P227 – “Knowing Africans”: The Role of Knowledge in Contestation
9 July, 16:00 – 17:30

Alber Erdmute / University of Bayreuth
Macamo Elisio / Basel University


Contestation is generally understood as being driven by claims conscious individuals make on the body politic while at the same time constituting it, i.e. the body politic, as a framework within which contestation becomes intelligible and claims can be legitimately made. Most analyses of contestation and protest explicitly or implicitly rely on the famous Marxian dictum that it is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but rather their social being that determines their consciousness. Against this perspective this panel seeks to highlight the element of knowledge that we consider key to the proper understanding of contestation. We view contestation as social action, in the sense that individuals draw upon socially constructed and intelligible reasons to render individual and collective action coherent. We further contend that the act of contestation is informed by repertoires of knowledge, which include knowledge about forms and technologies of protest and resistance, as well as notions of what individuals believe to be true, morally right, or appropriate. In other words, contestation raises questions about agency and knowledge, which are still rarely considered in studies of protest and revolt in Africa.

« Knowing Africans » : le rôle du savoir dans la contestation

La contestation est généralement comprise comme étant entraînée par des revendications d’individus sur le corps politique qui dans le même temps constitue ce même corps politique, comme l’espace pertinent et légitime de la contestation. La plupart des analyses de la contestation et de protestation s’appuient explicitement ou implicitement sur la célèbre maxime marxiste selon laquelle ce n’est pas la conscience des hommes qui détermine leur être, mais plutôt leur être social qui détermine leur conscience. De ce point de vue, ce panel vise à souligner l’élément de connaissance que nous considérons clé pour la bonne compréhension de la contestation. Nous sommes d’avis que la contestation peut être comprise comme action sociale, dans le sens que les individus s’appuient sur des raisons socialement construites et intelligibles pour rendre l’action individuelle et collective cohérente. Nous soutenons en outre que l’acte de contestation est informé par les répertoires de connaissances, qui comprennent des connaissances sur les formes et les technologies de protestation et de résistance, ainsi que des notions de ce que les individus croient être vrai, moralement juste ou approprié. En d’autres termes, la contestation soulève des questions à la fois quant à l’agency quant à la connaissance. Celles-ci sont encore rarement prises en compte dans les études de la protestation et de la révolte en Afrique.

Paper 1

Pauw Christoff / STIAS – Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study

Iso Lomso: supporting Africa’s knowledge leaders of tomorrow

The increasing value of Africa’s natural resources places it at the threshold of a new era of growth that requires more than ever the development of its human potential. The wise and constructive use of these assets for the benefit of its peoples will depend largely on decisions that are informed by local knowledge.
Africa is open to a new round of exploitation unless it produces the visionaries, thinkers, scholars, creators, experts, and entrepreneurs to take the lead in social action. If not at the forefront of these developments, Africans are doomed to follow the ideas and ambitions of others and be dependent on the solutions produced elsewhere. The tendency to view Africa as a whole – whether as a resource, a market, or a problem – requires a clear articulation of its diverse repertoires of knowledge that would contest the ‘direct, simple and whole answers’ proposed by many international actors.
Such articulations depend on intellectual leadership, including from academia. However, a critical gap exists in the career paths of Africa’s brightest minds. Young scholars become enveloped in institutional duties soon after completing their PhD’s. This presentation will assess the challenges that early career scholars in African institutions face. In response it will outline the new Iso Lomso (isiXhosa for ‘eye of tomorrow’) programme of the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS), which aims to bridge the gap between emerging scholarship and intellectual leadership.

Paper 2

Rivers Patrick Lynn / School of the Art Institute of Chicago

The New Social Architecture in South Africa

Urgency underlies architecture in the Global South. Architecture and design as well as the social analysis offered by the social sciences has much to offer such a star-crossed society simultaneously on the verge of profound advancement and collapse. But this is not just any architecture or any social analysis mode. It is an architecture and social analysis deeply informed by local knowledge and teleology. Indigenous knowledge and teleology particularly in architecture but also design more broadly as well social analysis reflects a disciplinary “promiscuity” not as present in architecture and social analysis overdetermined by Enlightenment norms and Global North privilege manifest in both the North and the South. The paper is used to articulate a point where architecture and social analysis from South Africa as Global South context can enhance the interests of social democracy in a Global South and North smitten and repulsed by neoliberal formulas. Specifically, the paper is deployed to analyze actual and projective methodological examples emanating from post-apartheid engagement with a social design shaped by housing exigency, “mass refugee situations” and confrontations in the wake of demands for equality in education. At the interstices of architecture and/as social analysis, critical questions can be asked and lingering problems solved in the South and North.

Paper 3

Brigaglia Andrea / University of Cape Town

The Dagger of God

Most of the authors who have written about Islam in northern Nigeria in the late colonial and early post-colonial times (1950s-1960s) make some mention of the conflict between the traditional elite of Sokoto (mainly linked to the Qadiriyya order) and the revivalist Tijani network formed by the students of the Senegalese scholar Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse. Existing scholarship has looked both at the political (John Paden and Yasser A. Quadri) and at the religious dimension of the contestation (Roman Loimeier). The role of the production of poetry of the invective genre (Arabic: hija’) in the contestation, however, has not received any attention so far. This paper will present two invectives in verses written in the 1950s by Nigerian Tijani scholars against the then Sultan of Sokoto, Siddiq Abubakar III (rul. 1938-1988). The first poem, titled al-Khanzar al-rabbani (“The Dagger of God”), is in Arabic and was written by Shaykh Abubakar Atiku (d. 1974) of Kano; the second, Bathth al-hanaq (“Broadcast of Rage”), is in Hausa and was written by a scholar of Gusau. Underlying the paper will be the argument that the mastery of the poetic register constituted an extraordinary resource for African Muslim scholars not only (as some studies have already highlighted) in the context of their practices of knowledge transmission, but also as tools for the mobilization of followers and for the articulation of their contestation of established authority.

Paper 4

Salvaing Bernard / University of Nantes

Islamic knowledge and scholars, contestation and Revolts in Futa Jallon

Au Fouta-Djalon, la révolte des Hubbu (1850-83) menée par Alfa Mamadu Juhe – étudiée par I. Barry et R. Botte – et celle d’Ilyasa (1856-60) ont été initiées par de grands lettrés musulmans proches des milieux dirigeants. Ilyasa, selon des sources arabes dont je prépare la publication, avait entendu l’appel d’une voix céleste – un hâtif. Il était réputé pour sa capacité à faire des miracles et pour ses connaissances islamiques – tout comme Alfa Mamadu Juhe. C’était un ‘alîm, révolté au nom de la vraie religion et de la vraie justice, désireux de construire un Etat idéal, et capable de mobiliser des foules et de les mener au combat. Sa révolte, formulée dans un langage religieux, eut un écho particulier parmi des catégories qui se sentaient délaissées et exploitées : les Peuls de brousse et les descendants des Mandé vaincus lors du djihad de 1727. On peut la rapprocher d’autres révoltes menées par des personnalités de haute culture, our lesquelles s’intriquent explications socio-économiques et idéologiques: – Les djihads fondateurs des Etats musulmans d’Afrique de l’Ouest aux XVIIIe et XIXe s. – Mutatis mutandis, des révoltes européennes comme la guerre des paysans menée au XVIe par Thomas Müntzer, défaite comme celle d’Ilyasa par une alliance des princes et des religieux légalistes.

Paper 5

Cantini Daniele / Max Planck Institute of Social Anthropology

An alternative genealogy of Tahrir: Egyptian university professors and their struggle for education and autonomy

This paper addresses the crucial emergence of contestation movements within public universities in Egypt well before the “usual suspects” that are usually called in to explain the January uprising (the Kefaya movement, 6 April, and the like), as a fundamental indicator of the progressive erosion of the social contract (between citizens and the postcolonial state) that existed since Nasser. The paper argues for a grounded understanding of the material conditions that enable contestation and critique to emerge, as well as an analysis of the repertoires of knowledge that enable social action, in this case starting from the struggle over public education The case study is the 9 March movement for academic autonomy and freedom, founded in 2003 by a group of university professors demanding less political control on campuses, and the paper draws on my ongoing research on Egyptian universities, started in 2007.
Goal of the paper is to discuss the university as an institution, in order to show the centrality of knowledge in enabling social action, in reference to recent analyses of institutions as being inherently fragile, ambivalent spaces where contestation and critique can emerge. This is done through an analysis of the discourses promoted by the 9 March movement, put in the context of political repression and of educational reforms, which have been labelled the “realpolitik of privatization”.

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