The history of colonialism encompassed diverse meetings between societies and cultures, providing chances for discovery (by both the colonizing and the colonized) of differing sexual attitudes and behaviors. Varying sexual cultures inspired European ethnographical research, relativised sexual certainties and incited both fantasies and moral concern. Eroticised images of foreign men appeared in art, and affective relationships between Europeans and non-Europeans featured in literary works. The sex lives of “natives” and Europeans overseas provided subjects of speculation. The conquest of overseas territories by European and other expanding powers also led to the imposition of Western law codes regulating sexuality, including same-sex relations, gender norms, and marriage. Prohibitions on “sodomy” entered law codes throughout the British Empire, often with provisions of severe penalties. Only in the late 1900s did decriminalization occur in the British settler Dominions, though less often in former colonies in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. For European countries where same-sex activity had been decriminalized, such as France, it generally remained legal in the colonies, though surrounded with taboos and social opprobrium. Same-sex desire (and relations between Europeans or between them and indigenous people) appeared in many forms in colonial societies and in the lives of men associated with overseas empires. It was castigated by authorities as a menace to colonial mores but experienced by some men in the colonies as an opportunity for pleasure and a source of male bonding; non-Western sexual cultures provided arguments for both campaigns of “moralization” and for homosexual emancipation in Europe. Occasional scandals underscored the ways in which debates about sexual difference intertwined with colonial-era attitudes and policies.
Amanda Lea Robinson
European colonialism in Africa was brief, lasting less than a century for most of the continent. Nevertheless, scholars have enumerated myriad long-term political effects of this brief period of colonial rule. First, Europeans determined the number, size, and shape of African states through their partition of the continent, with contemporary implications for state viability, strength, and legitimacy. Second, colonial rule influenced the nature of ethnic boundaries and their salience for politics through the use of indirect rule, language and labor policies, and the location of internal administrative boundaries. Third, colonial rule significantly shaped the nature of postcolonial state-society relations by divorcing the state from civil society during the colonial era and by engendering deep mistrust of the state as a benevolent actor. Fourth, many colonial institutions were preserved at independence, including the marriage of state institutions and customary rule, with deleterious effects. Fifth, differential colonial investments across communities and regions generated significant inequality, with continued political implications in the 21st century. The identification of these long-term effects has largely resulted from empirical comparisons across different forms of colonial rule, especially comparing territories administered by different colonial powers. Future research should move beyond this blunt approach, instead pursuing more disaggregated and nuanced measures of both colonial rule and its political legacies, as well as more scholarship on the long-term interaction between colonial and indigenous political institutions.
Although unionized workers have rarely represented more than a small minority of the population anywhere in sub-Saharan Africa, trade unions have played, and continue to play, a significant political role. Trade unions still occupy strategic choke points in many African economies, particularly around transport infrastructure, and retain a spatially concentrated organizational base as well as a degree of symbolic power drawn from participation in struggles against colonialism, apartheid, and authoritarianism. Three persistent dilemmas have strongly shaped the role of African trade unions and driven much of the academic debate about them. First are debates about the relationships between trade unions and political parties. These date to the often-fraught relationships between unions and anti-colonial movements in the last years of colonial rule. Pitched struggles, both within trade unions and between unions and governing parties, were often fought in the decade after the end of formal colonization over the degree of autonomy that unions should have from governing parties. These were often resolved through the widespread repression of politically independent unionism in the 1970s. This relationship, however, became untenable under processes of structural adjustment, and unions have often played a significant role in protests against neoliberal reforms, which have spurred widespread political transformation. Second are debates about the relationships of trade unions to non-unionized workers, especially the unemployed or the “informal” sector. Critics on both left and right have long pointed to the relatively privileged position of trade unions. This has consistently been invoked by governments seeking to justify the limited political role of trade unions as well as policies for wage restraint, state retrenchment, or currency devaluation that have negatively affected organized labor. However, given the increasingly widespread nature of informality and unemployment in contemporary Africa, trade unions have begun to make tentative steps toward organizing informal and unemployed workers in some cases. Finally, the relationships of African unions to the international labor movement and to international organizations have often been important. African unions have frequently drawn on links to international trade unions, regional institutions, or the International Labour Organization (ILO) as a way of compensating for domestic weaknesses. These strategies, however, have often engendered significant conflicts around the differing objectives of African and metropolitan actors, between African unions over access to international resources, and concerning “imperialism” by American and European unions.
Ideas play a key role in political mobilization around the world, and often ideas travel cross-nationally. It is important to recognize the diverse influences and iterative processes that produce political ideologies and influence mobilization. The sociological literature on diffusion offers scholars a framework for thinking about and recognizing the channels through which ideas move. When tracing such channels, scholars must also be cognizant of the ways that movement of this sort affects ideas and ideologies themselves; international concepts will always be read through domestic lenses, and local realities prompt reinterpretation of global ideas. The Black Consciousness Movement offers a case study to analyze some key channels through which global ideas moved and impacted a university student movement in 1970s South Africa. Influenced by anti-colonialism and antiracism discourses originating in Europe, the Caribbean, and the United States, Black Consciousness thinkers took these ideas and refashioned them into their own ideology. They used relational networks as well as channels like art, theatre, fashion, and development projects to mobilize a constituency and to propagate their own ideas, which have endured beyond the end of the formal Black Consciousness Movement.
The Commonwealth is the international governmental organization of states that emerged from the British empire, and since 2000 it has emerged as a focus for contestation relating to the regulation of same-sex sexualities, gender diversity, and diverse sex characteristics. Following colonial criminalizations focused on same-sex sexual acts, and later formal decolonizations, there have appeared many national movements for decriminalization and human rights in relation to sexuality and gender. The Commonwealth has emerged as a site of politics for some significant actors claiming human rights in relation to sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics. This has been led by specific organizations of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, increasingly with intersex people and allies, but it is also important to consider this in relation to queer people, understood more broadly here as people in all cultures experiencing forms of sexualities, biological sex and genders outside the social structure of heterosexuality, and its associated sex and gender binaries. A range of forms of activist and non-governmental organization (NGO) engagement have occurred, leading to shifts in Commonwealth civil society and among some state governments. This has required researchers to develop analyses across various scales, from local and national to international and transnational, to interpret institutions and movements. The British Empire criminalized same-sex sexual acts between males, and to a lesser extent between females, across its territories. In certain instances there were also forms of gender regulation, constraining life outside a gender binary. Such criminalization influenced some of those claiming LGBT human rights to engage the Commonwealth. Research shows that a majority of Commonwealth states continue to criminalize some adult consensual same-sex sexual activity. Yet the history of struggles for decriminalization and human rights within states in the Commonwealth has led up to such recent important decriminalizations as in India and Trinidad and Tobago in 2018. LGBT and queer activist engagements of the Commonwealth itself commenced in 2007 when Sexual Minorities Uganda and African allies demanded entry to the Commonwealth People’s Space during a Heads of Government meeting in Kampala. Activism has often focused on the biannual Heads of Government meetings that are accompanied by civil society forums. A particularly significant phenomenon has been the emergence of a “new London-based transnational politics of LGBT human rights,” evident in the creation from 2011 of new NGOs working internationally from the United Kingdom. Among these organizations was the Kaleidoscope Trust, which shaped the subsequent formation of The Commonwealth Equality Network as an international network of NGOs that became formally recognized by the Commonwealth. Significant developments occurred at the London Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in April 2018; Prime Minister Theresa May expressed “regret” for past imperial criminalizations while announcing funding for Kaleidoscope Trust and other UK-based groups to use in international law reform work. These developments exemplify a wider problematic for both activists and analysts, concerning how LGBT and queer movements should engage in contexts that are still structured by imperial legacies and power relations associated with colonialism, persisting in the present.