22.- 25.9
2020

P 30

QUESTIONING THE COLONIALITY OF TERRITORY: LAND-RELATED STRATEGIES OF RULE IN PRE-COLONIAL AFRICA

Dr. Felix Schürmann, University of Erfurt
Woldemariam Ambo Zegeye, Mekelle University/መቐለ ዩኒቨርሲቲ)

 

SHORT ABSTRACT:
Historians tend to explain territorial rule in Africa as a political technology introduced by colonial powers. This panel explores to what extent territoriality and its underlying strategies existed before colonial rule – and how African cases challenge common histories of the territorial state.

LONG ABSTRACT:

Historians tend to explain territorial rule in Africa as a political technology introduced by colonial powers. According to this interpretation, colonial rule replaced an African model of community states (based on governing through personal relations) by a European model of territorial states (based on governing through the control of land). More recent studies, however, have pointed to continuities between pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial strategies of exercising state power, and thus raised doubts on the coloniality of territorial rule. This subject has a particular significance as territoriality relates to the often-contested external and internal boundaries of today’s nation states as well as to the explosive debates over inequalities in access to land that polarise many post-colonial societies today. Moreover, as historians of the Americas have argued, »indigenous« and colonial concepts and regimes with regard to land might have been not as substantially different as commonly assumed, at least during the early stages of colonisation. This panel explores to what extent territoriality and its underlying practices and strategies existed in Africa before colonial rule – and how African cases might challenge common histories of the territorial state as a product of Europe’s High Middle Ages. What significance did rulers attribute to the control of land? How did social transformations (e.g. migration phenomena), economic change (e.g. the valorisation of raw materials), or technological innovation (e.g. the dissemination of firearms) affect strategies and instruments of exercising power with regard to land? Can a critical re-reading of maps (co)created by Europeans reveal new insights into strategies of governing space and spatially exercising state power? And what insights can the case of Ethiopia, which had not seen colonial rule until its annexation by Italy in 1936, add to the debate ?

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