Elizabeth Schmidt (History, Loyola Maryland) on her activist beginnings and professional trajectory as an historian, first of Shona women in colonial Zimbabwe and later of Guinea’s independence movement. The second part of the interview focuses on Schmidt’s recent books on foreign intervention in Africa since 1945—a complex story driven by multiple geopolitical and economic interests, with largely negative repercussions for African nations and people.
Didier Gondola (IUPUI, History and Africana Studies) on his book, Tropical Cowboys: Westerns, Violence, and Masculinity in Kinshasa. He reflects on how Hollywood Westerns shaped a performative young urban masculinity expressed through nicknames and slang, cannabis consumption, gender violence, fashion, and sport. Gondola also offers insights on Jean Depara’s photography, the recent DRC elections, and his forthcoming biography of André Matswa Grenard, an iconoclastic Congolese activist who died in prison in 1942.
Cal Biruk (Oberlin, Anthropology) on the politics of knowledge production in African fieldwork. We talk about her new book, Cooking Data: Culture and Politics in an African Research World, based on HIV and AIDS research in Malawi. The discussion explores the social and cultural cleaning (“cooking”) of survey data and its implications for demographers and the public. Biruk then draws attention to the key role played by Malawian intermediaries, gift exchange, and ethics in the research process.
Alex Thurston (Miami University) discusses his recent book, Boko Haram: The History of an African Jihadist Movement. Taking local religious ideas and experiences seriously, Thurston sheds light on northeastern Nigeria and the main leaders of Boko Haram; relationships with the Islamic State; the conflict’s spread to Niger, Chad, and Cameroon; and US foreign policy in the region. The interview ends by considering the effect of President Buhari’s recent reelection on Boko Haram’s future.
Bonny Ibhawoh (McMaster Univ.) and Christian Williams (U. Free State) on historicizing refugees in Africa. Looking at children evacuated from the Biafran War to Gabon and Ivory Coast, Ibhawoh discusses the politics of “refugee” labeling. Williams’s biography of a woman born in a SWAPO camp in exile in Tanzania shows how displaced people are agents of history, not just faceless victims. The interview ends with lessons for refugee crises today.
David Coplan (Wits, Emeritus) takes us on a journey from New York to Soweto and into the making of his ethnographic studies of music and popular culture in West and South(ern) Africa. Coplan then turns to his recent book about The Bassline jazz club in Johannesburg. The interview concludes with insights from his new research on African borderlands and its contributions to global Border Theory.
Jean Allman (Washington U.) on rethinking African humanities. She discusses her research on Ghana, women, and gender, and highlights the transformative potential of collaborative work. Allman reflects on African Studies publishing networks and then previews her ASA Presidential Lecture delivered at MSU: “#HerskovitsMustFall? A Meditation on Whiteness, African Studies, and the Unfinished Business of 1968.”
Prof. Somadoda Fikeni (UNISA) and Nomzamo Ntombela (Stellenbosch) reflect on continuities and changes in South African social justice activism. Fikeni and Ntombela share their respective personal and political experiences, connecting the motives and lessons of 1980s anti-apartheid mass mobilization to the recent #FeesMustFall student movement.
Click here to watch the “Campus Activism for Justice: From Southern Africa to Michigan” conference, part of the Year of Global Africa at Michigan State University.