China’s Neo-Imperialism in Africa: Perception or Reality?

The imperial powers carving up China
China the Victim: The imperial powers carving up China.

Tom Harper
University of Surrey

Where once China sought communist revolution, it now seeks global economic expansion. As a result, the African continent has been one of the major areas of Chinese foreign economic investment. Numerous studies of China’s Africa policy have appeared in recent years, a number of which accuse China of exploiting resource rich African states or behaving like an imperial power in the continent, most notably Peter Hitchens’s assertion that China is building a ‘slave empire’ in Africa [1].

These views on Chinese policy also reflect the changes in the perceptions of China in the Western mind. The crude stereotypes of the Yellow Peril that dominated Western culture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries have given way to a fear that China will follow in the West’s imperial footsteps. In other words, the legacy of imperialism underpins today’s perceptions of China’s foreign policy as well as Chinese identity.

Chinese engagement in Africa illuminates the influence of the imperial experience. The initial form of Chinese policy in Africa came as ideological and military assistance to the various anti-colonial movements of the 1950s in their struggles against the once dominant European empires that had been ravaged by the Second World War. During this period of decolonisation, Beijing formed strong ties with a number of African nations that would become increasingly important to Chinese economic goals once the Cold War subsided.   Should these goals be seen as neo-imperialism? Continue reading “China’s Neo-Imperialism in Africa: Perception or Reality?”

Colonial Archives of Brazzaville – A New Digital Resource

Archive_title-01

Vincent Hiribarren
King’s College London

Undertaking archival research in Africa is not always easy. This is why we have created a website dedicated to the colonial archives of French Equatorial Africa. Our first aim was to give details on access conditions for potential researchers who need to contact the director of the archives. We have also added a map showing the precise location of the archives centre next to the presidential palace in Brazzaville. This building is only temporary and the archives might be relocated in a distant future but at the beginning of 2015, this is where scholars and journalists can undertake research on the history of Congo-Brazzaville or French Equatorial Africa. Continue reading “Colonial Archives of Brazzaville – A New Digital Resource”

Rethinking Children’s Experiences of War: African Child Soldiers in the Second World War

child soldiers

Child soldiers in Africa are often assumed to be a new phenomenon, linked to the spread of so-called ‘new wars’ and ‘new barbarism’ in the civil wars which swept across the continent in the 1990-2000s. The defining images of the child soldier in today’s humanitarian-inflected discourse are those of the ragged young rebel boy in flip flops with an AK-47 in downtown Monrovia, or the kidnapped Acholi children seized from their families by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. New research, however, is beginning to challenge this assumption, and the idea that child soldiers are always either simply ‘victims’ or ‘perpetrators’.

There is in fact a much longer and deeper history of child soldiering in Africa than has previously been acknowledged. Our seminar groups have been exploring this history by analysing evidence for African children’s recruitment into British forces in the Second World War, looking in particular at the memoirs of former child soldiers who fought in Egypt, Burma and India. Although these memoirs need to be treated carefully, as they are adult recollections of children’s experiences, they reveal striking differences between contemporary and historical accounts of children’s experiences of war. Continue reading “Rethinking Children’s Experiences of War: African Child Soldiers in the Second World War”

What’s So Shocking about the Wretched of the Earth?

fanon wretched of the earth

Richard Toye
History Department, University of Exeter

Follow on Twitter @RichardToye

Frantz Fanon (1925-1961) was a psychiatrist, intellectual and revolutionary. Born in the French Caribbean colony of Martinique, Fanon spent significant periods of his life in France and, crucially, Algeria. There he became an active member of the Front de Libération Nationale that fought, with ultimate success, against French rule. His most famous work The Wretched of the Earth, published shortly before his death from leukaemia, is a classic of decolonization literature. As Jean-Paul Sartre put it in his preface:  Continue reading “What’s So Shocking about the Wretched of the Earth?”

Prelude to Intervention: French Wars in Africa, Part I

Map: "French geopolitics in Africa and Foccart's legacy" (1960-1991), from Bat's article in Afrique Contemporaine.
Map: “French geopolitics in Africa and Foccart’s legacy” (1960-1991), from Bat’s article in Afrique Contemporaine.

Jean-Pierre Bat
Research Associate, Centre for War, State and Society
Author of Le syndrome Foccart (2012)

In the first of his two-part Forum essay, Dr. Bat illuminates the distinct colonial and post-colonial history that helps explain current French military policy in Africa (1950s-present).

Today, the French Parliament will vote on the country’s present military engagement in the Central African Républic (CAR). Why? Because it remains a (poorly understood) constitutional requirement that any French military intervention overseas be approved by the National Assembly after every four months. Moreover, even if President Nicholas Sarkozy and his successor, François Hollande, have sought to republicanize France’s wars in Africa – dressing them in the clothes of democratic legitimacy and UN approval – the locations and priorities underpinning those interventions speak to a post-colonial inheritance dating back to the 1950s and the era of ‘Mr. Africa’, Jacques Foccart. Continue reading “Prelude to Intervention: French Wars in Africa, Part I”

This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

LawBooks

Marc-William Palen

It’s time for the weekend roundup in imperial and global history.

  • To kick things off, ever wonder what a map of Africa might look like if it had never been colonized? Swedish artist Nikolaj Cyon has done just that:

africaSansColonization

The Washington Post notes that ‘the map asks what Africa would look like today if colonialism had never happened. (Africa’s present-day borders were determined largely by colonialism, which continues to create lots of very big problems.) Cyon drew these boundaries based on a study of political and tribal units in 1844, the eve of Europe’s “scramble for Africa.” He oriented it with south at the top to subvert the traditional Europe-on-top orientation.’ Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”

Talking Empire: The Gallagher-Robinson Controversy

The Centre for Imperial and Global History is pleased to announce its new ‘Talking Empire’ podcast series. Hosted by Professor Richard Toye, Centre academics are developing a series of podcasts on controversies in global and imperial history, which are available to listen to for free on this page.

AfricaVictoriansWith this first installment, Centre Director Andrew Thompson discusses the longstanding debates surrounding the work of Jack Gallagher and Ronald Robinson. In their path-breaking 1953 Economic History Review article, ‘The Imperialism of Free Trade’, Gallagher and Robinson suggested that the so-called ‘New Imperialism’ of the late nineteenth century was not new at all. They argued instead that imperial historians had previously missed Britain’s informal imperial expansion following its adoption of free trade policies c. 1850. The authors expanded further upon their informal imperial findings with Africa and the Victorians: The Official Mind of Imperialism (1961).

Listen to the three installments of Andrew Thompson discussing the controversial legacy of Gallagher and Robinson: Continue reading “Talking Empire: The Gallagher-Robinson Controversy”