are used loosely to reflect on gender and creative practice in Africa.

Article

The first sub-Saharan colony to obtain independence in 1957, Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana offered shelter and aid to liberation movements from all over the continent. Between 1957 and 1966, hundreds of political activists, refugees, and leaders were hosted in the country. The Ghanaian government offered them financial and political assistance and also provided military training for those involved in armed struggles. As one of the key figures of pan-Africanism, Kwame Nkrumah (1909–1972) actively campaigned for African unity while supporting the independence struggles of African liberation movements. A crucial goal for Nkrumah’s government was to influence African nationalist parties ideologically in order to create a coalition of pan-Africanist movements through which to give birth to the United States of Africa. This political work served to spread Nkrumaism, the ideology crafted by Nkrumah with the aid of the Trinidadian pan-Africanist George Padmore (1903–1959), from Ghana to the rest of the continent. Nkrumah considered the assistance to Southern African liberation movements crucial, especially when, after 1960, the front of African liberation shifted increasingly toward the south. Activists and political refugees from Angola, Mozambique, Nyasaland (Malawi), Northern Rhodesia (Zambia), Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), Swaziland (eSwatini), Basutoland (Lesotho), Bechuanaland (Botswana), South West Africa (Namibia), and South Africa visited and resided in Ghana between 1957 and 1966, using Accra as one of their headquarters for their independence struggles. There, many liberation movements could intermingle, create synergies, exchange ideas, and absorb the knowledge that Ghana could offer. The impact of Nkrumah’s influence was often profound and, even if no liberation movement defined itself as Nkrumaist, many adopted and adapted solutions taken from Nkrumah’s Ghana.

Article

Fadma Ait Mous, Kmar Bendana, and Natalya Vince

The 20th century witnessed the emergence of individual women as political actors, women as a category of political and social actors, and women (or “the woman question”) as a theme for political action across North Africa. This history is both intertwined with, and for a long time has been overshadowed by, that of colonialism, nationalism, and postcolonial state-building. Without being linear or homogeneous, the stages and processes of making women visible and extending women’s rights have been similar across Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria: increasing access to education, the emergence of pioneering female “models,” the mobilization of women as a group in the anti-colonial struggle, postcolonial state feminism and then a shift towards women speaking, writing and organizing themselves as women. Specificities of Tunisian, Algerian and Moroccan history have also given rise to distinctive features in the history of women and the writing of the history of women in each country. These include the long history of male feminist thought expressed in Arabic in Tunisia, the mass participation of women in armed struggle in Algeria, and the reformist feminism, based on women reinterpreting religious sources and history, which originated in Morocco.

Article

Nationalism in Mozambique was characterized by a plurality of leaders who competed for influence both within and outside the Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (FRELIMO). Each of them tried to gain political support at a continental and international level, and, eventually, the leadership that rose to power within FRELIMO by the end of the 1960s and early 1970s prevailed over other components of Mozambican nationalism both on the field of the liberation war and at the diplomatic level. This leadership was highly cosmopolitan and implemented a vibrant diplomacy within the mechanisms of the Cold War worldwide. FRELIMO was supported by newly independent African governments that were active in promoting the independence of African people in countries still under colonial rule (e.g., Tanzania, Algeria, Zambia), and then by governments from the Eastern bloc of the Cold War as well as by solidarity committees in the West (e.g., United States, Sweden and Nordic countries, United Kingdom, Italy). Within these contexts, FRELIMO secured a key political legitimacy as the genuine liberation movement of Mozambique, joined by other movements of the Portuguese colonies, South Africa, Namibia, and Southern Rhodesia—and opposed by a rival group of liberation movements from those countries. This status was also recognized among such important international organizations as Conferência das Organizações Nacionalistas das Colónias Portuguesas (CONCP), Afro-Asian People’s Solidarity Organisation (AAPSO), World Peace Council (WPC), Organisation of African Unity (OAU), and, eventually, the UN. Probably, the networks of solidarity with FRELIMO that developed in the West played a key role in the defeat of the Portuguese regime and in establishing the independence of Mozambique, since a number of Western European countries were formally allied with Portugal within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance.

Article

Biographical portrayals of Mandela have been strongly influenced by his own self-representations, beginning with his trial testimonies in 1962 and 1964. Authorized narratives about his life that were consolidated during the 1990s reflected Mandela’s political priorities at that time. In the unitary subject that these stories project—in the “unchanging man” whose story they told—their protagonist is a patrician-born aristocrat whose values and codes of behavior are shaped by his upbringing in the culture of a royal court. In important respects, though, this understanding of Mandela is at odds with earlier treatments of his life for which he had been a willing collaborator. Several of the biographical interpretations written in the early 21st-century draw upon archival evidence and prompt serious revisions of established or conventional understandings of Mandela’s life, particularly in terms of the validity of biographical investigations that emphasize consistency and order. Questions persist in the early 21st century as to whether Mandela’s experiences as a political prisoner and his role in constitutional negotiations will be subjected to such archive-based research, and whether the final stages of his public life will undergo an assessment.

Article

Hilary Jones

The idea of race shaped the encounter between Africa and Europe from the “age of discovery,” through the height of colonial rule in the 20th century, and on into the age of independence, decolonization and the birth of the postcolonial nation. Race, understood today as a social construct rather than a biological fact, emerged as an ideological framework in Western thought to rationalize difference. In the 16th and 17th centuries, religion and color stood as markers of difference. The Atlantic slave trade furthered the notion of African inferiority by defining African people as “heathen” and therefore suitable for enslavement. By the 19th century, scientific racism advanced the idea of blackness as biologically and culturally inferior to whiteness, which in turn served to justify colonial conquest under the guise of “civilizing dark Africa.” Colonial rule, moreover, relied on ethnicity as a means of categorizing African peoples. Using the idea of “tribe” to characterize and govern African peoples furthered the objectives of European imperialism by taking a complex landscape of social, cultural, political, and linguistic identity and establishing a rigid and fixed system of classification. African women stood at the intersection of racialist thinking about Africa and the construction of a colonial social order that used race and ethnicity as means of defining and controlling African populations. Women like Sara Baartman became the symbolic projection of racial and ethnic difference for Europe; at the same time, customary marriages between African women and European men in Atlantic Africa defined cross-cultural trade and gave rise to multiracial communities. As European imperialism gave way to colonial bureaucracy, the fluidity of interracial unions gave way to policies that sought to police the boundaries between black and white in the colony; children of mixed racial ancestry did not fit neatly into the ethnic or racial categories erected by colonial regimes. Far from being passive receptacles of racial and ethnic thinking, African men and women used these categories of European knowledge as tools for their own purposes. African women, in particular, developed their own strategies for engaging with European merchants and officials in the age of encounter, and for navigating the evolving landscape of colonial rule, whether defying colonial boundaries by entering into intimate partnerships with European men, or rejecting European suitors.

Article

Amina Mama

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