Enchantings: Modernity, Culture, and the State in Postcolonial Africa
Akin Adesokan (Indiana University, Bloomington)
“Jesus Christ Executive Producer”: Pentecostal Parapolitics in Nollywood Films”
The much-bemoaned inability of the political postcolonial state to serve as the generator of social hope has had a remarkable impact on the growth of Pentecostal churches, which proliferate so fast and within such a logic of informalization as to make a reliable estimate of their number practically impossible. In many Nigerian cities, especially in the southern parts of the country, there is hardly a major street, not to say a neighborhood of a few thousands inhabitants, where one will not encounter at least a score of these churches. Sociologically, the explosion of Nollywood films is very much linked to the logic of informalization at work in the growth of these churches. What I would like to stress in this presentation is the socio-aesthetic process of generating performative idioms from the conception of religious observation, charismatic self-presentation generating and feeding off yearning for material prosperity. A mode generically evocative of instrumental performances such as advertising on the streets, inside public transports, is transposed into Nollywood aesthetics where spectacular self-presentation reinforces the mutuality of a moral-religious injunction and its embodiment in the personality of an admired actor, either as a performer of “turns” or as a glamorous figure. From looking at specific scenes in a number of Pentecostal-themed Nollywood films (Scores to Settle, Secret Covenant, etc.,) I will develop an argument about the relationships between actual and metaphorical deployment of Christ as parapolitical authority in strategic alliance with “kinship structures” and agents of the supposedly failing bureaucratic state.
Kunle Ajibade (Lagos, Nigeria)
“Pains and Pleasures of Practising Journalism in a State of Siege”
For the first time in the history of modern Nigeria, journalists were jailed for life in 1995 by the government of General Sani Abacha. Before then, there were records of beatings, detentions and other humiliations. That desperate act was meant to put and end or, at best, to subdue the critical and defiant journalism in the most populous and vibrant country in Africa, a country so proud of its heritage of robust journalism. By the time Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Abacha were done, they had left on their trails sorrow, tears and bones of journalists. I happen to be one of the journalists with bandaged wounds, injuries that refuse to heal. In this paper, I intend to leverage on my experiences as one of the journalists jailed for life on account of our critical reports, to argue that defiance in journalism could be very enchanting, it could be the fuel in the engine of growth and development.
Florence Bernault (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
"A Dazzling Solicitude: Spectacles of Profusion and Desire in Contemporary Gabon"
On Gabonese television, two highly mediatized events celebrate state solicitude towards ordinary citizens; the annual election of Miss Gabon and the daily ritual of “donations to the local populations." In the Miss Gabon show, a group of young women compete for a grand prize. Throughout the contest, the first lady of Gabon deploys motherly advice to the candidates and acts as supreme role model. Based on her merit and exceptional feminine qualities, the winner acquires a car, an apartment and a substantial amount of money. By contrast, the “donations to the populations” that Gabonese politicians organize throughout the year, provide the daily bread of local television news. Followed by a team of journalists, often in remote or destitute areas, they deploy a dazzling solicitude towards ordinary citizens summoned to a distribution of food stuff, sport and school equipment and other trivial commodities.
Both rituals are rooted in colonial performance, both borrow to global repertoires of individual success and consumerism, both mobilize key norms in the reproduction of power/gender relations. Both can be read as performative enactments of state solicitude, in a country remarkable for its wealth in petroleum and the staggering poverty of its citizenry.
Using Arjun Appadurai’s analysis on the pornography of late capitalism, and Joseph Tonda’s argument on consumerism and the body-sex in equatorial Africa, I will track the televised dreams and disguises through which the Gabonese political elite celebrate its benevolence, and will try to uncover some of their main counter-narratives.
Matthew H. Brown (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
“Reassembling Things that have Fallen Apart: Conceptualizations of Political Community in Nigerian Literature and State Television”
In 1986, the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) aired a 13-part adaptation of Things Fall Apart, the narrative first published in novel form by Chinua Achebe in 1958. In both iterations of the narrative, the generic features of the epic tale are deployed in order to construct a vision of political communities in the making. Achebe’s text looks to historical time for metaphors of anti-colonial nationalism that inform his response to the impending postcolonial state. In the words of Biodun Jeyifo, Achebe “detotalizes” the response to colonialism and therefore the nationalism of the independence era. The NTA production, however, could not afford to be so detotalizing. Tasked with assisting the state in the reconstruction of a nation, the NTA arranged the various fragments of Achebe’s vision into a “totalizing” nationalism, directed both at Nigerian citizens watching at home and at world citizens voyeuristically watching from abroad. In the years following the collapse of Nigeria’s booming oil economy, totalization seemed to be more important than ever.
In this presentation, I carefully read elements of Achebe’s text for the African writer’s circumspect conceptualization of the state and its national project. I then carefully read the NTA production for the ways that it uses the writer’s work to (re)conceptualize this project. Not only is this reconceptualization significant in light of the postcolonial state’s hegemonic ambitions, but the NTA broadcast of Things Fall Apart set off a series of aftershocks that continue to reverberate in Nigerian cultural production.
Patrick Chabal (History, King’s College, London)
"RE-IMAGINED MODERNITIES: Culture and the Study of Politics in Post-colonial Africa"
In my paper I will revisit the question of culture in political science, which led me a few years ago to re-think the ends and means of comparative politics. The reason I felt compelled to do so was because it became obvious to me that the standard political science we were, and still are, taught in the academy (especially in the United States) had failed miserably to come to terms with the cultural realities political scientists faced when coming into contact with the cultures of Africa. I reached the conclusion that African cultures had exposed Western social science for what it was: an ill-conceived attempt to apply to the continent the theories that had been developed to explain what was happening in the West. In other words, the study of Africa made plain to me that social sciences as taught and practiced in the West were but a way to force the non-West into the Western experience. Or to put it another way, that social sciences were built on the assumption that modernization meant Westernization.
Nevine El Nossery (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
“Fissures of Trespass in the Midst of National Disenchantments”
In this paper, I will consider certain practices and strategies in francophone autobiographical narratives that function as fissures which trespass the borders of the inviolable and sanctified private sphere secluding women as sources of fitna or seduction and which might threaten the umma’s or the nation’s homogeneity, its longing to construct a socially stratified society. Even if they do not allow women to have access to the larger political, social and sexual narratives of the nation, these fissures can at least temporarily deconstruct and rewrite these narratives. If borders have been created to isolate those who disturb the homogeneity of the state, they are now becoming confused and aporetic, conveying the impossible unity of the state. I argue for the existence of different counternarratives and counterperformances adopted by what we might call “imagined communities of women,” narratives that blur the lines between outside and inside, public and private, thus reflecting a crisis of the nation-state’s power and proposing a kind of celebratory transnationalism in the terms of which real and imagined borders or hudud can be finally dismantled.
Sarah Harrison (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
“Welcome to Lagos: State Power, Slum Clearances, and Urban Modernity in Postcolonial Nigeria”
The anxious policing of state power frequently finds violent expression in Africa’s sprawling megacities, where population density meets with limited socioeconomic opportunity to test the reach and resourcefulness of postcolonial leadership. Successive governments in postcolonial Nigeria have asserted their authority not only through the conspicuous construction of unwanted monuments and redundant infrastructure, but also through the notable destruction of informal settlements in the name of progressive urban “development.” Focusing on Chris Abani’s Graceland, my paper examines how this depiction of a notorious Lagos slum clearance exposes the limits of the Nigerian state’s colonially inherited vision of urban modernity. While the novel demands alternative routes to urban stability, Abani also highlights the difficulty of harnessing the resistant improvisational energies that could make them possible.
Anne-Maria Makhulu (Duke University)
"The Right to the City across the South African 'Transition'"
The post-apartheid state holds a special place in both the taxonomy of so-called “postcolonial” states as much as it does in the actual chronology of separately achieved independence or, in the South African instance, what has been termed the “transition”—an apparent acknowledgment of the language of democratization over and above that of decolonization. This fact of South Africa’s special place has informed a whole literature on South African exceptionalism and colonialism of a special type, while another parallel body of scholarship has suggested instead that South Africa settler colonialism, labor markets, and anti-apartheid resistance might well be compared to other colonial situations and anti-colonial victories. In this paper I will situate the South African “transition” in a pre and post-apartheid politics of urban squatting—of quotidian struggles to negotiate rights to the city both under apartheid and under the new post-apartheid state, specifically on the outskirts of the City of Cape Town.
Luis Madureira (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
"Where ‘God is Like a Longing’: Theatre and Social Vulnerability in Mozambique"
This paper belongs to a broader study which seeks to understand how the sustained and diverse performance culture that has thrived in Mozambique for the last three decades relates to the exercise of citizenship. It provides a critical overview of theatrical activity in Mozambique from the colonial period to the early 1980s, the waning years of the Afro-Marxist republic. The paper examines the ways in which this pioneering performance culture at once reproduces and aspires to displace the antinomy (drawn by Ngugi wa Thiong’o and others) between an elite or art theatre performed inside a building, usually in colonial languages, and a “real national theatre” located “where the majority of the people reside: in the villages in the countryside and in the poor urban areas.” Concomitantly, I try to address the challenges of conducting archival research, and elaborate a meta-narrative about my own analysis that indicates its limits and thus endeavors to contribute to theatre studies in Africa in a way that speaks as much to methodology as it does to results.
Louise Meintjes (Duke University)
“Luck with Bones: Post apartheid cultural brokerage on the world music circuit”
“Am I throwing away my luck with these bones [musical instruments]?” sings South African ngoma singer-dancer, Siyazi Zulu. I consider the encounters of the Umzansi Zulu Dance ngoma troupe with aspiring cultural brokers in order to look at forms of musical entrepreneurship that have emerged in response to the failed promises of the new state. I draw on my ethnography of Umzansi’s studio recording sessions in Johannesburg, of the visits of scouts and filmmakers to Umzansi’s rural Zulu community, and of Siyazi Zulu’s cultivation of these encounters. What is at stake for these Zulu musicians in their small-scale brokering arrangements and lo-fi aesthetic choices, and in articulating dance as work? In their struggle for local empowerment, men variously positioned in South Africa’s under-resourced communities navigate among affective and curatorial discourses about the (colonial) past, entrepreneurial and ethical representations of the future and a precarious South African present.
Tejumola Olaniyan (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
"The Revolution Will Be Cartooned! African Political Cartoonists and the North African Uprising"
My paper is an exploration of the work of African cartoonists on the subject of the anti-regime revolts in North Africa since late 2010. African cartoonists, distinctively and generically experts in “cartooning crises,” are extremely popular on the continent today, and they are the reason many people buy newspapers. They are bold and uncompromising, and those are made more notable by the fact that they operate in contexts made almost always adversarial by governments of all hues. The cartoonists have, especially over the past four decades, created a reputation as not just great satirist-entertainers but also as trusted political pedagogues who help their viewers usefully sort through the vertiginous chaos of ever proliferating and mutating government policies, leadership styles, personalities, political parties, promises, deceptions, and more.
Popular cultural forms are often not regarded by scholars as sources of analytical insights on national social and political affairs, but, increasingly, intellectuals and elite organizations (such as civil society and some non-governmental bodies), are now often quick to acknowledge the importance of African political cartoons as perspicacious running commentaries on African social, cultural, and political life. To survey the content and styles of the work of political cartoonists on the North African crisis is to be reaffirmed again in this observation. And because I will be looking at cartoons from across the continent, not just by North African cartoonists, I will be able to make some striking observations on an old and spent but unyielding Africanist cultural division of Africa, as if the topsy-turvy experience of postcolonial modernity has always had much regard for postcolonial cultural boundaries. The cartoonists, it seems, not only engages their governments and people, but also, by implication, scholars on how Africa is studied.
Niyi Osundare (The University of New Orleans)
"Joined at the Hip: African Literature and Africa’s Body-politic"
The evolution of African nation-states and the emergence of modern African literature are characterised by an intriguing contemporaneity. These two phenomena were not only born about the same time, their destinies were also bound together at vital temporal and spatial junctures and by a body of ideas which define the commonality of their purpose by the tremendous vigour of their mutual difference. As a result of their divergent principles, practices, and trajectories, these two phenomena have always related more through conflict than cooperation. What are the historical, cultural, ideological (qua ideational), and moral causes of this conflict and why are they so profoundly common in Africa? What is the nature of the relationship between the locus of (political) power and the citadel of letters and the regenerative potential of the latter? Why is the “post” so blissfully prefixed to “colonialism” in contemporary Africa viewed with cautionary scepticism by many African writers? These are some of the questions this lecture intends to address within the purview of “The crisis of the African state.”
Lark Porter (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
"Talibé Exploitation in Senegal: A Manifestation of the Xala State?"
In recent years, violations of Islamic Senegalese customs specific to the physical and emotional well-being of children have steadily increased. In the Islamic Senegalese culture, many parents temporarily transfer guardianship of their young boys to a marabout – a Koranic teacher – expecting that the children will study the Koran and the Islamic faith. Because alms-giving is one of the 5 pillars of Islam, and adherence to this practice is such an expectation, the marabouts are able to avoid the obligation of feeding their students - known as talibés - by requiring them to beg on the streets for their meals. Over the past two decades, some marabouts have transformed their schools into human trafficking rings. The talibés are sent out to beg all day and upon their return, they must surrender the money to the marabouts without receiving adequate food, shelter, and education for their own well-being. Consequently, the boys are placed in continual risk of becoming subject to drugs, violence, and sexual exploitation. Additionally, Senegal’s geographic location facilitates the quick, illegal transportation of these boys to Europe and other parts of Africa, including extremist Muslim circles that are currently located in the West African region.
Throughout this paper, I examine the degree to which the Senegalese state suffers from xala, or impotence, vis-à-vis this social ill which threatens the very fiber of the nation. To do so, I situate and contrast literary, filmic, and journalistic portrayals of exploited talibés with some of the religious underpinnings which support the Koranic school system and begging. I also explore the correlations between child exploitation and the resource curse, both of which have varied and far-reaching consequences.
Ato Quayson (University of Toronto)
"Spatial Practices and Performative Streetscapes: On Oxford St., Accra"
Two questions will be tracked in this talk. The first has to do with how we might translate current theories of urban space (Lefebvre, Benjamin, Massey, Malpas, etc.) into a viable account of the spatial practices of African cities and the second has to do with the nature of the details that we focus upon to aid and abet the said process of translation. The focus here will be on Oxford St. Accra with an attempt to show how the street's carnivalesque "eventfulness" allows us to assess the strengths and weaknesses of some currently popular spatial theories of the urban.
Sofia Samatar (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
“The Revenge of the Present: Tayeb Salih's Bandarshah”
The last long fictional work of Sudanese novelist Tayeb Salih, Bandarshah, concerns the search for two related institutions: the city (bandar) and authority (shah). Subtitled “A Tale of How a Father Becomes a Victim of His Father and His Son,” the text pits a united past and future, represented by the character Bandarshah and his grandson, against the present, represented by Bandarshah’s eleven sons. The bloody battle of these quasi-mythical characters is set against the backdrop of a political conflict in a northern Sudanese village, in which a benevolent despot is unseated by a new, slogan-chanting generation. This paper examines the competing forms of authority in Bandarshah, from epic heroes to religious leaders to modern political “gangs,” in order to draw out both the commentary on the postcolonial state embedded in Salih’s representation of inter-generational conflict, and the particular ways in which language is used to investigate the tensions between the past, the present and the future.
Michael Schatzberg (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
“Soccer and the State: The Politics and Morality of Daily Life”
Sport has a largely unstated moral structure. This paper will furnish a provisional exploration both of this moral structure and of how it relates to the cultural and political logics of daily life in various societies in Central and Eastern Africa. I shall suggest that people value this moral structure because it provides both visual and ethical symmetry, as well as a certain, although quite variable, sense of predictability. In this manner it may reduce uncertainty by emphasizing regular rules and structures in a most uncertain and chaotic political world where, for the most part, the largely implicit moral structure of sport does not apply. This moral structure, and especially the manner in which it is enforced, is usually relevant to understanding what is or is not legitimate, or “cricket” — whether in sport or political life. More specifically, I shall explore the interconnections between football (soccer) and the politics of daily life in selected African states by focusing on the political organization of football. Does the lack of order often characteristic of the official and organized world of African football belie the moral structure of the sport? Does the visual symmetry and apparent equality of a football match provide a model of transparency, rules, and order that people might then apply to the political sphere? Can any society be truly democratic in its public sector if various segments of daily political life operate on the basis of implicit models of governance that are anti-democratic? Does it matter, especially in ostensibly democratizing societies, that the realm of sport is usually governed autocratically? Or, put differently, how a sport’s moral structure is understood and enforced may speak directly to our implicit understanding of critical political concepts such as fairness, justice, and legitimacy.
Olúfémi Táíwò (Seattle University)
"Philosophy and the Postcolonial State in Africa"
Anyone who is familiar with contemporary debates in African philosophy is likely to be stumped to find out that philosophy, as an academic\professional discipline, never was, and still is not a standard element of public life and discourse in postcolonial Africa. That is, to put it bluntly, in the public life and discourse of Africa, philosophy has been permanently AWOL. Yet, it takes only a cursory look at the public institutions, practices, processes, and ideas that dominate the African land and mindscapes to realize how central philosophy is to their constitution, design and operation. Nowhere is this paradox more poignantly illustrated than in the area of political life and discourse. The state in Africa, by its very colonial provenance and continuing postcolonial evolution, is supposed to be a modern phenomenon. Nevertheless, few are the works that take seriously this defining attribute of the postcolonial state and its underlying, enabling philosophical presuppositions. And African intellectuals, in recent years, have been seized of the idea of remaking the state as a precondition for redeeming the promise of independence for Africa’s masses. I shall be showing how two related failures subvert this goal: (1) the failure of philosophy to be an integral part of the public square and; (2) the failure of those who dominate public life and discourse, including the design and operation of politico-juridical institutions, to take philosophy seriously. To this extent, this will be a contribution to that part of the conference that seeks to show that the “crisis of the African state” is “also epistemological, which involves deep apprehension of the state’s nature, its particular meanings to the people it rules, its history, functions, and transformations over time. The symposium is motivated in part by the conviction that advancing the epistemological challenge of understanding the African state is crucial too to resolving its social crisis.”
Helen Tilley (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
“Wisdom, Anima, and ‘Traditional’ Therapeutics: Epistemological Translations and Constructs in African States, 1930-1980”
This paper is part of a larger project that I have just begun: “The Wisdom of the Peoples”: African Decolonization, Global Governance, and Scientific Constructions of Traditional Medicine. My primary historical puzzle is this: how did “traditional medicine” move from the periphery to the center of international health concerns between 1890 and 1990, especially in the World Health Organization, and what role did African decolonization, cultural nationalism, and the rise of ethnoscientific research play in this ascendency? Among other things, I seek to explain the challenges African states faced, in the second half of the twentieth century, juggling not just the co-existence of strikingly different medical cultures within their sovereign spheres, but also the demands of a system of global governance that increasingly set the terms of debate regarding health, medicine, and the status of knowledge.
This paper explores one facet of my new project, focusing on the botanical, pharmacological, and ethnographic investigations in colonial and post-colonial Africa that helped to construct traditional medicine as a viable category of research and policy-making. In particular, I am interested in the choices investigators made – both European and African – that defined the contours of these therapeutic systems, and pay close attention to the role assigned metaphysical and spiritual elements (i.e. the “anima” in the paper title). My evidence comes from pan-African and imperial institutions as well as regional and inter-territorial efforts in Nigeria and Senegal.
Ken Walibora Waliaula (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
"The Quest for the Right to be Human in Prison Poetry"
This paper is a meditation on a poetics and a politics of pain and relief in the Kenyan academic Alamin Mazrui’s anthology of prison poems titled Chembe cha Moyo (1988), (Arrow-head in My Heart). If the poems in Chembe cha Moyo capture the anguished perception of tragedy and trauma that detention signified for Mazrui, it also underlines the love-hate relationship between the poet and his Kenyan state. Chembe cha Moyo is centrally situated within the context of incarceration and political struggle for change. It essentially grapples with issues of personal and collective dignity and freedom in the wake of human rights abuses, despotism, and decay in the postcolonial or neocolonial moment in Kenya.
By the time of his detention, Mazrui had already burst onto the Kenyan literary scene in a powerful way. His literary oeuvre had begun with Kilio cha Haki,(The Cry for Justice) a pre-detention play that placed him among the leading East African playwrights, principally because of its superior aesthetics and anti-capitalist stance. The publication of Kilio cha Haki would become both a blessing and a curse; imprinting indelibly Mazrui’s name in the canon of Swahili literature and rising the ire and mire of the paranoid Moi regime. One could say Mazrui’s detention seems to have been essentially linked to the regime’s displeasure with the publication and popularity of Kilio cha Haki.
I bring to the fore not only Mazrui’s thematic preoccupations, but also the ethos underlying his prison poetry in Chembe cha Moyo. Among the questions I examine are: What is the connection between the text of Mazrui’s poems and the detention context within which they were written? How and to what extent does he thematize truth? What is the place or role of the “I” pronoun in Mazrui’s poetic world? Does the “I” enter the stage in multiple guises as expressions of the poet’s various modes of self-narration? How is the “I” related to the “we” of the collective identity? The study also addresses the questions of trauma as they are related to the text and context of the carceral imagination and experience.