Skip to main content

Centre of African Studies: Events


East and Central African activists and anticolonial cultures in a decolonising world, 1952-64: A book proposal in progress

East and Central African activists and anticolonial cultures in a decolonising world, 1952-64: A book proposal in progress
Speaker: Ismay Milford # University of Edinburgh
Hosted by
Introduced by
Date and Time
20th Nov 2019 16:00 - 20th Nov 2019 17:30
Violet Laidlaw room, 6th floor, Chrystal Macmillan Building

I’d like to use this opportunity to present to an African Studies audience a book proposal in progress, based on my recent doctoral research, in History. The proposed monograph sets out to map the anticolonial thought and practice – an anticolonial culture – of a generation of mobile activists from Malawi, Zambia, Uganda and mainland Tanzania, during the period 1952-64. Global histories of decolonisation continue to portray the independence of East and Central Africa as a natural corollary of a world-wide process, a narrative facilitated by the neglect of anticolonial work beyond the borders of the nation-state-to-be in (revisionist) histories of African nationalism. As it appeared to the actors I explore here, however, the momentum of decolonisation needed to be actively harnessed from beyond colonial borders, by building contacts, publishing pamphlets, organising conferences and changing minds.

Putting ‘nationalism’ to one side, and foregrounding the everyday frustrations of transnational organising, makes legible a swathe of previously ignored printed ephemera. This allows us to follow these activists from the period 1952-55, when this generation passed through education institutions (in Africa and abroad) in the context of a set of regional crises and the consolidation of party politics; through the period 1956-59, when external representation in London, New Delhi, Cairo, and Accra became a (contested) strategy of the relevant nationalist parties; and into the period 1960-64, when all four countries gained flag independence and activists became increasingly disillusioned with the possibilities of transnational action in a Cold War context. Specific ideas about information, knowledge production, and publicity emerged from carrying out anticolonial work around the edges of an increasingly oppressive colonial state. These ideas responded to and shaped pan-African and Afro-Asian discourses, and informed better-documented moments of global activism in the following decades. In this way, the monograph contributes to a growing recognition among historians that intellectual histories of twentieth century East and Central Africa need to look across borders and outside of a narrow canon of nationalist thinkers.

Edinburgh View