Colonial Durabilities and Global Politics

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“Mr. Eugène Lutula (to the right), burgomaster of the Kinshasa municiplaity, in Leopoldvile, pays a visit to one of the neighborhood chiefs of his municipality.” African Archives, probably 1958-59.

Special Issue [in progress]

“Exploring Colonial Durabilities in the Great Lakes Region’s Political Landscape”

Critical African Studies

Role: Guest-editor, in collaboration with Charlotte Mertens (Melbourne University) and David Mwambari (Ghent U).

Initiated at the Congo Research Network Conference 2018 in Oxford by Dr. Mertens, this writing project aims to explore the ways in which colonialism as an active and durable process continues to shape the contemporary landscape of the Great Lakes Region (DRC, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda). How does the colonial present manifest itself into societal conflict in this region and outside (news coverage, international interventions, global politics)? Abundant literature exists on the political economy of recurrent conflicts, on state formation, state and non-state armed actors and processes of identity formation in the area. Within this scholarship, colonial history is often referenced to make sense of cyclical violence, the proliferation of armed groups and problems of state formation, but no analysis is offered of how the institutional frames, ideologies, feelings and daily practices of coloniality actively endure in the present moment, in contemporary state formation policies, everyday life, security practices and international interventions.

Moving away from conventional views that see colonialism through a static conceptualization of time, and therefore, as a specific historical era confined to ‘the past’, this Special Issue interrogates and investigates how colonialism – in the form of discourses, material artefacts, institutions, and socio-political practices – endures within politics and social life in multiple ways. Across the various disciplinary traditions of African studies, the issues of what is ‘post-colonial’ has been widely debated, but systematic approaches to unearthing how the (violent) lingering of colonial states, economics and politics into contemporary national landscapes is subtly but energetically maintained, are rare (see Stoler 2016). We propose a critical analysis of the dynamic discursive and material processes through which colonialism is reactivated, remobilized and re-presented in local, regional and global narratives, policies and practices across the Great Lakes Region (GLR). We seek to provide novel empirical material, and historical and sociological analyses of residual but active coloniality at work in the discursive, political, military, economic and cultural landscape of and on the GLR. Using the broad analytical concept of colonial durabilities, we seek to engage with three inter-related sets of questions:

1. What does it mean to live in and study the ‘post’ colonial era?

This allows broader, epistemic and theoretical analyses into cross-cutting themes: How is the ‘global’ composed? How does this speak to understandings of the ‘west’ and the ‘non-west (Gilpin 2008)? How do memories of colonial violence endure, live on in bodies (see Fassin 2007)? How do contemporary states and citizens in the GLR negotiate and revive their colonial history on a daily basis?

2. How are the political effects and practices of (transnational) colonial projects re-produced?

Connecting the ‘local’ and the ‘global’, this field of inquiry seeks to offer insights into the various effects and manifestations of transnational political practices including humanitarian, development and military interventions, the politics of multinational companies, and multilateral cooperation at the ‘local’ (the everyday, the community, the urban) levels of social life. In other words, how are the logics of coloniality at play in contemporary responses to conflict and violence in this region?

3. How do we produce novel methodological perspectives on time and history in this ‘post’ colonial era?

How can researchers use oral history, archival documentation, visual material and other methodological tools across disciplines to produce empirical and theoretical renditions of past occurrences as ingrained in present-day politics in the GLR (Hunt 2016, Hell & Schönle 2010)? Is it possible to reframe and refine the issue of reflexivity in light of a dynamic conceptualization of time?


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Photo: Sammy Baloji, dand Mémoire Kolwezi.

List of Contributors

  • Aymar Nyenyezi Bisoka | Post-doctoral Researcher in Political and Social Science, Leuven University, Belgium.
  • Andrea Purdeková | Senior Lecturer in Conflict and Security at the University of Bath, UK.
  • Juliane Okot Bitek | Writer, Poet, Scholar, PhD candidate at the University of British Columbia’s Liu Institute for Global Issues.
  • Astrid Jamar | Lecturer in International Development at Open University, UK.
  • Dr. Chloé Lewis | Linacre College, University of Oxford, UK.
  • Rene Septhon |PhD Candidate, RMIT University, Australia.
  • Julian Hopwood | London School of Economics and Political Science.
  • Emery Kalema |Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa.