P009 – Mobilizing (for) the Future in 20th Century Africa
8 July, 14:00-15:30

von Oppen Achim / Bayreuth, Germany


Modern African history is marked by an enormous variety of forms and fields of collective mobilisation. Religious, social and political movements; performances of political power and loyalty; governmental as well as nongovernmental initiatives for education and development – all such mobilising efforts share one aspect that deserves more attention than hitherto: they put forward visions of a better future on the continent, contrasting with the sufferings and disappointments of the present, and imagined as either departing from or fulfilling the legacies of the past. Nevertheless, to distinguish “conservative” from “modernist” visions would clearly miss the complexity of their connecting the future with the past and the present. Also, African ideas about a better world to come cannot be regarded in isolation: they emerged and changed in intense dialogue with normative ideas about future (and past) from the wider world. Another fascinating aspect is the way in which such visions were represented, communicated, and practiced. Contributions to this panel focus on visions arising from different contexts in the history of 20th century Africa: the mobilisation of white youth in interwar South Africa (Duff); the consolidation and contestation of African leaders around West African Independence (Baller); the interactions between state and civil society in Ethiopia between the 1960s and today (Hailu and Marcus); and the coping with accelerated urbanisation through innovative uses of the past (Marcus and Lambertz). This panel is inspired by a research project on “Histories of the Future in Modern Africa and the Atlantic” at the Bayreuth Academy for Advanced African Studies, as part of its current overall theme “Future Africa – Visions in Time”.

Mobilisation pour l’avenir dans l’Afrique du 20ème siècle
L’histoire de l’Afrique moderne est marquée par une grande variété de formes et de terrains de mobilisation collective. Des mouvements religieux, sociaux et politiques; des mises en scène de pouvoir et de loyautés politiques; des initiatives éducatrices et développementales par des acteurs gouvernementaux ainsi que non- gouvernementaux – tous ces types d’effort à visée mobilisatrice partagent un aspect qui mérite plus d’attention: ils proposent des visions d’un avenir meilleur sur le continent, contrastant avec les souffrances et désillusions du présent, et l’imaginant soit comme un départ soit comme un accomplissement du passé. Distinguer, cependant, des visions-“conservatrices” et “modernistes” ne serait clairement pas à la mesure de la complexité dont ils elles lient le futur avec le passé et le présent. Aussi, les idées africaines d’un monde meilleur à venir ne peuvent-elles pas être considérées de manière autonomes et déconnectées du monde: elles ont émergé et changé à au travers d’un dialogue intense avec les idées normatives de l’avenir (et du passé) d’autres parties du monde. D’autres aspects fascinants sont les manières dont de telles visions ont été représentées, communiquées, et mises en pratique. Les contributions à ce panel focalisent sur des visions émergentes dans différents contextes de l’histoire africaine au 20ième siècle: la mobilisation de la jeunesse blanche en Afrique du Sud entre les guerres (Duff); la consolidation et la contestation des dirigeants africains autour de l’indépendance ouest-africaine (Baller); les interactions entre État et société civile en Éthiopie des années 1960 à aujourd’hui (Hailu et Marcus); et la gestion d’une urbanisation accélérée par un usage innovant du passé, à Gondar et à Kinshasa (Marcus et Lambertz). Ce panel est inspiré par un projet de recherche portant sur “Histoires de l’avenir en Afrique et l’Atlantique modernes” au sein de la Bayreuth Academy for Advanced African Studies, dont le thème principal actuel est “Future Africa – Visions in Time”.

Paper 1

Baller Susann / University of Michigan (USA) / University of Basel (Switzerland)

Political Travels and the Representation of Future in West Africa around 1960

This paper focuses on official travels of African political leaders from former French West Africa during the late decolonisation period and early independence. This was a period of rapid change during which African future was envisioned, represented and negotiated in many ways. Official travels served political leaders as one stage on which different political projects and visions were represented, but also contested. This paper analyses the mobilising power of state visits for both consolidating visions for the future and contesting them. French Overseas Ministers and Presidents were eager to visit Africa and to invite African leaders to France in order to consolidate their power. But they were not always welcome. Moreover, African political leaders increasingly used the stage of travelling for their own goals, sometimes without the consent of French officials. The number of travels of African politicians in the late 1950s increased significantly. Travelling became an important tool in order to present one’s own country, to create and strengthen new diplomatic relations and to make political claims for the future. At the same time, plans for the future were still quite open. African federations, national autonomy and independence, but also Pan-Africanism were strongly debated. Based on archival documents and newspaper cuttings, this paper examines the ways in which visions of the future were expressed and represented and how they served as a mobilizing force.

Paper 2

Duff Sarah Emily / WISER, University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa)

“Progress should ever be our watchword”: Mobilising for the Future in South African Sex Education Manuals

While scholars of gender and sexuality have paid attention to sex education manuals as a source for tracing shifting ideas about sex, desire, and marriage, these manuals also open up new ways of understanding the mobilisation of youth in the interests of the future and of modernity. During the 1920s and 1930s, public health departments, social hygiene organisations, and child welfare societies lobbied for the greater provision of sex education to South African children. Linked to an international movement—strongly influenced by eugenics—which connected sex education to the future physical and moral health of nations, South African educators were particularly interested in the preservation of the segregationist state through manuals which taught both that the only legitimate forms of sexual expression were in monogamous, heterosexual marriage, and also that interracial relationships were at the root of social collapse. South African manuals for white children described to readers a future of modern, white rule in South Africa on the same footing as the United States and Western Europe, and suggested that white youth were crucial to the success of the vision. As the author of Facts about Ourselves for Growing Boys and Girls (1934), published by the Red Cross and Johannesburg Public Health Department for white children, argued, ‘Progress should ever be our watchword.’ By following the life course described in the manuals, white youth were mobilised into becoming future citizens.

Paper 3

Hadera Hailu Aychegrew / BIGSAS, University of Bayreuth (Germany)

NGO Visions of Development in the Changing Contexts of Ethiopia: 1960s-2015

Since the early 1960s, many NGOs in Ethiopia, as in other parts of the Third World, have aspired for the alleviation of poverty. Others have envisaged a situation where communities are guaranteed the basic necessities and enjoy the full spectrum of human rights. These visions of development are not too distant from those of various forms of government in Ethiopa during this period, although official discourses on human rights are only a recent phenomenon. However, there have always been clear differences between governmental actors and NGOs on the one hand, and between different NGOs among themselves, on the other, with regard to their strategic preferences on how to achieve “development”. The paper traces visions as well as strategies of NGOs in their changing historical contexts, shaped by dominant actors such as the state. It investigates the divergence and convergence of visions between various actors over time as well as the strategic shifts resulting from changes in the context. In this regard clear differences were manifest between what is referred to as national and international NGOs. The study uses data generated from various oral and written primary and secondary sources collected by the contributor during two rounds of fieldwork in Ethiopia.

Paper 4

Lambertz Peter / CAS, University of Leipzig (Germany)

Cleanse the city ‘cos the future is now: Japanese style millennial movements in Kinshasa

On the basis of my PhD thesis, the paper presents the this-worldly millennialism of a number of Japanese and Christian new religious movements in contemporary Kinshasa. By encouraging organic farming and the collective cleaning of urban public space so as to make the future happen now, followers are encouraged to abandon and overcome the persistent Congo-pessimism that continues to be popular among Kinois today. To the difference of NGO based cleaning and sanitization efforts in the city, the spiritualization of labour has aesthetic consequences in that the bodies and the senses of practitioners are seen as architectures of change.
The history of African millennialisms is as diverse as it is transnationally inspired. While the perspective of a recent proliferation of transnational new religious movements in urban Africa is tempting, I argue that important continuities exist between seemingly exotic new religious movements and the longstanding messianic tradition of renewal as it is known from the Lower Congo and beyond.

Paper 5

Marcus Cressida / University of Oxford (UK)

Future tense, Present tensions: Imperial Nostalgia reconfigured for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church

The population explosion and rapid urbanisation in Ethiopia today are the drivers for the reconstruction of churches in an historic town. Gondar, northern Ethiopia, once the capital of the empire, is currently experiencing unprecedented growth. The expansion of the perimeters of the city, defined by the projection of urban growth by the municipality; means that there is an empty radius around the city by some thirty kilometers.
This expansion, though, was preempted, at the time of the end of communism, by the concerted populist movement, that funded and aided the reconstruction of the churches of the city. Gondar is famed for its number of churches. Now some defunct parishes are being reinstated, rebuilt, as the church moves outwards to establish parishes in peri-urban settings that are still low density in population. This forward looking approach, by a deeply conservative institution that marries innovation of denominationalism and urban forms of piety, with the reclamation of former royal churches. Coincidentally, the municipality began renaming neighborhoods, according to parish church patron saints. In a sense, the church is getting in there first, by planting churches before the population arrives, and electricity, houses and roads are built. Thus, co-optation by the means of nostalgia allows for a project of social and urban architecture, which though being in the hands of urban planning, is ushered in by a possessive blessing commanded by churchmen.

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