In the 21st century, scholars of North Africa—known as the “Maghreb”—have focused on predicting variation in the political fortunes of Islamist political parties and social movements, some of the most potent opposition forces to the region’s authoritarian regimes. Less researched, however, are the region’s leftist political parties and social movements. Historically, such socialist or socialist-inspired groups have also played a key role in the Maghreb’s domestic politics since decolonization. They often have similar origins in the anticolonial struggle, social constituencies of support, and understandings of conflict in society. They diverge, however, in their relationship to political power: Whereas in Tunisia and Algeria the leaders of socialist-inspired political parties became autocrats, the leaders of such parties in Morocco and Mauritania remained oppositionists. Over time, nearly all traditional socialist parties of the Maghreb have declined in political influence and popularity, becoming either sclerotic ruling parties or co-opted and weak opposition parties. The traditional leftist parties’ waning influence has opened space for the emergence of new, more confrontational leftist groups from civil society. While some of these splinter leftist groups emphasize traditional socialist material concerns (e.g., economic inequality, class relations, and unemployment), others stress nonmaterial issues, like the human rights of political, ethnic, and sexual minorities. Splintering the Maghreb’s leftists in this way has created a colorful mosaic of groups that have taken up a diverse variety of progressive causes in contemporary politics.
Marxists of the Maghreb: Leftist Parties and Movements of North Africa
Matt Buehler and Matthew R. Jones
Women and Politics in Africa
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.
Oral history tells of an indigenous trader who lived in the middle belts of the River Gambia known as Kambi. His wealth and popularity transcended boundaries, villages, and communities from the interior of western Africa to the Atlantic Ocean. When the Portuguese arrived in the region during the first half of the 15th century, they immediately realized that Kambi wielded economic and social authority because of the frequent movements of traders up and down the river. The traders told the Portuguese that they visited Kambi-yaa (or Kambi’s place in Mandinka) in order to trade, and the Portuguese decided to name the region Gambia. Whether the above oral narrative is accurate is not of great concern. What is important is that the account provides a glimpse of the history of the region and the changes that were already under way by the 15th century. It is evident that the ancestors of present-day Gambians had arrived in waves, or series of migrations, and were fully established on both banks of the Gambia River when Portuguese explorers first arrived in the 15th century. The Portuguese reported having found Mandinka kings on the river who claimed to be vassals of the king of “Melle.” In 1620, Richard Jobson also reported that the Mandingo were the “lords and commanders” of all the Gambia. These early 15th century contacts, led to a continuous Europeans’ presence in the River Gambia that still persist. By 1816, Bathurst was established as the new capital of the Gambia but it was not until nearly 100 years later that the entire territory we now know as Gambia came firmly under British influence. British rule lasted until 1965, when a new era of self-rule began. The country has since witnessed three republics, the first ending in 1994, the second in 2016, and the third still existing as of 2018.
Women and Islam
African women’s experiences of Islam reveal the rich and layered ways in which belief has shaped not only the deeply personal relationship to God but also broader political, social, economic, and cultural processes. History in Africa shows examples of pious Muslim women who have made notable contributions through their activities to profess their own faith and strengthen believers and practices within their communities over many centuries. As with all historical actors, women who were literate, in prominent positions, and had power over others tend to be more legible in the African past. Even as Muslim African women have had considerable agency in some spheres in different parts of the continent, the “question of women”—what they do in public and private lives and what power they have in society—has also raised considerable debate and tension in Muslim communities and their relationships with non-Muslims, including but not only with the West. The nature of relations between women and men and the roles of women in public and private spheres, education and opportunity, entertainment and leisure, marriage, sexuality, and love have all been matters of negotiation for Muslims. The tendency to view Islam, women, and gender in terms of “tradition versus modernity” or “orthodoxy versus heterodoxy” was common among European observers of Islam in Africa, often on a presumed comparative basis to the Middle East. Some African Muslims too have engaged in such comparisons, often in the name of reforms of religious practices. Yet such comparisons have never erased the importance of indigenous, local, and regional women’s and gender dynamics. The impossibility of generalizing Islam or even “women,” which is not a singular category, destabilizes simplistic overarching narratives that overstate neat patterns and obscure the meanings of complicated lived experiences of religious belief and practice.
Women in Ugandan Politics and History: Collective Biography
Aili Mari Tripp
In the precolonial era, certain women played key governance roles, for example, the queen’s sister and the king’s mother in Buganda, the largest of Uganda’s four kingdoms. At one time they had as much power as the king in Buganda. However, women’s authority declined in Buganda in the 1700s and 1800s with the rise of the hereditary chiefs (batongole) and the demise of the influence of the clans. The coming of the British further undermined their roles. While on the one hand, British colonial engagement with local authorities privileged men, colonial education gave rise to Ugandan women’s leadership in local and national organizations, which provided women with a venue for political mobilization. The first women were appointed to the legislature at the end of British rule in 1954; all of them were British. As a result of pressure from women’s organizations, African women were soon thereafter appointed to the legislature starting in 1956. The number of women in political office remained low until the takeover of President Yoweri Museveni in 1986, when Uganda became a leader in Africa in advancing women in positions in the legislature and executive. The Museveni government’s adoption of reserved seats for women at all levels from local councils to the parliament in 1989 ensured that at least one-third of seats were held by women. The increase in numbers of women in parliament had some impact on the adoption of women’s rights legislation; however, ultimately women remained constrained by patronage and the undemocratic nature of the political system in Uganda.
Women in Uganda
Alicia C. Decker
Women in Uganda have had a complex relationship with the state. During the precolonial period, there were two main types of political organization: kingdom states and “nonstate” segmentary societies. Most women in kingdom states were left out of the patron–client relationship system and accessed resources through their husbands, brothers, and sons. A small number of royal women, particularly within Buganda, had significant political power. Less is known about women in precolonial segmentary societies because of the relative lack of sources. In the mid-19th century, long-distance traders arrived in Buganda, bringing Islam and a heightened demand for slaves. The state treated enslaved women as commodities that could be sold or traded at any time. When European explorers and missionaries arrived shortly thereafter, they brought Christianity, as well as their own ideas about gender, many of which limited women’s power. After the British declared a protectorate over Uganda in 1894, missionaries worked closely with the new colonial government to educate women for domesticity. Daughters of the elite learned to become helpmates to their future husbands, who, in turn, were the functionaries of indirect rule. The colonial period also saw the advent of the club movement, which trained women to be good wives and mothers. After World War II, women’s clubs became increasingly political. Through the Uganda Council of Women, members learned to influence public opinion and government policies. However, very few women participated in formal politics at this time. After Uganda gained independence in 1962, women’s issues became increasingly central to the state. Nonetheless, activists struggled for autonomy in a political landscape that was chaotic and increasingly authoritarian. The militarization of the state, coupled with frequent and unpredictable regime changes, made women’s lives more difficult. Although more women have been elected to office and appointed to cabinet-level positions in the early 21st century, civil war and political instability have presented numerous challenges to women and their livelihoods.
The Politics of Decolonization in French and British West Africa
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.
Youth in South Africa’s Bantustans
During the second half of the 20th century, South Africa was both literally and figuratively divided by the apartheid state’s “homeland” policy, which created ten ethnic reserves scattered across the country. These reserves, termed “homelands” by the state but renamed “Bantustans” by those critical of the racial balkanization of South Africa, were designed to segregate the country’s black population in rural areas. Reserves were founded on the basis of ethnonationalist ideals and in some cases were granted a form of quasi-independence, as a way to displace black South Africans’ claims to citizenship of the Republic of South Africa onto the Bantustans. Between the 1960s and 1990s these spaces played an integral role in South Africa’s own history; they were particularly influential for young people who came of age and were educated in Bantustan institutions. Circulation between cities and the Bantustans was a common feature of life in late-20th-century South Africa, and it was a key component of political mobilization. After the end of political apartheid and into the 21st century, Bantustans have continued to shape the lives of some young South Africans, even though they no longer formally exist.
Women in Fashion and Textiles
MacKenzie Moon Ryan
Women have long played a large role in the production and consumption of fashion and textiles in Africa. Women spin, weave, dye, embroider, and otherwise create textiles using specific technologies. They also adorn themselves in jewelry, beadwork, and headwear; some also choose to veil. Women serve as designers and seamstresses to tailor clothing from textiles, and the dominant buyers and sellers of textiles are women. As such, textiles and clothing play a defining role in women’s wealth. Textiles often feature prominently at momentous occasions throughout the lives of women, for example at adolescent rites, engagement and marriage, births of children, and as burial shrouds. Women use dress practices—including wrapped textiles, tailored clothing, and personal adornment—to display aspects of their identities. Research has explored women’s varied roles related to textiles and fashion in Africa since the late 19th century. Women in the colonial era used their clothing choices to take advantage of new opportunities and contest long-standing and newly introduced strictures. During the independence era, struggles for freedom and nationalism informed clothing practices. A rise of women fashion designers in the mid-20th century paved the way for contemporary proliferations in both everyday and high fashion apparel. From accessible secondhand clothing to exclusive runway collections, African women in the 21st century continue to innovate in dress practices, which demonstrates African women’s creativity and dedication to style at all social strata. Therefore, how women in Africa have dressed themselves in fashion and textiles illuminate women’s agency.
Women in Zambia
The history of women in Zambia is dynamic, complex, and varied. In the precolonial period, women held a range of influential positions in society. Through agricultural production, pottery, ritual, and healing, they performed valued tasks complementary to those of men. Descent was most commonly traced matrilineally, affording a woman’s lineage much power over labor, offspring, land, and wealth. The colonial period changed the position of women profoundly. Christianity and colonial policies advocated for an ideal of a nuclear family with a male breadwinner. Concomitantly, commercialization and labor migration made women’s positions more precarious. In rural areas, women struggled to prepare fields because of the absence of men’s labor, whereas in urban areas women were officially only allowed residence as “wives” of male workers. Yet a story of increasing female marginalization and subordination would be far from complete. Moreover, such a narrative obscures everyday gendered contestations. Some women in the colonial and postcolonial periods made a profitable livelihood by selling crops; others moved to town and engaged in trade or brewed beer. Such activities became particularly significant in the wake of economic decline during the 1980s and 1990s. The HIV/AIDS pandemic all too often made women the heads of their households. The history of women in Zambia is, thus, far from singular. Studying its variety reveals Zambian women’s agency and power, even in conditions not of their own choosing.
Women, Power, and the State in Guinea
Women’s involvement in the processes of state formation is marked by a strong ambivalence in Guinea: female political mobilizations appear as an indispensable advantage for state power when they are deployed in support of it, but these mobilizations can likewise disrupt and generate major problems for the state when they are directed against it. The efficacy of female political involvement is closely linked to the historiography of relationships between women and the state in Guinea, a country that helped construct an image of female activism outside of areas considered to be exclusively political, and as a guarantor of social justice. During the colonial period, as was the case for many other countries under French colonial rule, the influence of women was restricted to the domestic sphere: once households ceased to constitute a political resource for the colonial regimes (in contrast to the precolonial era), the influence that women were able to wield within, for example, matrimonial alliances was considerably reduced. Yet, women played a highly important role in nationalist conflicts and under the regime of Sékou Touré, who served as Guinea’s first president from 1958 to 1984. Presented as the “women’s man,” Touré sought high integration of women into his political party, based on structures inspired by the Soviet socialist model. This was a Guinean political originality. In this context, even though women were given official prominence, their demands nonetheless drew on conservative models that relied on a politicization of the maternal figure. Yet the domestic and apolitical character of female mobilization still lends it a spontaneous efficacy in a context in which laws supporting women are seldom enforced and in which the situation seems to have become increasingly precarious for women due to male emigration and inequalities in property rights.
Women in Ethiopia
Meron Zeleke Eresso
There are number of Ethiopian women from different historical epochs known for their military prowess or diplomatic skills, renowned as religious figures, and more. Some played a significant role in fighting against the predominant patriarchal value system, including Ye Kake Yewerdewt in the early 19th century. Born in Gurage Zone, she advocated for women’s rights and condemned many of the common cultural values and practices in her community, such as polygamy, exclusive property inheritance rights for male children and male family members, and the practice of arranged and forced marriage. Among the Arsi Oromo, women have been actively engaged in sociojudicial decision-making processes, as the case of the Sinqee institution, a women-led customary institution for dispute resolution, shows. This reflects the leading role and status women enjoyed in traditional Arsi Oromo society, both within the family and in the wider community. In Harar, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in eastern Ethiopia, female Muslim scholars have played a significant role in teaching and handing down Islamic learning. One such religious figure was the Harari scholar Ay Amatullāh (1851–1893). Another prominent female religious figure from Arsi area, Sittī Momina (d. 1929), was known for her spiritual practices and healing powers. A shrine in eastern Ethiopia dedicated to Sittī Momina is visited by Muslim and Christian pilgrims from across the country. Despite the significant and multifaceted role played by women in the Ethiopian community, however, there is a paucity of data illustrating the place women had and have in Ethiopia’s cultural and historical milieu.
Renamo and Mozambique
The history of independent Mozambique is a history of war and peace, and it is closely intertwined with the history of the main opposition movement Renamo (Resistência Nacional Moçambicana), which formed as an armed movement and transitioned into a political party. Mozambique gained independence from Portuguese colonial rule in 1975 after a ten-year liberation struggle. The main liberation movement Frelimo (Frente de Libertação de Moçambique) became the ruling party and introduced far-reaching social, economic, and political reforms. These reforms generated discontent, which contributed to the formation of opposition movements in the center of the country. From the late 1970s onwards, an armed movement, later known as Renamo, gained ground in central Mozambique and fought a guerrilla war against the Mozambican government. Renamo received support from Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe) and apartheid South Africa who sought to undermine Frelimo aid to liberation movements in their respective countries. It was only in 1992 that Renamo and Frelimo reached a settlement with the help of international mediators, with a path to multiparty elections in 1994. Since then, Renamo has participated in elections as a political party but has never won a majority in parliament nor was it able to claim the presidency. Political conflict between Frelimo and Renamo has never subsided, with Renamo regularly protesting election results and alleging fraud. Tensions escalated in 2013 and led to low-level conflict in the central region. A ceasefire agreement in 2014 and a unilateral truce by Renamo in December 2016 ended that conflict, but a peace accord was only struck after Afonso Dhlakama—president of Renamo—died of natural causes in 2018. Since then, tensions have remained due to armed activity by a Renamo breakaway movement and a slow demobilization process, and peace remains precarious. Renamo’s transition from an armed movement into a political movement, similarly to Mozambique’s transition from war to peace, has not yet fully materialized.
Nationalism and Decolonization in the Ivory Coast
The postcolonial history of Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire) is marked by a continuum of policy-making inherited from the colonial administration and which contributed to the state’s stability and relative economic success in the 1970s in West Africa. However, government policy fluctuated in accordance with economic crises, demands for democracy, and ethnic division. Although laws aimed at normative governance, ethnic-based policy-making has been expanded to post-independence because political power in Ivorian society is still determined by ethnic loyalty. Economic distress intertwined with political ethnicity has persistently led to turmoil, from coups d’état to rebellion and civil war—in sharp contrast with the country’s earlier apparent stability, for thirty years after Independence.
Women in Comoros
The inhabitants of the Comoros archipelago, situated between the East African coast and the island of Madagascar, are Muslim and at the same time follow a matrilocal residence rule and, in two of the four islands, a matrilineal descent rule. This has consequences for women’s place in society, though their status and power varies according to their age and place in the social hierarchy, and with the political context. This article draws on three examples taken from specific island contexts to illustrate forms of agency accessible to the Comorian women. It shows how, having previously been invisible in political life, women played a leading role in Maore Island to escape the domination of the other islands’ elite by choosing to remain a French territory. It analyzes the way ceremonial exchanges in Ngazidja Island give elder and younger sisters different opportunities and place different constraints upon them in terms of how they behave and lead their lives. Finally, it shows the unexpected impact of an international program addressing Ndzuwani women on their empowerment in a patriarchal social context.
Women in Postcolonial Africa
As scholars of Africa continue to challenge the place and role of Africa in world history, shedding light on women as valid historical actors in postcolonial Africa within the last three decades remains an ongoing and much-needed endeavor. African women in the past and the present have used their position as breadwinners, mothers, and community leaders to influence their social, economic, and political worlds and to assert their power. In the 21st century, they have become known especially for their success as formidable politicians and peace activists. Even in the age of cyberactivism, women in postcolonial Africa have demonstrated their ability to mobilize across ethno-linguistic lines to effect change in their societies. It is important to move beyond the male-centric perspectives on Africa by highlighting not only the diverse experiences of women in the post-independence era but to also underscore the fundamental roles they continue to play in defining and redefining the postcolonial political economies, and their place in them.
The Groundnut Scheme and Colonial Development in Tanganyika
The East African Groundnut Scheme (EAGS) in Tanganyika stands among the most dramatic examples of failure of British late colonial developmentalism and imperialism. Frantically planned and launched in Tanganyika in 1946, the EAGS was the most colossal attempt in the history of colonialism to apply modern technology and mechanization to farming in Africa. Aiming to cover over 3.5 million acres of land—an area the size of the state of Connecticut in the United States, or of Yorkshire in the United Kingdom—the EAGS envisaged the annual production of six hundred thousand tons of peanuts by its fifth year of operation, and eight hundred thousand tons annually once at full capacity. A new port, new railway lines, and new roads were built as part of it. Such large-scale production of groundnuts, and of the vegetable oil that could be derived from them, had two strategic goals. First, it aimed to address the increasing shortage of oil rations affecting British households post-World War II (WWII). Second, through the export of surplus groundnuts and/or oil, and a scheduled annual saving of £10 million to the British government’s bill for food imports, the EAGS was meant to play a key role in repaying the $3.5 billion debt that the United Kingdom accrued to the United States after the war. However, in stark contrast with its grandiose goals, when the EAGS was abandoned, in 1952, it had imported more groundnuts as seed than what it actually harvested, and £36 million of British taxpayer money had been spent for the undertaking. A series of shortcomings, all rooted in the inadequacy of the planning of the EAGS and the lack of a pilot phase, brought about the demise of the scheme following its dramatic failure to meet its goals.
Ângela Sofia Benoliel Coutinho
Born in Bissau in 1936, Carmen Pereira was the daughter of a Guinean lawyer (one of only two Guinean lawyers at the time). She studied at the primary school in Bissau, and married in that city in 1957. In 1961, following her husband’s flight to Senegal to avoid being arrested as a political agitator, Carmen joined the independence movement led by the PAIGC (African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde), with three small children in her charge. Guinea-Bissau was then a Portuguese colony, with a far-right dictatorship based in the metropole. So-called Portuguese Guinea was about the size of Belgium or Haiti, and had a tropical, hot, and humid climate; most of its inhabitants, who belonged to more than twenty different peoples, were dedicated to agriculture. In the 1960s the majority of Guinea-Biassau’s inhabitants were Animists; there was also a significant Muslim population, and a few, like Carmen Pereira herself, were Catholics. The guerilla war began in Guinea-Bissau in 1963, and lasted until independence was declared in 1974. During this period Carmen travelled to the Soviet Union, where she studied to be a nurse. On her return to Africa she was given responsibility for the Health sector in the South region, where she also became the Political Commissioner for the areas controlled by the PAIGC, as a consequence of her proven leadership skills, and in accordance with the PAIGC’s policy of giving women equal opportunities and rights within the movement. Carmen Pereira is an important figure in African history, principally because she was the only woman to be elected a member of the Executive Committee (formerly the Political Bureau) of the PAIGC, which is itself significant as one of the few African movements for political liberation that led a successful war for independence. In the new state of Guinea-Bissau, Carmen Pereira was elected President of the Parliament, and appointed Health Minister, Minister for Social Affairs, and State Council member. She died in Bissau in June 2016.
Agathe Uwilingiyimana was the first woman prime minister of Rwanda and only the second woman prime minister on the African continent. A Hutu from southern Rwanda, she was among the first Rwandans killed in the 1994 genocide of Tutsi. She was a political moderate from an opposition political party who rejected ethnic extremism. As the constitutional leader of the country in the wake of the president’s assassination, Hutu extremists killed her so that they could take control of the government. Born to uneducated parents, Uwilingiyimana was among the first women to obtain a bachelor’s degree from the National University of Rwanda in 1985. Before entering politics, she taught high-school science for over a decade. She dedicated her life to promoting women’s equality, removing obstacles to girls’ education, and speaking on behalf of the poor. As one of Rwanda’s first prominent women politicians, Uwilingiyimana faced intense misogyny, particularly from members of extremist Hutu political parties. The media frequently portrayed her naked or in sexual contexts. She was attacked in her own home on multiple occasions and menaced when she appeared in public. She was killed on April 7, 1994, along with her husband and an aide. The Belgian United Nations peacekeepers guarding her were also killed. Her death paved the way for Hutu extremists to take over the government and carry out a genocide targeting Tutsi, members of opposition political parties, human rights activists, and journalists.
Women in Philosophy (African Feminist Philosophy)
Since the emergence of modern written African philosophy, African female and feminist philosophers have struggled for recognition. Writing from the margins in a field shaped by allegedly sexually neutral or universal philosophical concepts, they have argued that the lack of knowledge about women’s issues limits the development of African philosophy. Some female and feminist philosophers argue that the deprecation women philosophers experience in the field is connected to a much wider marginalization of women in African colonial and postcolonial societies. Conceptualizing a truly inclusive African feminist philosophy, these scholars call for further decolonization of African philosophy from Western philosophical canons. At the same time, they seek to reconnect philosophical questioning to various social, political, and economic issues, thereby reflecting on a wide spectrum of themes and often resorting to interdisciplinarity to give significance to their reasoning. African female and feminist philosophers explore women’s voices, ideas, and bodies not only to speak for and with women, but also to challenge the definition, purposes, and mission of African philosophy.