Abstracts

Abstracts

Keynote speech ---

"The Surface of Things: A History of Photography from the Swahili Coast" - Prita Meier, New York University

Photography, especially studio portraiture, became instantly popular on the Swahili coast of eastern Africa and by the 1880s residents of such port cities as Mombasa and Zanzibar avidly collected and commissioned photographs of locals and distant others. Although photography was used as a medium for the performance of selfhood later on, during its early history it was about murkier, even intractable meanings. Rather than focus on its realist abilities, its role as a picture of a person’s life, I foreground its qualities as an object, showing how photographs worked as relational things colliding with other things--such as bodies, commodities, and heirlooms in the mercantile world of the Swahili coast. From this perspective it becomes apparent that photographic portraits, although seemingly about the sitter’s desire to express some essential aspect of his or her being, was often about quite the opposite. Namely, it was about the textural effects and the desire to hold onto bodies as things.

Panel 1, Socialism and Socialist Legacies

"Ethiopia and Yemen: a Tale in Three Acts" - Bahru Zewde, Addis Ababa University

Relations between the Horn and South Arabia go back at least three millennia. They began with the migration of South Arabians to the Horn around 1000 BC. The South Arabians brought with them their language, Sabean, and a host of institutions including agricultural practices, architecture, political organization and religion. These traces have endured through two important appellations: Abyssinia (which originated from the South Arabian tribal name Habashat) and Ge’ez, the Ethiopian equivalent of Latin (which originated from another tribal name, Agazi).
The second most important phase of relations between Ethiopia and Yemen is a phenomenon of the early twentieth century, when a large number of Yemenis came to and settled in Ethiopia. They intermarried with Ethiopians and came to dominate the petty trade through a string of small shops (known to Ethiopians as “Arab bet” or “Arab suq”). The situation persisted until the Yemenis were replaced by the Gurage, an Ethiopian ethnic group known for their enterpreneurial skills, with discreet support from the ruling elite. In the late 1960s, following mass anti-Arab protests provoked by Arab support of the Eritrean liberation movement, most Yemenis were forced to leave Ethiopia. But, the Yemenis were to have the last laugh, as it were. The richest man in Ethiopia today (worth nearly 11 billion dollars according to Forbes) is Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi, a business tycoon of mixed Yemeni-Ethiopian parentage, currently incarcerated in Riyadh with Saudi royalty.
The third act began in the 1970s, in the wake of the establishment of the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen. The leftist regime gave ideological and military support to groups fighting the imperial regime in Ethiopia, including the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) and the fledgling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP). With the emergence of a Marxist-Leninist regime in Ethiopia in the second half of the 1970s and its alliance with the Soviet Union, PDRY closed ranks with the Ethiopian regime. Most notably Yemeni forces played a pivotal rule, along with Cubans and under Soviet overall command, in reversing the Somali aggression of 1977-78.

"Exposed spies, conspiring sheikhs and flying cattle: Conflating socialism, superpower interests and Somali segmentary society in the 1970s" - Radoslav Yordanov, Columbia University

In 1969, leftward coups in Sudan, South Yemen (PDRY) and Somalia, followed by the expulsion of the Soviet advisors from Egypt three years later, altered the Soviets’ outlook towards the wider Horn of Africa region. As Moscow began to attach particular importance to cooperation with Mogadishu, it became clear that Somalia was far from an obedient client. On the one hand, Moscow emissaries were kept at arm’s length as the intricate network of clan patronage was categorically averse to supporting large-scale social reform under Soviet tutelage. On the other, Mogadishu’s territorial ambitions towards its neigbours circumscribed Moscow’s stake in the Somali military. Nevertheless, motivated by Somalia’s strategic location in the northeastern corner of the Indian Ocean, Moscow agreed to provide military arms to the country, but eventually irritated Somalia’s leadership by keeping it on a no-need-to-know basis regarding the nature of the installed military facilities along Somalia’s coast. Based on a wealth of original material from Russian and East European archives, this study shows how the uneasy Soviet-Somali patron-client relationship in the 1970s was led to a standstill due to the mutual suspicion arising from the inadmissibility between the indigenous resistance to external forms of modernity and foreign interests’ discord with the local setting - a cleavage, whose significance ran deep into Somali socio-political predicament and whose effects are felt even today.

"Rural Modernities: Comparing Socialisms and Postsocialisms in China, India, and Tanzania" - Uday Chandra, Georgetown University in Qatar

In the aftermath of WWII and decolonization, China, India, and Tanzania embarked on three different paths of socialist modernization. Yet all three paths focused on the village as the site of modernization. In doing so, they departed from the Marxist-Leninist approach to the rural as a challenge of "backwardness" to be overcome by force (if necessary). Mao, Nehru, and Nyerere, unlike Lenin, Trotsky or Stalin, saw the village as a site of both continuity and change. On the one hand, their socialist visions did seek to break with the colonial and "feudal" past rooted in old hierarchies of religion, kinship, and class. On the other hand, however, the vitality of the village, suitably reordered, came to be placed at the center of their socialist visions of nation-building. Modernity in these "Third World" socialist contexts was, therefore, not about the triumph of the urban over the rural (as advocated by American and Russian prophets of modernization during the Cold War). Instead, an implicit conception of what I call "rural modernities" is evident across my three paradigmatic cases. I use the term "modernities" in the plural because the three cases represent three different paths in terms of both ideology and practice, and ultimately, led to three different kinds of postsocialist outcomes. The paper is devoted tracing this trinity of socialisms, and to explain how and why internal contradictions led each of them to abandon socialist pretensions in a global age of neoliberal capitalism. We must now reckon with the melancholy consequences for these and other similar rural societies after their founding postcolonial visions were set aside.

"The Party and the Gun: African Liberation, Asian Comrades and Socialist Political Technologies" - Harry Verhoeven, Georgetown University in Qatar

Does Africa require a "second independence"? In one African state after another, the end of the colonial era did not bring either the widespread prosperity ordinary people had dreamed of, nor the political rights and inspirational leadership they had expected. By the mid-1970s, amidst a series of army coups and a deepening economic crisis, a new generation of (neo-)liberation movements arose, from Ethiopia to Uganda, inspired not just by the Tanzania of Julius Nyerere but also by the political teachings of Vladimir Lenin and Mao Zedong. Believing that the foundations of liberation were collective, mutual assistance helped propel these movements to power, overthrowing what they saw as reactionary regimes like dominos: Zimbabwe (1979), Uganda (1986), Ethiopia/Eritrea (1991), South Africa (1994), Rwanda (1994) and Congo (1997).While the economic track-record of the liberation movements in government has been decidedly mixed and emerging rivalries between them resulted in catastrophic conflict like Africa's Great War (1998-2002) and the Ethio-Eritrean War (1998-2000), all these leftist regimes have managed to cling onto power since then and to stave off electoral challengers, external coups and popular revolts. I argue that the key to understanding both their initial capture of power and their subsequent longevity in office has everything to do with the political technologies they borrowed from Lenin and Mao: the vanguard party, operated through the practice of democratic centralism, and the popular defence force, an ideologically shaped army at all times loyal to the party, not to the state. In other words, while much of the academic literature and popular culture considers socialism's most important legacy to be its demonstration of planners' inability to manage a modern economy, communism's most consequential bequest in Africa may well be political

Panel 2, Modernity and Islam

"Religion as Discourse: conversion and commitment to Jihad in South Africa" - Abdulkader Tayob, University of Cape Town

This essay focusses on the discourse and divergent signification of the life trajectory of one South African ISIS supporter.  I show that a semiotic analysis of the life trajectory of Mawlana Moosagie shows the meanings of conversion and commitment to jihād in South Africa. This essay shows an example of a discourse of jihād as it was shaped and reshaped in enunciation and in exchange. Taking seriously the linguistic nature of a discourse, it shows how a religious statement as commitment was received and rebutted, its meaning recreated and fabricated from the old. The discourse on jihād in in this example shows how South African traditionalist, modernist and Islamist ideas and tropes were inflected in the exchange. It shows a creative production of a Muslim political subject.

"Itineraries of Islam: Law, Constitutionalism and Translation across Asia", Iza Hussin, Cambridge University

The travels of law – across oceans and in time – have always been dependent on mobile agents, texts and logics. Taking a moment of intersection – Johor, c 1895 – this paper traces the arrival, in Malaya, of two formulations of Islam in law: Islam as the religion of the state, and Islam as providing the content of state legislation and policy. It considers the dynamics that aided the transport, translation and domestication of these variants of Islam in law, and sketches out a topology of nineteenth century sources of legal thought for sovereigns working in the shadow of empire. It concludes by suggesting that scholars concerned with the mobility of law pay particular attention to processes of translation, of comparison, of echoing and amplification; that law in motion is also, crucially, law in repetition.

"Body, Worker, Object: The Radical Feminist Aesthetics of Mahashweta Devi’s Breast Stories" – Paromita Chakrabarti, University of Mumbai

The history of India’s emergence from a colony to a postcolonial nation state is marked by the narrative of people’s struggle and agency. However, what is silenced or lost in this narrative are the moments of confrontation that marks this transition. This confrontation was not simply between the colonizer and the colonized but between the bourgeois nationalists who began to assert power after independence and the tribals or indigenous people who fiercely resisted the attempts towards proletarization. Subaltern protests and peasant rebellion against state authority, multinational corporations land grabbling ventures and institutional tolerance of spectacular sexual violence against lower caste women have continued to expose the fault lines of Indian democracy. This paper discusses Mahashweta Devi’s radical writings which tell the stories of subaltern women in India who are caught in the cycle of violence, exploitation and oppression as body, worker and object and are yet able to resist the deep seated caste prejudices, destabilize the notions of victim and violator, and problematize notions of hegemonic homogeneity that symbolize the idea of India. Devi’s Breast Stories (trans.1997) uses the site of the transgressive female body to represent radical aesthetics. Breast Stories launch a stringent critique of Indian nationalism, its imperial invasive ventures into the tribal (indigenous) and peasant lands and its capitalist exploitation of the productive subaltern female body for elite consumption. I argue that Mahashweta Devi’s Breast Stories represent the subaltern woman’s struggle and resistance against the intrusions of the capitalist market economy and the rise of violent quasi-imperial modes of domination and subjugation in postcolonial India.

Panel 3, Arts and Architecture

"Indian Films in East Africa Theaters: Circuits of Distribution and Community Engagement" - Laura Fair, Michigan State University

This paper charts the history of Hindi film distribution and reception in colonial East Africa, documenting the circuits and flows of film movements across the ocean as well as the reasons for the immense popularity of Hindi films among Zanzibari and Tanzanian audiences. 

"Cold War Realties, Postcolonial Fantasies in Tanzania" - Abdullahi Ibrahim, University of Missouri

The paper will bring the Cold War to bear on the debilitating difficulties Tanzania has been undergoing since its formation in 1964 as a union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar . Symptomatic of these Tanzanian complications is that not a single election, since allowed lukewarmly in 1995, has not been dismissed as rigged by the majority of Zanzibaris. The cancellation of the 2015 election, in which the Zanzibari party had a clear win authenticated by international monitors, c0nfirmed them in their belief that Tanzania would never allow them to control Zanzibar government for fear that  they would use it as a leverage to renegotiate for favorable terms of the unity of their discontent.
The paper will investigate the conversion of Cold War politics, largely believed to have been the power behind the union in one form or another, and local and regional African politics. My study owes its inspiration to an emerging paradigm in the study of Cold War.  Unlike previous scholarship, this paradigm views the War not as primarily about a balance of power between America and the Soviet Union, but rather as a decomposition process resulting in long-lasting complications in nation-building in the postcolonial world.  
The paper will discuss the various arguments in circulation on the role of the United States in creating the union to circumvent the increasing influence the Soviet Union and China began to have in Zanzibar after the revolution of 1964. True to the new trend in discussing such a Cold War event, the paper will discuss how this bipolar politics played out in the context of the African politics of the time; African nationalism, African Pan-nationalism, and African Marxism.

"Slavery, Oil, and Abolition in Qatar in the late 1940s and early 1950s" – Ahmad Sikainga, Ohio State University

This paper examines the impact of oil economy on the practice of slavery in Qatar from the late 1940s to the early 1950s. Indeed, the advent of oil had myriad effects on the institution of slavery. In addition to creating employment opportunities for enslaved people, the establishment of oil industry also provided opportunities for the slave owners to exploit the labor of their slaves. However, one of the most immediate consequences of oil production was the official
abolition of slavery in 1952. Oil income generated enough revenue to provide financial compensation to the slave owners who manumitted their slaves. The paper will also shed light on the development of working class politics and activism in Qatar in the early 1950s.  

"Samhani: Narrating Justice and Clemency in Zanzibar" - Abdelaziz Baraka Sakin, Independent Writer

The paper is based on the most recent novel by Baraka Sakin, in which he interrogates Omani presence in Zanzibar.  Samahani, which means forgiveness in Swahili (Samah in Arabic), is a critique of the racial bifurcation in the Island in the context of imperial expansion and capital accumulation. The paper highlights key social and political patterns and processes from a literary perspective, which seeks to address racial justice without which clemency and reconciliation would be impossible to attain.