P033 – Acting on the Margins: Professional Associations and the Construction of Alternative Politics in Africa after Empires
9 July, 09:00-10:30

Torrent Mélanie / Université Paris Diderot
Bourne Richard / Institute of Commonwealth Studies


Professional associations are a vital, yet still largely under-studied, part of the multilateral organisations that have emerged from the European colonial empires: the Commonwealth of Nations, the Communidade dos Países de Língua Portuguesa (CPLP) and the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF). While each of these has its own distinct history and identity, their trajectories show increasing cooperation, driven in part by a variety of professional organisations (law, business, journalism…) based in Africa or with a significant African membership. Reflecting on the disputes over the definition of ‘civil society’ and ‘grassroots initiatives’, this panel investigates how professional associations have sought to (re)define individual and collective rights using transnational/international, local/global connections. It assesses African leadership of professional networks in the Commonwealth and the CPLP, the role of migrants and diasporas, within and outside Africa, and considers how earlier forms of professional mobilisation in the British and Portuguese empires laid the groundwork for liberation.
Focusing on mobilisation in Southern and West Africa, and on African activism in Britain, this panel discusses the role of professional associations in the quest for new political, economic and cultural spaces in the long endings of the European colonial empires. By comparing colonial and post-colonial mobilisation, as well as modes of contestation across the (ex)-empires in Africa, it also intends to reflect on the wider questions of cultural and collective decolonisation.

Agir sur les marges: les associations professionnelles et la construction de la politique alternative en Afrique après les empires
Les associations professionnelles sont un espace vital, mais encore sous-étudié, des organisations multilatérales qui ont émergé des empires coloniaux européens: le Commonwealth, la Communauté des Pays de Langue Portugaise (CPLP) et l’Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF). Les trajectoires de ces organisations, à l’histoire et à l’identité bien distinctes, montrent une coopération croissante, impulsée en partie par divers réseaux professionnels (droit, affaires, journalisme…) basés en Afrique ou comptant des membres africains. Tout en réfléchissant aux définitions contestées de ‘société civile’ et des ‘initiatives de la base’, ce panel s’intéresse à la manière dont les associations professionnelles ont tenté de (re)définir les droits individuels et collectifs par des liens transnationaux et internationaux, locaux et globaux. Il étudie le leadership africain des réseaux professionnels au sein du Commonwealth et de la CPLP, le rôle des migrants et des diasporas, en et hors d’Afrique, et examine dans quelle mesure des formes de mobilisation professionnelle antérieures, dans les empires britannique et portugais, ont pu poser les bases de la libération.
Centrées sur la mobilisation en Afrique australe et en Afrique de l’Ouest, ainsi que sur l’activisme africain en Grande-Bretagne, les discussions au sein de ce panel portent sur le rôle des associations professionnelles dans la quête de nouveaux espaces politiques, économiques et culturels dans les longues fins des empires coloniaux européens. La mise en perspective des mobilisations coloniales et post-coloniales ainsi que des modes de contestations à travers plusieurs (ex-)empires en Afrique permettra également de réfléchir aux questions de décolonisation culturelle et collective.

Paper 1

Prais Jinny / Columbia University

Between Empire and the World: The West African Students’ Union and the Question of Imperial Reform, 1925-1950

The West African Students’ Union (W.A.S.U.), established by West African student in London in 1925, developed a political program (that was largely cultural) to gain political independence for a united West Africa within a British Commonwealth. Their political efforts sought to establish a West African identity and culture that mixed various African and worldly influences to form a “New Africa” and new African citizen. The New Africa was urban, cosmopolitan and modern. This paper examines the W.A.S.U.’s political project for independence within a reformed British Empire between 1925 and 1950. It considers the Union’s position on imperial reform and its engagement with the colonial office and global student movements. In particular, it considers the Union’s reaction the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1936 and the failure of the League of Nations and the British Empire to intervene. It looks at how this event changed their perspective on imperial reform and Africa’s future within an international arena.

Paper 2

Serva Pereira Matheus / UNICAMP

Colonialism and “batuques” in Southern Mozambique (1890-1940)

A report produced by a Portuguese expedition in southern Mozambique in 1891, presents some “Kaffirs songs” Warriors of Malasche settlement with big fear. In 1906 and 1907, were organized huge “batuques” in the city of Lourenço Marques, the capital of colonial Mozambique, to celebrate the visit of European illustrious figures. But, now, the natives don’t appear as a historical active figure. Their songs and dances are used here to demonstrate the ability of Portuguese domination in Africa. However, even with the apparent transformation of “batuques” of a weapon of intimidation in an official celebration of domination, the native practitioners did not act passively in this process. In addition to the many examples of “batuques” in Lourenço Marques between 1900-1930, despite his ban, Mozambican workers in Johannesburg, in 1928, protested through its “native dance”, complained of their daily lives as workers exploited in mines and openly criticized the Portuguese policy in the region. This presentation will analyze the transformation of the relation of the Portuguese colonial power with cultural practices generally designated as “batuque”. At the same time, will seek to shed light on possible interpretations that practitioners gave to the processo of transformation of “batuques”.

Paper 3

Roiron Virginie / IEP (Strasbourg)

Fostering Commonwealth links in a non-member state: the challenges of Commonwealth professional associations in Zimbabwe

Though Zimbabwe left the Commonwealth in 2003, contacts have continued mainly through the agency of the various associations gravitating around the Commonwealth. In this perspective Commonwealth-wide professional associations have been key in upholding the link between the Zimbabwean people and the Commonwealth. In Zimbabwe, professional associations have worked on the ground with local professionals but have also provided updates to the Commonwealth international organisation on the situation. They have thus been instrumental in helping the Commonwealth to re-engage with Zimbabwe and upholding Commonwealth standards.
Nevertheless, they have faced serious limits. First their impact on the ground is limited to the space they are allowed by the state, though they act as actors for development in the longer run. Second professional associations uphold Commonwealth standards through advocacy in their field of their competence, and not by directly engaging with the local political power as the Foundation now seems to favour. As Zimbabwe rejected the Commonwealth association, this new strategy might undermine their work.
This paper proposes to explore the stakes and limits of the work and influence of Commonwealth professional associations in Zimbabwe. Such reflexion on professional associations in a former member state will also raise questions about the actual place of the informal Commonwealth in the Commonwealth’s international policy, compared to the inter-state dimension.

Paper 4

Herpolsheimer Jens / University of Leipzig

(Re-)Defining Lusophone Cooperation: The Role of Non-State Actors in the CPLP

The Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries (CPLP) is often considered to be a flawed intergovernmental organization with very limited resources, little political relevance, and negligible cooperation results. As such, it is mainly perceived as a project of Portuguese and Brazilian elites, pursuing their self-interest in former Portuguese colonial territories, especially in Africa. However, what is commonly overlooked are the wide array of cooperative activities, producing tangible results, and the diversity of actors involved, including different state and non-state actors. These all contribute to the creation of a lusophone space of cooperation. This space is neither fixed nor does it always coincide with national CPLP territories. Various actors try to shape and re-shape it according to their respective needs. In this regard, it is helpful to draw on insights from the debate on New Regionalisms (NRs). These emphasize the socially constructed (and contested) character of regions and take into account the interplay of state and non-state actors. Moreover, regionalisms are analyzed as responses to challenges posed by contemporary globalization processes. From that perspective, the paper seeks to explore the role of non-state actors in general, and professional organizations in particular, in the (re-)definition of lusophone cooperation in and around the CPLP. It is argued that these actors to a significant degree influence conception and outcome of CPLP cooperation.

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