Perspectives from the Humanities and Social Sciences

Entangled Im/Mobilities in and from Africa: Of Hubs, Networks and Literary Paths Abroad

Chair: Immanuel R. Harisch (University of Vienna)
Co-Chair: Daniela Atanasova (University of Vienna)

Yadhav Deerpaul (University of Mauritius)
Eric Burton (University of Innsbruck)
Aghogho Akpome (University of Zululand)
Leander Schneider (Concordia University, Montreal)

When Wagons Displaced Families and Trees in Colonial and Postcolonial Mauritius

Yadhav Deerpaul

Railways were constructed in the extractive sugar economy of British Mauritius in the 1860s to serve the transportation needs of the Franco-Mauritian sugar mills' owners. But they also transported passengers and along the way made the inland Central Plateau accessible. The outbreak of malaria from the city of Port Louis eventually led to the spread of the colored and white population to these areas. But the railways were dismantled in the 1960s due to the growing popularity of motor vehicles. The government decided in 2016 that a light rail transit network would be built on roughly the alignment as the previous railways. By exploring the tensions in colonial and postcolonial Mauritius through the actor-network theory, the paper suggests that a 'usable past' on mobility and immobility can be unraveled. The colonial world is not analyzed as a trove of lessons from the past but rather as a gauge to question notions of progress. In the 1860s, the routinised construction processes circulating from India clashed with the physiocratic ideologies present since the French colonization of the island. In contemporary times, there were several protests as peoples and parks had to be displaced. The past and the present overlapped not only through the alignment but also as India started playing an intricate role in the construction processes. The bilateral relationship was catalyzed by the presence of Indian descendants in the island. Their ancestors migrated in the nineteenth century to work in the sugar plantations but also to construct the railways.

Yadhav Deerpaul is a Research Assistant at the Road Safety Observatory, University of Mauritius. He also did his undergraduate studies in Mauritius and his Master's degree at the Higher School of Economics, Saint Petersburg. His main field of interest is the History of Technology and Environment in Colonial Societies. He is currently doing research on the construction of railways in British Mauritius during the nineteenth century and the ongoing construction of a light rail transit network in the island from a longue durée perspective. His research is being conducted as part of the network on African Urban Mobility at the University of the Witwatersrand.

back to top

Managing Anticolonial Mobilities: South African Liberation Movements in Africa’s Hubs of Decolonization in the 1960s

Eric Burton

This paper aims to approach African liberation struggles from a global history perspective. In the interwar period, the primary hubs of anti-colonial activism could be found in the imperial metropoles. The pan-African circles and communist networks knit in interwar or early post-War Paris, Lisbon and London were crucial for the rise of post-war liberation struggles and Third Worldism. In the late 1950s and 1960s, the struggles’ center of gravity moved southwards as several hubs emerged in independent countries on the African continent: Egypt, Ghana, Tunisia, Tanzania, Algeria, Zambia, Angola, Mozambique and other countries hosted liberation movements in exile between the late 1950s and late 1980s. This South-South dimension has, until very recently, been marginalized in histories of decolonization.
Following an entangled history approach, my larger research projects discuss three cities in postcolonial African states as globalizing spaces for liberation movements. It investigates why and how some independent African states provided refuge to nationalist and liberation movements in exile and came to facilitate the build-up of transregional support networks and mobilities – which turned these countries’ capitals such as Cairo after the 1956 Suez crisis, Accra after Ghana’s independence in 1957 and Dar es Salaam after Tanganyika’s independence in 1961 into hubs of decolonization and shaped the outcomes of the liberation struggles. These sites enabled the creation of new ties not only between African movements (and states), but also with communist states from Havana to Beijing.
For the purpose of this workshop, analysis will focus on the difficulties in and strategies of establishing a foothold in Cairo, Accra and Dar es Salaam. The paper primarily builds on documents from the archives of the South African African National Congress (complemented by memoirs and archival materials from other countries) and investigates how functionaries tried to get access to resources and compete with the rivalling liberation movement (the PAC) in both local and global networks. The focus on the social dimension of the liberation struggle shows how functionaries had to navigate the difficulties of meagre incomes and transnational family lives next to their political activities while they also tried to regulate the mobilities and immobilities of other South African activists and refugees.

Eric Burton is Assistant Professor of Global History at the University of Innsbruck. He has published journal articles on the entangled global histories of socialism, development and decolonization in the Journal of Global History, Cold War History and Journal für Historische Kommunismusforschung and is author of the forthcoming monograph In Diensten des Afrikanischen Sozialismus. Die globale Entwicklungsarbeit der beiden deutschen Staaten in Tansania, 1961-1990. Volumes edited by him include »Socialisms in Development« (Journal für Entwicklungspolitik, 2017) and »Journeys of Education and Struggle. African Mobility in Times of Decolonization and the Cold War« (Stichproben. Vienna Journal of African Studies, 2018).

back to top

›African Elsewheres‹: Space/Place, Mobility and Transcontinental Exchange in Helon Habila’s Measuring Time

Aghogho Akpome

This paper interrogates what may be called ‘African elsewheres’ (à la Hart, 2002) in Measuring Time (2007), the award-winning novel of the Nigerian writer Helon Habila. Habila provides an innovative re-imagining of the links between history, space/place, mobility and cosmopolitanism in the representation of contemporary African subjecthood. This is done through extensive reference to a diversity of African cultures and imaginaries in different ways, one of which is the travels of an itinerant soldier named LaMamo. Another is through references to the poetry collection of LaMamo’s Uncle Iliya, which consists exclusively of texts from Wole Soyinka and Léopold Senghor. The invocation of specific trans-epochal and transcultural African imaginaries also includes a tour of the continent by a fictional character and a historical figure, the late Nigerian poet, Christopher Okigbo. Through these deft narrative manoeuvres, Habila explores the roles of mobility as well the circulation and exchange of ideas across epochs within the African milieu in the (re)imagining of African identities and realities.

Aghogho Akpome teaches in the Department of English at the University of Zululand. Previously, he taught/tutored in Nigeria, at the University of Johannesburg, University of the Witwatersrand and was a research fellow at the Centre for Africa Studies at the University of the Free State, all in South Africa. He has been a visiting scholar at the Centre of Postcolonial and Gender Studies, University of Naples L’Orientale and the Institute of English Language and Literature at the Free University Berlin. His research and intellectual interests include postcolonalism, migration, identity/difference, discourse, literary historicization, representation and academic literacies.

back to top

Lived Im/Mobilities of Chinese Migrants in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Leander Schneider

This paper examines life story narratives of Chinese migrants in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Im/mobilities – constituted through border regimes, economically, and in Imaginaries – feature centrally in these narratives. An analytical focus on these im/mobilities generates insights into dimensions of »China-in-Africa« that explode this phenomenon’s framing – in terms of national interests and macro-level economic effects – prevalent in large parts of the extant literature. It reveals the presence of Chinese migrants in Tanzania as shaped by a global story of paths abroad opened and blocked by immigration regimes, home-region specific migratory practices and networks, know-how, and cultures of »going- out«. It shows the real and aspirational economic and material foundations that shape these migrants’ im/mobilities in specific ways. And it provides insights into the imaginaries – of mobility, destination-Africa, and »home« – that shape and are constituted in these migrants’ journeying. In the fulcrum of this, their thus entangled situatedness, Chinese migrants in Dar es Salaam forge subjectivities that reconfigure gender roles, the place of spirituality, and the shape and role of ambition in their lives.

Leander Schneider is Associate Professor of Political Science at Concordia University in Montreal. His first book, Government of Development: Peasants and Politicians in Postcolonial Tanzania (Indiana University Press, 2014), explores the particular kind of state authority constituted through the Tanzanian state’s 1960s and 1970s drive to »develop« its peasantry. Related research has appeared in multiple journals. Among other projects, he is currently working on aspects of »China in Africa« that unfold at a level other than national policy or the macro-economy: the everyday lives of Chinese migrants in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

back to top