Transnational anticolonial spaces: challenges to nationalism
Dmitri van den Bersselaar, Universität Leipzig
Ngozi Edeagu, Universität Bayreuth
This panel challenges historiographies of anticolonial activities that have privileged nationalist perspectives despite our knowledge of transnational activities, including pan-Africanism and international socialist support for anti-imperialism. Panel contributions will connect these two ways of understanding the anticolonial process.
This panel proposes to challenge historiographies of anticolonial activities that have privileged nationalist perspectives despite our knowledge of transnational activities, including pan-Africanism and international socialist support for anti-imperialism. Existing African national historiographies perceive anticolonialism as a form of nationalism leading to the specific post-colonial territories of Africa. Typical examples include the work of Adu Boahen for Ghana, E.A. Ayandele for Nigeria and Bethwell Ogot for Kenya. On the other hand, the works of Leslie James, Penny Von Eschen, Carol Polsgrove, Lynn Schler, Hakim Adi and Marika Sherwood cover transnational perspectives of the anticolonial movement. For the purposes of this panel, anticolonial activities can include anti-apartheid activities in South Africa.
The panel welcomes contributions that will connect these two ways of understanding the anticolonial process. Themes can include the following: discussions of the activities and impact of pan-African actors and institutions such as George Padmore, W.E.B. Dubois, Kwame Nkrumah and the International African Friends of Ethiopia (IAFE); explorations of the networks of transnational actors and institutions that connected through education such as Nnamdi Azikiwe, Jomo Kenyatta, the West African Students Union (WASU), Association des Étudiants Ouest-Africains (AEOA), and the Association des Étudiants Noirs en France (AENF); reconstructions of transnational social networks including “old boy” school networks, alumni associations and transnationally active hometown-focused unions; considerations of the impact of socialist international anti-imperialist organisations and movements; evaluations of the impact of transnational journalistic networks across the Atlantic, including the African American press and other print media; and so on.
01 Charles Ambler: Celluloid Freedom: Cinema and Decolonization in West Africa
This paper looks at cinema in Anglophone West Africa during the time of decolonisation to explore why it was, at that moment, that many chose to join the struggle and what that struggle meant. Kwame Nkrumah saw independence for Ghana as a step toward continental freedom and unity. But what were the rank and file imagining freedom looked like? We may think of nationalist struggles largely in terms of political organization and actions—of strikes and boycotts. Yet who could imagine the fight for independence in the Congo without the music of the emerging superstar Franco and his song Liberté? Or the sounds of the Nigerian and Ghanaian popular music of the1950s that provided the soundtrack for political campaigns in West Africa, with musicians writing lyrics and putting performances to work supporting particular parties or candidates? American movies obviously did not directly address the struggles for independence in West Africa, although they often highly influenced local music and the “market literature” that circulated ubiquitously at that time. But both directly and indirectly, the development of cinema in Ghana and Nigeria and the cinema experience was bound up in the rise and triumph of nationalism—even if such connections can be very difficult to document.
Charles Ambler (PhD African history, Yale University; since 1984 at the University of Texas, El Paso), has published broadly on alcohol, labour, leisure, cinema and popular culture in modern African history.
02 Oliver Coates: The idea of ‘Africa’ in Nnamdi Azikiwe’s Renascent Africa
Azikiwe’s 1937 text Renascent Africa exercised a significant influence of a generation of West African cultural nationalists (Echeruo, 1974; Nwanunobi, 1999). It became a pioneering text in the intellectual history of early pan-Africanism, centrally concerned with defining a shared African cultural heritage and historical experience. This paper will examine the idea of Africa in Azikiwe’s text, both in terms of the uses to which Azikiwe’s understanding of the continent is put, and the forms of knowledge through which he builds his account of Africa. It seeks to delineate the genealogy of the idea of Africa as it operates within Azikiwe’s text. Our concern here is not primarily with the representation of Africa in general (Mudimbe, 1990), but rather the specific ways in which Azikiwe incorporated and appropriated historical, political, literary, and linguistic scholarship in his text. While such an enterprise greatly enhances our understanding of the range and complexity of Azikiwe’s intellectual self-positioning, it also sheds light more generally on the way in which African intellectuals of the 1930s drew on a composite range of sources, including Western and Arab ethnographic, Islamological, biblical, and historical scholarship, as well as the writings of earlier African thinkers. An appreciation of these influences, and Azikiwe’s textual manipulation of them as a writer and philosopher, seeks to expand our understanding of the textual foundations of pan-Africanism. (Zachernuk, 2000).
Dr Oliver Coates is a college supervisor in history at Cambridge University, and Senior Research at the University of Northampton.
03 Ngozi Edeagu: Networks of Solidarity’ in the Print Media: A Transnational Anti-colonial Discourse, 1937-1957
This paper thus seeks to explore the journalistic network of solidarity between these two central figures to close the gap in our understanding of the anti-colonial movement from a transnational perspective. The academic literature on anti-colonial movements and the attendant decolonization of African colonies have emphasized trans-Atlantic journalistic "networks of solidarity' that enabled individuals of African descent to support each other in liberation of the black race. For instance, Race Against Empire articulates this through the critical role of the black press in “reshaping international political debates” (von Eschen 1997, 5). As print media became a conduit for the circulation of ideas across national boundaries, the political contestations in colonial Africa reverberated in black American communities where they too were “facing equivalent forms of political discrimination, social exclusion, or rights denial” (Thomas and Andrew Thompson, 2018). As a global phenomenon, decolonisation locked journalists on both sides of the Atlantic in ‘networks of solidarity' in the fight for “freedom”. Two key figures in this process were George Padmore and Nnamdi Azikwe.
Padmore “ferreted out colonial rulers’ misdeeds and news of revolt in virtually all corners of the imperial world … and distributed these reports on several continents” (Polsgrove 2009, xii). Padmore, in the capacity of London correspondent supplied news about Africa for African American newspapers like the Pittsburgh Courier, Amsterdam Star News and Chicago Defender and wrote regular columns for the NAACP’s Crisis aided by his status as African correspondent for the Associated Negro Press—“a syndication service subscribed to by nearly two hundred papers, or 95 percent of black American newspapers” (von Eschen 1997, 8). Padmore occupied the latter position until 1947. Between 1934 and 1949 he had produced about a thousand articles for these African American newspapers (James 2016, 55) enabling them to regularly report on news from Africa “a constant reminder of the connection between America and Africa” (Muhammad 2011, 9). On the other hand, Azikiwe’s journalistic links with the United States date back from his student years there. From 1928 to 1934, Azikiwe had been “a general and sports correspondent” of the Philadelphia Tribune and a university correspondent for the Baltimore African American at Lincoln University (Jones-Quartey 1965, 93). His relationship with Padmore stems from 1927 when they first met at Howard University (Hooker 1970, 6). After Azikiwe became editor of the Gold Coast’s African Morning Post, Padmore became “an important contributor” to the paper (Ralston 1973, 91) and this relationship continued with the West African Pilot where Padmore wrote 508 known articles for the newspaper between 1937 and 1950 (James 2015, 81).
Contesting the privileging of the prevalent nationalist perspective on anticolonialism through the lens of print media will increase our understanding of transnationalist journalistic networks in a colonial context.
04 Abraha Weldu Hailemariam: Venturing into African Nationalism: A Shift in Ethiopia’s Foreign Relations and Domestic Scene
This paper explores the official venture of Ethiopia into the hub of Pan-African politics and its implication in the anti-colonial struggle in the continent. Before the mid-1950s, Ethiopia had lack of political interest in the wider continent than its immediate neighbors. The quiescence of Ethiopia regarding racial inequality and liberty disposed to strengthen her relationships with the USA. Conversely, the country was being charged by the socialist states such as the Soviet Union as more of “an African imperialist”. In the process, however, Ethiopia refined her stand and entered into the complex realities of African nationalism. Then it became vanguard in shaping the continental politics and played a substantial role in the settlement of territorial and tribal conflicts among the new African states. Ethiopia’s participation at the Bandung Conference (1955), where Afro-Asian solidarity demonstrated, and at the Accra Conference (1958) had been a turning points that tipped the balance of the country’s foreign relations tendencies. Akin to this, it had partly contributed to advance the political consciousness of Ethiopia’s university students. Some African student, who made their journey to Ethiopia for education following the scholarship grant at the Accra Conference by Ethiopia, came to make written and verbal contacts with the Ethiopian counterparts. The students also discussed the process of decolonization as well as the problems associated with tribal and territorial disputes among the emerging African nation states. This paper argues that Ethiopia's commitment for racial equality and liberty had increased between 1958 and 1963. At this time, the country was not only able to restore and strengthen her leading role in African nationalism, but also to be chosen as a principal negotiator of conflicts that occurred during the African posts-independence period.
Abraha Weldu is a PhD student in History and Cultural Studies at Mekelle University, Ethiopia.