In our last episode of Black History Month, Rachel interviews political theorist Adom Getachew on her new book, Worldmaking after Empire: The Rise and Fall of Self-Determination. Her book reconstructs an account of self-determination offered in the political thought of Black Atlantic anticolonial nationalists during the height of decolonization in the twentieth century.
We have lots of great recommendations for listeners this week, including books on race and feminism, a virtual event on African folktales, a virtual resource for those of us missing travel and fieldwork, podcast episodes you should listen to, and more!
Listen to the episode below!
Books from the Episode
The Expansion of International Society edited by Hedley Bull and Adam Watson
Other Links and Articles
“Black History Month: What’s Happening at NPR?” by Nicole Collazo Santana
Previous Episodes We Mentioned
Kim: Welcome to Ufahamu Africa, a podcast about life and politics on the continent. I’m Kim Yi Dionne, your host, and I’m joined by my co host, Rachel Beatty Riedl. Hi, Rachel.
Rachel : Hi, Kim, and hello to all! This is our final episode of Black History Month. And for that we have a real treat for our listeners: An interview with Adom Getachew, who is the Neubauer Family Assistant Professor of political science and the college at the University of Chicago. She’s a political theorist with research interests in the history of political thought, theories of race and Empire and post colonial political theory. Her work focuses on the intellectual and political histories of Africa and the Caribbean. Her first book, which you’ll hear about today, World Making After Empire: The Rise and Fall of Self Determination, which was published by Princeton University Press, won several prizes, including the African Studies Association’s Herskovits Book Prize, and the International Studies Association’s theory section Book Award. Adom holds a joint PhD in political science and African American studies from Yale University, and she is on the faculty board of the Pozen Center for Human Rights, a fellow at the Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory, and a faculty affiliate at the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture.
Kim: I’m really excited to hear your conversation with her. Also in this week’s episode, we have a news wrap talking about Afrobarometer survey data and what it says about support for democracy, some links on Black History Month, particularly looking at African folktales. Here in the United States, a new digital resource for people who are doing research in the field, a piece on Malcolm X in Egypt and Nigeria and some new updates on the Nigerian presidential elections.
Rachel: Thans Kim, that’s right. I wanted to start out with a Monkey Cage piece that came you probably have already edited. But as part of the biweekly Afrobarometer series that explores Africans’ views on democracy, governance, quality of life and other critical topics. So, this past week’s analysis by Fredline M’Cormack-Hale and Mavis Zupork Dome takes a deep look at the disjuncture between the number of people across the continent who say that they want elections, and those who believe that they work, and one major takeaway is an overall decline over the last 10 to 15 years in the faith in electoral accountability. Now, the Afrobarometer survey data from 2019 and 2020, in the last two years shows that few citizens, only about 42%, on average, think that elections ensure that voters’ views are represented, and enable voters to remove leaders they don’t want or even produce accurate results. So, that’s pretty low confidence, you know, four out of ten. And of course, as we should expect, there are major variations by country of course, highs of 70% or more in Ghana and 65% in Sierra Leone, two places where challengers recently defeated incumbents in 2016 and 2018, respectively. In those places, majorities think that elections are indeed opportunities which enable voters to get rid of non performing leaders. Whereas in Gabon, for example, where two generations of the Bongo family have been in power since 1967, only 15% think that elections serve this function well. Now, change over time in this regard is really significant, on average, across 11 countries surveyed regularly since 2008 and 2009, general faith in the accountability function of elections has dropped by 11 percentage points from 56% to 45%. But even if people don’t place great faith in elections as a way to ensure good representation and leadership, almost three quarters of those who responded do want regular, open and, honest elections to choose their leaders. So, there’s a desire for elections to happen, the electoral process. And Kim, you and I have talked about this before in some ways, most recently regarding third term debates about the ways in which elections even when largely expected to be won by incumbent candidates and controlled by the incumbent party to ensure a tilted playing field in their favor. Elections still create these opportunities for opposition and potentially citizen mobilization, a moment to express alternative visions and potential challengers to stand. And sometimes that can lead to surprises. But even here Afrobarometer shows a decline in recent years, on average, across 15 countries surveyed regularly since 2011, the belief that elections are the best way to choose leaders has declined by eight percentage points. And sadly, I was disappointed to see that Tunisia I think, you know, the spark of the Arab Spring has declined by 21 points. And Malawi also shows how frustration and disappointment in the political process can sometimes lead to change. Malawi’s respondents belief that elections are the best way to choose leaders had declined by 19 points in data collected just after the disputed May 2019 elections. But before the June 2020 rerun that we’ve talked about and, the historic change and transition that represented. So I’m looking forward to hopefully seeing that number rebound in the next round of surveys in Malawi. So, the analysis here overall supports general findings that popular support for elections gets a boost from the experience of high quality elections, especially ones that do produce a change in leadership and opportunities for transition. And the afro barometer, indeed, shows that support for elections is 11 percentage points higher if respondents think that their country’s last election was free and fair.
Kim: Yeah, it was a really great piece. And it reminded me a lot actually of Nicholas Kerr’s work. So, he’s a political scientist at the University of Florida, and he’s working on a book project, looking exactly at electoral commissions and how, you know, popular perceptions of how well administered elections are and, whether or not they they are, as you say, you know, free and fair, really have an effect on on the outcomes of election. So, it’s not just about, you know, support for candidates, but it’s also how the public thinks about the quality of elections. And I’m excited about his book project. And I think that some of our listeners may already be familiar with an article of his that we had shared on an earlier episode, where he looks in particular at, you know, popular perceptions of Nigeria’s independent National Election Commission and what that means for their own understandings of and support for democracy. Now, a lot of the links that I am sharing with our listeners this week are things related to Black History Month, because I’m trying to squeeze it all in before the month is over. And you know, given that our guest this week is Adom Getachew, I love and regularly assigned, in fact, I start my African politics course, with students reading her essay in the New York Times, as part of it was this reflection on 60 years of independence in Africa. And you know, in last year’s, New York Times, they have this beautiful spread of images from, you know, 1960, which is, you know, kind of hailed as the Africa year of independence, because so many African countries had won their independence from colonizers. And then of course, you know, many followed soon thereafter. I really think that, you know, her essay that kind of launches all of these other essays in the collection is is really well done. So, I hope for our listeners who haven’t read that essay yet, you know, take a look at it. Some other things, you know, we are broadcasting the show from, from the United States. So, I think a lot about the connections between Africa and the US. And there was a great article in Travel and Leisure recently, during this Black History Month, talking about culinary vacations, in what’s called the low country of Coastal Georgia and South Carolina, here in the United States. And it’s, you know, centuries ago, now that this coastal area was the landing place for many of the enslaved Africans who were brought in bondage to America to work on plantations, and it was on this coast, you know, a lot of different crops were grown and, and then, of course, in the title creeks and rivers, nearby the coast and islands, just off the coast. And what you see is that over time, the enslaved people of Coastal Georgia and South Carolina developed a cuisine of their own. And it was one that was informed by their roots in West and Central Africa, but then brought to life by the bountiful produce of, you know, what we call the low country and so this destination and Americas is, is a is a true culinary destination, because it’s, you know where southern hospitality was born. And there’s a real global mixture of foods in in this place. And, and I think, you know, I want to point our listeners to a local university, the Georgia Southern University, which has a center for Africana Studies, and they’re hosting a virtual event that’s focused on African folktales called Go Back and Fetch It: African Folktales, Traditions, Meanings and Relevance and it actually features an Armstrong State University alumna, Lillian Grant-Baptiste, who’s a master Gullah-Geechee storyteller and Gullah-Geechee is the name of a tradition of the of the people who come from this Lowcountry, and that event is being broadcast via Zoom. But there’s also a number of events that the Center for Africana Studies at Georgia Southern has been, you know, curating since about halfway through the pandemic, since September 2020. And I hope our listeners will check out some of their events and, and some of the resources that the Africana Studies Center at Georgia Southern has put together.
Rachel: Thanks for sharing that Kim. I also wanted to share a kind of resource or a gateway to a lot of different types of information and one that can be enriched by the participation of our listeners, wherever they may be based across the world. And this is a new collaborative forum that’s called Digital Fieldwork. And it’s created just recently by Lahra Smith and Diana Kapiszewski, and Lauren MacLean. And we certainly all know that disruptions that COVID-19 has brought to scholars and researchers working on the continent, working anywhere, and field ork in general how challenging it can be, especially multicountry field research, which has long been and will continue to be out of reach for many scholars around the world. So, to address this moment and this challenge more generally, this new resource digital fieldwork offers a collaborative forum where social scientists with limited ability to conduct traditional fieldwork can help each other to capitalize on data gathering opportunities, and address data gathering challenges posed in this way. So, by bringing together different types of reflections on a variety of media, forums, photo essays, poems, artistic representation, etc, that consider how to carry out and manage or address challenges in conducting digital fieldwork, or offer intellectual reactions to the experience of conducting digital fieldwork. And then a set of resources, webinars, events, organizations, and websites, trainings, that can lead to better understandings of how to collect digital archives, or work with news media resources, for example. And then a set of references, a list of books and articles and guides on how to conduct digital fieldwork within the context of the pandemic and beyond. So, I just want to say, thanks to these intrepid curators of this site, and I think it can be a place of a platform where many of us can interact, and kind of put out a set of requests for types of data that we might be looking for, and connect with people who might be in that place that could provide that and share ideas and, and really kind of co-produce knowledge in a very virtual but stimulating and connective way.
Kim: It sounds like a great resource. And, you know we’ve interviewed both Lahra and Lauren on the show. So, I think our listeners know that these are researchers who were, you know, deeply steeped in doing the work of collecting data and in a responsible way and I’m glad to know that they’re spearheading this effort. I was talking with a graduate student who is from Ghana, but you know, in the States right now, but not really able to travel because of everything going on with COVID. And he was wondering about, you know, how am I supposed to do field work? And I said, I don’t know, man, this is a question where we’re all kind of dealing with and I was like, but check out this site, you know, Lahra Smith is connected to it. So, it’s got to be great. And I found out about it, because Lahra had shared it on Twitter, and I hope that our listeners will check it out too. And, you know, just talking about Twitter, it was actually thanks to Twitter, earlier this week that I learned more about Malcolm X. Historian Edward E. Curtis, IV has an epic Twitter thread that draws on his December 2015, Journal of American History article titled, My Heart is in Cairo, Malcolm X, the Arab Cold War and The Making of Islamic Liberation Ethics. Now, as someone who read Malcolm X’s autobiography in college, a tweet and Curtis’s thread stood out to me. And that’s when he writes about how in the popular memory of many of us we imagined Malcolm X’s moment on Mount Arafat during his Hajj pilgrimage as a moment of supreme religious meaning. And, of course, you know, Curtis concedes that it was but he writes, you know that in reading Malcolm X’s own words, especially in his diaries, but also you know, this article relies on correspondence from Malcolm X. It’s through these words that that reveal that there were other transcendent spiritual moments during Malcolm X’s journeys abroad. One was in Ibadan, when a Nigerian leader referred to him as the Omawale, or the son who has come home, and another, less well known, well documented in this article written by Professor Curtis was in Alexandria, Egypt, on August 2 1964, Malcolm X address the Aboubaker city camp for Muslim youth and this is a conference of Muslim youth from around the world. And in Malcolm X’s diary, he wrote “this affair impressed me more than my trip to Mecca”. And, you know, when I saw that tweet, you know, it really blew me away. And, you know, in Professor Curtis’s article, what really stood out to me was how Malcolm X interpreted the responsiveness of this youth audience, this, you know, kind of global Muslim youth audience that he had in Alexandria, Egypt, from the mouths of Muslims use from around the world, the kind of religious and political solidarity with African Americans for which he had been pleading and petitioning African leaders at The OAU African Summit. Shabazz noted,-Shabazz meaning Malcolm X, noted with satisfaction that the young Muslims expressed their support stripped of the diplomacy I had heard at the summit. Unlike the tepid communique that the African leaders issued in support of African Americans, the expressions of these youths were full throated and revolutionary. Now if our listeners want to learn more, they can check out the article or listen to a podcast interview that Curtis did with the Journal of American History Podcast about the article. Now another podcast episode I want to encourage our listeners to check out is NPR Through Lines’s whole catalogue for Black History Month. So, Through Lines I did a lot of great episodes on history and this month, they devoted their catalogue to Black History Month. But especially the first episode this month, which featured Marcus Garvey, it’s really a great episode. And, you know, I think more people need to know more about Marcus Garvey.
Rachel: You know Kim, that’s so interesting, of course, as we are here in Black History Month and speaking with Adom this week, she also is talking about Marcus Garvey in terms of her next project and thinking about where she’s headed and political theory. These connections are really so interlinked and steeped throughout great thinkers of our time. So, I also wanted to come back to something very contemporary and as we always do, you know, love talking about elections. This last week, Nigeria conducted its presidential runoff election, and the Electoral Commission just announced provisional results, declaring that the former interior minister Mohammad Bazoum, won the election with 55.75% of the vote, and opposition leader Muhammad Usman received just 44%. Now Usman has claimed fraud alleging that he narrowly won the country’s presidential election, and some protests in security forces have clashed, which has been reported in a number of locations throughout the country. But Usman says, “the compilation of results which we have in our possession, through our representatives in the various polling stations, gives us a victory with over 50% of the vote”. And this is, you know, of course, from his political parties, representatives and observers throughout the country. Now, the elections have been presented regardless of the winner as the first democratic transition in the history of Niger because of so many kind of previous coups in the country’s history. So, current president Mahamadou Issoufou is voluntarily stepping down after two five year terms. And Usman himself was Niger’s first democratically elected president in 1993, only to be toppled in a coup three years later. So, you know, it’s a contested moment. It’s one that will certainly relate to Nigeriens’ perceptions of the degree to which the elections are free and fair and assure in the results they want to see. But we hope that this will indeed be this kind of stable process that allow the citizens to have to have elected leadership.
Kim: Yeah, and some stability.
Kim: Now, I do want to also share thanks to our research and production assistant, Fulya Felicity Turkmen, we have a couple of book recommendations to share with our listeners. Again, in celebration of Black History Month. So, these two books that she recommends. The first is White Tears, Brown Scars: How White Feminism Betrays Women of Color and that’s by Ruby Hammad.The book uses historical accounts to connect past experience with today’s culture based on white supremacy. And Hammad explores how white women’s role in the oppression of people of color results in the abandonment of black, indigenous and colonized women. And it’s a very accessible read. And because it uses a lot of pop culture references and personal anecdotes. Another book recommendation is To Exist is to Resist: Black Feminism in Europe. And this book focuses on the uncomfortable coalition between Black and white women in Europe and also in the Black diaspora. It offers a critical perspective on how Black American politics and culture dominate the global knowledge production about history of anti imperialist and anti colonial struggles in different parts of the world. And I think if anything, it sounds like a great read just to be engaged in that conversation and have to have some touchstones. Now. She also gave us some recommendations of what are some of her favorite listens in the Ufahamu Africa Black History catalogue. And, you know, of course, a lot of these are some of my favorites as well. So it was nice to see them again. Episode Five, you know, throwback to season one with one of my favorite people, and that’s with Dr. TJ Tallie. And, you know, this was, gosh, it was, you know, season one. So, it’s quite some time ago, and this was before TJ Tallie published his book, Queering Colonial Natal, which is now out. But we do talk a little bit about it. And so, I think our listeners will be interested to hear it. She also recommends a couple of other episodes from that season, for example, Episode Seven with historian Michelle Boyd, who talks about her her book on colonial East African soldiers. And Daniel Magaziner, who’s a historian at Yale University, where he and I talked about his book about an apartheid era art school in South Africa. And then, Rachel, actually, she pointed out an episode that you had done recently with , on the history and modernity of Islam and the African world. And I just saw when we were together in a conference that’s been put together by our friends at POMEPS and PASIRI, looking at race and racism in in Africa and the Middle East, and so it was nice to kind of be in the same Zoom room with him and to be reminded of that great interview that he did with you. I don’t know if that was last season, season four. But that’s Episode 58 for our listeners.
Rachel: Exactly, Kim, wonderful episodes and we encourage everyone to take a listen. That’s all for this week, you’ll find links and more at ufahamuafrica.com. Now please join us for my conversation with Adom! So, first of all Adom, I wanted to say thank you so much for joining the podcast, Ufahamu Africa and congratulations on your award winning book, World Making After Empire: The Rise and Fall of Self- Determination. As one of the reviews put it, I thought was quite fitting: “It’s a profound intellectual and historical recovery and a landmark contribution to the study of the 20th century global order”. And for our listeners, I really want to recommend that they read this book, it’s captivating and beautiful. And it’s about decolonization, and the ways of remaking the international order during the 20th century, ways of informing historical and contemporary debates over globalization, inequality, international and domestic politics. And at heart, you really present alternative visions of world making. And in this way, I found it a great combination of philosophical, practical, applied and imagined materials. So, I was wondering if you could tell our listeners, first of all, what is the foil or the standard history that you’re contesting or reacting to? And what do you describe instead? And why is it so different?
Adom: Great! I just want to say thanks for having me. It’s really a pleasure to be in conversation with you today. Yeah, as you said, the book is trying to rethink what the project of decolonization was from the perspective of its international vision and imaginary. And the standard picture that I’m kind of writing against is one that assumes that Empire was primarily a bilateral relationship where Britain rules Ghana or Jamaica. And that the international component of that bilateral relationship is one in which Ghana or Jamaica as a result of being colonies are excluded, are part of the international society. And so, in that standard view, decolonization is thought to be a double move, one of securing independence and a second one of entering or gaining inclusion in international society. So, this is pretty, you know, illustrated, for instance, in Hedley Bull and Adam Watson’s very important book, The Expansion of International Society. Decolonization in that view, has told us a story of the progressive expansion and inclusion of formerly excluded societies as part of international order. And that inclusion takes the form of both gaining independence and, realizing the form of a nation state.
Rachel: And so how would you say, in terms of thinking about gaining independence and realizing that the nation state, how would you describe your project in terms of these these big overarching questions?
Adom: The way that I’m like, you know, trying to complicate this picture, is first to say, was Empire really just a problem of bilateral relationship? Was it really just about Britain ruling, you know, sort of system of countries? And there, I argue that, in fact, a whole set of anti colonial thinkers, they do think that was an adequate conception of what Empire was. They highlighted problems of hierarchy. And these hierarchies were illegal, they were political and economic. And here, I use the example of Ethiopia and Liberia in the interwar period to illustrate and highlight what this problem of hierarchy is, these are two states that are independent, right, the only independent states at the time, they’re also members of the League of Nations. And what I tried to show is that in the 20s, and 30s, both of these states would experience various forms of domination within the apparatus of the League of Nations, leading famously, of course, in Ethiopia’s case, to the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. So, I use that as a kind of illustration of what a different vision of empire could be. But for my thinkers, who will talk about like they think of empire also a process of worlds making, right like integrated the world, it created one world, but it did so on unequal terms, right, it does so by deepening hierarchies and difference between colonizer and colonized. So, it’s when we understand Empire as that process of not exclusion, but unequal integration, I think it changes how we have to think about what the project of decolonization was. And so, for me, my claim is that it wasn’t a project of seeking inclusion, but a way of trying to equalize relations within a world that had already been integrated on unequal terms, right. And so, basically, I argue that decolonization wasn’t just the project of creating nation states, of nation building seeking inclusion, but a project of the world making. And it was a project of world making, as I said, cecause Empire had made the modern world. And so, I tried to trace different kinds of international institutions, ideas that tries to reimagine and reconstitute this world. Hmm, exactly. And for our listeners, what does world making mean? In that sense, you know, for your thinkers, for the statesmen, in this moment, the visions of world making that are presented? Yeah. As I’ve just said, I don’t think of world making as just something that the anti colonial nationalists did. One could think of empire itself as having made the world. But for the thinkers, I’m interested in for the anti colonial, nationalist critics, I think world making is the kind of an attempt to think about what are the background conditions? What are the international conditions that we need to put in place in order to realize our aspiration of national independence? So, this isn’t to say, these aren’t your not cosmopolitan figures as such, right. They’re nationalists. They’re seeking national independence. So, that part of my story, you know, remains the same as with the standard story. But there are thinkers that think in order to realize our nationalist aspiration for independence, we need to create an institutional infrastructure on the international stage that would allow us to actually realizedour aspiration for independence that would make independence substantive, rather than simply formal or legal. So, this is what I call anticolonial world making, the aspiration and that attempt to create that legal, political, and economic infrastructure is on the global stage that would allow states to realize their independence.
Rachel: Fantastic, exactly. And, in many ways, as you’ve just been alluding to, your book is also about the failure in some senses of anti colonial nationalism. And can you tell us a little bit more about why this is the case? And does it hold lessons for us today, as we were thinking about debates of the double edged sword of nationalism, pros and cons of nationalism, different types of nationalism, exclusive and inclusive and the like?
Adom: Yes, I mean, I think in some ways, the reasons nationalism fails, or this project fails, I think we both have to think about its internal contradictions. Like, why was this project? Why did this project generates, you know, varieties of authoritarianism, undermine its own aspirations, right, for collective self rule? So, there was a set of internal contradictions. And then, of course, there were a set of international powers actors that that undermine this project from without. And I think it’s important to think both about these two things separately, and these two things in relation to each other, or the ways that they’re entangled with each other. But let me start with the first, I mean, in some ways, I have to say, I think this is one limit weakness of the book on my own terms, I think more could have been said about the internal contradictions of the project. But let me try and save what what I thought through the book, one, let’s take something like the right to self determination. You know, this is an argument that all peoples have the right to self rule, right, but the way that it gets articulated by even anti colonial actors, it’s one that privileges the territorial unit of the colony as the basis of self determination. Almost immediately, as we know, in the African context, there’s a whole set of challenges to whether and why that should be the basis of self rule. It should also be said that these projects did not always take secessionist forms, right. Sometimes they were arguments for decentralized forms of federation, different ways of imagining representations. So, arguments for reserved seats, for instance, in the Ghanaian context, or attempts at creating local autonomy. Again, the Ashanti Kingdom in Ghana is an example of this. Right? But the thinkers I study in particular, the elite, the leading figures or statesmen are figures who are universal. What modernists and modernizers they take each instance of these demands for, say, differentiated forms of representation or for decentralized forms of rule as as kind of as traditionalist claims or they think they take them to be sites that are preserving either hierarchy, or forms of difference that they think citizenship have a claim of equal, universal citizenships should overcome. So, I think one one lesson there is that the failure of anti colonial nationalism actually looks like, you know, shares a lot with a wider set of problems in modern politics, right. This is a set of problems we could have imagined, we’ve inherited since the French Revolution, right? What is what is equal citizenship, actually. So, I think that’s one way that I want to think about the problem of anti colonial nationalism. I think the second, this could be more much more specific to the post colonial context, and again, is connected to the modernist and modernizing ambitions of nationalism. And it has to do with the developmental ambitions of the states. So, we often think of development primarily in its economic terms, but I think the idea of development carries a kind of pedagogical vision of politics, right? That sees in some ways the citizens of the newly independent country as still in need of tutelage. And this is a way in which paradoxically, anti colonial nationalists inherit a kind of tutelary model of politics from imperial powers, right. So, you know, the idea that the citizens still need to be formed, right? They’re still in the process of political becoming, and one needs this infrastructure of state power to make them citizens. So, those would be two kinds of like internal contradictions and that I think, generate some of the authoritarianism, etc, that we would come to see. And in many of these states, in this period, how I would link this with the kind of international powers and actors who are trying to defeat the project is that as these contradictions come to be more at the forefront of the project, and this is definitely true by the 1970s. This is a period of ads after civil war in Nigeria, theBangladesh secession has happened. So, there’s a whole set of crises where political violence especially is front and center. I think in this context, it’s harder for anti colonial nationalists to claim the moral and political high ground on the international stage. And their critics begin to point to their failures as reasons why their vision of the international order and their domestic projects are morally bankrupt. It’s not just to say that this was an instrumental critique, I think they were genuine criticisms of this project on these terms that helped to undermine the project’s international vision.
Rachel: I really love this. And I think that the questions that you investigate in this project are so profound, what is equal citizenship? How can we remake the world when starting from these unequal structures? And I think that’s what I found so rich in this book: The exploration of different models. And to do so the resources that you draw upon, are really the repertoires of the political thoughts of anti anti colonial intellectuals and statesmen such as George Padmore, W. E. B. Du Bois, Kwame Nkrumah, Eric Williams, Michael Manley, Julius Nyerere. So, who are your favorites? And why? What did you love from their thoughts? And what do you want to share with our listeners that you think is a highlight?
Adom: Yeah, it’s a really hard question in some ways, you know, I have to say, I think it’s because probably, I’m a scholar, and not a politician. The person whom I spent the most time with, and I’ve worked on since the book also is Dubois. And he’s just like, I mean, he lives for a really long time, he lives into his 90s, prolific writer, you know, and also, like, really open to changing his mind to reformulating his thinking. So, I think as a scholar, like there’s something very inspirational about the way he the way he thinks. And the way he remains like, perpetually a political optimist, right? Looking always for moments of possibility, either conceptual or imaginative possibility or actual, realitcal, political, practical possibility. So, I think I really admire that about him. You know, the other actors, I think, in some ways, what’s hard about working on a project when our statesmen is that they’re all deeply ambivalent, ambiguous figures right? There, say someone like Nkrumah who features very prominently in the book, actually, Dubois is less prominent in some ways. You know, he’s a figure who leads this incredible mass mobilization for independence. You know, one who also prioritized, privileged the conception of the people as the working class and reformers, as the engines of social transformation. But he’s also a figure that really embodies this very contradiction we were just talking about, right? How that project, how he’s able and say, 1945, at the pan African Congress in Manchester, to say, it’s through an alliance between urban and rural, that we’re going to overcome colonial power, it’s through work, people power that sense. And genuinely, it builds a mass movement right around, then also at the same time, the person in 1957, who says the formerly colonized people have yet to develop, you know, particular political sensibilities, and that’s why we need a kind of more authoritarian state. So, I think so in some ways, you can find the same set of contradictions in each of the figures. But perhaps the person who I’m again, in this list of ambivalent statesmen, the person I feel most drawn to is Julius Nyerere, I think because it seems to me, he had a sharp critique, I think about the limits of development. And especially development understood primarily as industrialization or modernization, we thought a lot about the kind of inegalitarian consequences of a project centered on those dimensions of development. I mean, of course, the post colonial state under his time had the same dilemmas or, or instantiations, of authoritarianism. But I think there was also a genuine project in Tanzania, under his leadership of building a vision of equal citizenship and realizing that vision, in a way I think that continues to mark out in Tanzania from a number of other African states.
Rachel: Absolutely, absolutely. In so many ways, you know, we think about statesmen, and leading intellectuals in terms of understanding a particular vision, in its time, and what elements of those visions were really, you know, moving forward, and which elements of those vision have kind of unintended consequences, or I’ve seen the way that they play out and there is such an interesting example, in that light. So, I was wondering if you could also tell our listeners a little bit more about your own intellectual journey, how you came to write this book, how you came to be interested in these particular thinkers or this particular topic? And where did it take you? So, if you can tell us a little bit as well, what you’re thinking about now, in terms of your current research?
Adom: Sure. You mean, it’s, as you might imagine, I’ve had to answer this question a number of times since it’s gotten published. And I think it’s always a hard thing to trace your intellectual genealogy, because, you know where it ended, you might have not told it the same way from where you were back then. So, it’s all it’s kind of, obviously, as all narratives, or I guess, sort of a constructed narrative, but one thing to say is, my family is Ethiopian. And I grew up in Ethiopia, and in Botswana, and came to the United States fairly late, right before high school. So, one of the things I think that, you know, just personally, I think, drew me to be interested in these ways in which Africans and African diasporic peoples, you know, connected with each other or generated political cultural links with each other across the 20th century and earlier, but especially in the 20th century. So, that was just the kind of personal interest I had, but of course, that interest could have taken me a number of different directions. I think the reason I kind of focused on this period and this set of thinkers was really to two different impulses. One is that I wrote, this was my dissertation, I wrote it in a joint program in political science and African-American Studies, and wrote it in the kind of in the wake of the war on terror, of new languages of international order, like responsibility to protect, which helps to justify the intervention in Libya. So, I, you know, it felt like a moment in which the older languages of self determination, of sovereign equality were being displaced by a new language of import, facilitated by the rise of American hegemony. So, part of my interest was to see, to call to to try and articulate what a different vision of World War had been from this set of thinkers in the period right after World War Two. The other was that this came out more out of my training in African-American Studies. There had been a lot of work on Pan Africanism and Black internationalism, but one that really focused on the 1920s and 30s, as the high point of that project and saw that this period that I’m writing about just really as the rise of the nation state, and one that prevented or forestall internationalist commitments. So, I was interested in tracing out, you know, like after lives of internationalism, we’re in this high point of imperialism. So, that’s what kind of led me to narrow down my timeframe and to think about places and those specific choice of these actors. In some ways, it was accidental, I knew I wanted to write about federation in the new international economic order. And it was, in some ways trying to figure out which thinkers would best enable me to write about those political projects that generated some of the names of the of the people. And, you know, that was also reinforced by the archival work I did. S,o I spent time in Trinidad and Barbados to look at the West Indian story of federation and then spend some time in Ghana as well, in those archives. And also some in the UK and in Geneva as well. So, that’s kind of how I arrived at this particular cast of characters in this narrative arc. And where I’m going now, I think, basically, I have two sets of interests that I think this project nicely melded, but I don’t know, all my projects will be able to do that. One remains is my enduring interest in pan Africanism and projects of Black internationalism. The other as our conversation was kind of leading to is like the specific conditions of post colonial politics, especially in the African and maybe in the Caribbean context. I think this project kind of tied those things nicely. But I think in the future, probably, they’ll take different forms. And the first thing I’m trying to work on now, and I think that will be a second book is on Garveyism, in the 1920s, and 30s. So, Marcus Garvey’s universal Negro Improvement Association was, first the largest Black mass movement that had not only members in the US and the Caribbean, but, you know, members across the African continent, and especially in West Africa, and Southern Africa. For me, this is an opportunity also to think more about popular politics and, and what mass movement is and was, a mass movement of Pan africanism was. So, I’m really excited to get into that. And then, I hope to figure out what ways a kind of political theorist can intervene in contemporary debates about post colonial politics in Africa, sort of separately, or alongside this project.
Rachel: I mean, you know, as a comparativist, that’s what I found so exciting about this book is thinking about the ways in which the political theory really informs questions of that moment, certainly, and also of their legacies, but questions that are continually being re asked and shaped political development trajectories and broader regional and international orders, but also very much at the domestic level in terms of political economy and the like. So, I just think it’s a fantastic book, and I’m excited to see these new directions that you’re headed as well. So, Adom, before we let you go, I have to ask you the question that we asked all of our guests, which is, what are you reading? And what would you like to recommend to our listeners?
Adom: Okay, so I just started, Mahmood Mamdani’s book, Neither Settlers Nor Natives: The Making of Permanent Majorities and Minorities. I’m sure Mamdani will be a no name to many of your listeners. But I just started and I think one of the things that always inspired me about his work is the ways in which he’s similarly I mean, is interested in thinking, trying to think about how Africa can help to illuminate a set of wider problems, or conundrums of modern politics as such. And this book, of course, is not just focused on Africa, it’s more comparative. But I’m really looking forward to getting into it.
Rachel: Thank you so much for sharing your work with us! Congratulations on a really excellent book, and we wish you well.
Adom: Okay, thanks so much Rachel, thanks for having me!.
Kim: Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of Ufahamu Africa to find any of the articles, books or links we talked about on today’s episode, head to ufahamuafrica.com. We are also available on Spotify, Apple podcast, SoundCloud, and Stitcher. This podcast is produced by Megan DeMint, with help from production assistant Fulya Felicity Turkmen. We are generously supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and receive research assistance from Cornell University and the University of California Riverside. Our music is courtesy of Kevin Mcload. Until next week, safari salama!