Today “the world faces the largest humanitarian crisis since the end of the second world war”, the UN under secretary-general for humanitarian affairs recently declared. This statement shows that humanitarianism is very much alive today, but that it apparently also has a history. But why am I writing about that on a blog related to the history of disability? That is because I participated in the Global Humanitarianism Research Academy (GHRA), organized by the Leibniz Institute of European History in Mainz and the University of Exeter, in cooperation with the International Committee of the Red Cross. Over the span of two weeks in July, spent both in Mainz and Geneva, this event brought together thirteen scholars from all over the world working on issues related to humanitarianism, international humanitarian law and human rights. I was lucky to be one of them, and got inspired to write this short blog about it.
So what was I doing there? My research is on the history of development interventions by UN agencies, aimed at people with disabilities in Tanzania and Kenya. I can certainly relate my subject to human rights, being part of a project that aims at unravelling how disability rose to the mainstream of international human rights discourses. But humanitarianism? I must admit that I did not have a clear idea about what humanitarianism entails before I joined this academy. During the two weeks of discussions and lectures however, it soon became clear that maybe no one has, or at least that different people have very different ideas about it. Certain themes and concepts nonetheless consistently appear throughout different writings on the history of humanitarianism, and I can certainly relate my own research to them: fostering sympathy across borders, mobilizing people through transnational organizations, lobbying for state interventions, and especially the relief of ‘the suffering of distant others’. It thus became clear that looking at my research through the lens of humanitarianism might be a fruitful exercise. I was however equally intrigued by the questions whether and what a disability perspective could contribute to the history of humanitarianism. It was mainly during the second week of the academy that I started to formulate a preliminary answer to these questions. Continue reading “Disability, development, and humanitarianism”→
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 .
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?”→
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”→
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”→
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?”→
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”→
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:
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”→