Interstate conflict has been rare in sub-Saharan Africa and militaries often do not fit the image of a force focused on external threats. Instead, they have often been heavily engaged in domestic politics, regularly serving as regime protection. For many militaries on the continent, the continued internal focus of the armed forces has been shaped by practices under colonialism. One defining feature of African militaries’ involvement in politics is the coup d’état. From the 1960s to the 1980s coups were the primary method of regime change, making the military central to the political landscape of the continent. By the start of the 21st century there were far fewer direct attempts at military control of African states, yet militaries continue to influence politics even under civilian leadership. While there are differences in the role of militaries based on the unique circumstances of each state, there are also general patterns regarding new missions undertaken by armed forces following the end of the Cold War. These include peacekeeping, counterterrorism, and humanitarian assistance, all of which generally involve international partnerships and cooperation. Yet these missions have also had domestic political motivations and effects.
African prisons are some of the least-studied penal institutions anywhere in the world. This is not true everywhere on the continent, as prisons in some countries such as South Africa are adequately studied and have been the subject of commissions of inquiry stretching back to colonial times. It is also difficult to generalize about Africa. For example, there are massive disparities between north Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. Usually, not much information beyond generalities exists for many of them across the African continent. As a result, many negative perceptions endure that are not reflective of the different systems and the different countries in the region. The focus of the research has often been on specific themes and certain countries only and has generally focused on problems. There is, however, a need to portray a more realistic situation in prisons in all fifty-four countries more accurately, without generalizing, and to provide more solution-orientated research to a variety of issues. This can be partly achieved by comparative investigation. While the conditions in many African prisons are harsh and difficult for inmates, comparatively speaking, prisons in Africa are not the worst in the world. However, they are generally overcrowded, and there is much violence. Issues generally concerning health, food, sanitation, amenities, and other matters remain generally problematic. However, much data is missing from a range of countries. More research is needed to gather more data and to interrogate the diverse prisons in the different countries. There is a need for more holistic research that understands prisons not as isolated institutions but as part of criminal justice systems. There is a need to understand how methods of policing, the conduct of prosecutions, and court processes all have an impact upon conditions within the prisons of a particular country.
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.
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.
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.
Globalization, or increased interconnectedness between world regions, is a dialectical and recursive phenomenon that consequently tends to deepen through time as one set of flows sets off other related or counterflows. This is evident in the history of the phenomenon in Africa, where transcontinental trade, and later investment, were initially small but have grown through different rounds including slavery, colonialism, neocolonialism, and the early 21st-century era of globalization. However, globalization on the continent, as in other places, is not unilinear and has generated a variety of “regional responses” in terms of the construction of organizations such as the African Union and other more popularly based associations. The phenomenon of globalization on the continent is deepening through the information technology “revolution,” which also creates new possibilities for regional forms of association.
Sharath Srinivasan and Stephanie Diepeveen
From global amplifications of local protests on social media to disinformation campaigns and transformative state surveillance capabilities, digital communications are changing the ways in which politics works in Africa and how and with whom power accrues. Yet while digital information technology and media are relatively new, the role of communication in state power and resistance on the continent is not. The “digital revolution” provokes us to better account for this past to understand a rapidly changing present. From language and script, to print and broadcast, to mobile applications and digital databases, how information is circulated, processed, and stored is central to political power on the African continent. The story of political change in Africa cannot be told without attention to how power manifests with and through changes in the technologies that enable these communication practices. A communication technology perspective on the study of politics in Africa provides a more sober analysis of how power relations circumscribe the possibilities of political change than more normative approaches would. Even so, a communication approach allows for social and ideational factors to mix with material ones in explaining the possibilities of such change. Communication technologies have been central to what political actors in Africa from the precolonial past to the early 21st century can and cannot do, and to how political change comes about. Explorations across time, political era, and technological development in Africa allow us to unpack this relationship. In the precolonial period, across forms of centralized and decentralized political organization, oral communication modalities reflected and enabled fluid and radial logics of authority and power relations. Changes in moral and practical ideas for political organization occurred amid early encounters with traders and Islamic scholars and texts and the movement of people to, from, and within the continent. Colonialism, which heavily focused on narrow extractive aims, required alien central authorities to overcome the vulnerability of their rule through knowledge production and information control. Equally, the same communication technologies valued by colonial authority—intermediaries, print, radio—became means through which resistance ideas circulated and movements were mobilized. In independent Africa, political aims may have changed, but communication infrastructures and their vulnerabilities were inherited. The predicament facing postcolonial governments had a communications dimension. Later, their ability to forge rule through control and allegiance had to contend with a globalizing information economy and demands for media pluralism. A communications perspective on the history of power on the African continent therefore guides a fuller understanding of change and continuity in politics in a digital age by drawing attention to the means and meanings by which legitimacy, authority, and belonging have continued to be produced and negotiated. Transnational configurations of information flows, global political economy logics of accumulation and security, and communicative terrains for contesting authority and mobilizing alternatives have been shown to possess both distinctly new characteristics and enduring logics.