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Reading Group Schedule


15 Feb- 20 March                  Led by: Mosa Phadi

1 April- 17 May                       Led by: Joel Pearson

15 July-30 August                 Led by: Marcus Walton

9 September-22 October     Led by: Sifiso Ndlovu


15 Feb: Mahlatse Rampedi_ The Impact of Violence on Local Politics and Administration

22 Feb: Samir Amin_ Underdevelopment and Dependence in Black Africa — Origins and Contemporary Forms

CONTEMPORARY Black Africa can be divided into wide regions which are clearly different from one another. But it is more difficult to analyse these differences – and to study their nature, origin, and effects – than to see them.

The unity of Black Africa is, none the less, not without foundations. On the contrary, leaving aside the question of ‘race’ – in Africa, they are no more homogenous nor less mixed, since pre-historical times, than are the other ‘ races’, whether white, yellow, or red – the common or kindred cultural background, and the striking similarities of social organisation, make a living unity of Black Africa. This physical reality, extensive and rich, did not wait for colonial conquest to borrow from, or give of itself to, the other wide regions of the Old World – the Mediterranean in particular, but also Europe and Asia. The image of an ancient, isolated and introverted Africa no longer belongs to this age: isolation – naturally associated with a so-called ‘primitive’ character – only corresponded to an ideological necessity born out of colonial racism. But these exchanges did not break the unity of Africa; on the contrary, they helped to assert and enrich the African personality. The colonial conquest of almost the whole of this continent strengthened this feeling of unity in Black Africa. Seen from London, Paris, or Lisbon, Black Africa appeared to European observers as a homogenous entity, just as the North Americans regard Latin America as a continent which extends south of the Rio Grande. […]

1 Mar: Martin Guy_ Dream of Unity: From the United States of Africa to the Federation of African States

The Pan-Africanists leaders’ dream of unity was deferred in favor of the gradualist/functional- ist perspective embodied in a weak and loosely-structured Organization of African Unity (OAU) created on 25 May 1963 in Addis Abaha (Ethiopia). This article analyses the reasons for this failure, namely: the reluctance of newly-independent African leaders to abandon their newly-won sovereignty in favor of a broader political unity; suspicion on the part of many African leaders that Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana intended to become the super-president of a united Africa; and divide and rule strategies on the part of major Western powers (including the United States and France) meant to sabotage any attempt at African unity. The African Union which, on 26 May 2001, formally replaced the OAU, is also bound to fail because it is modeled on the European Union. The article then briefly surveys proposals for a re-configuration of the African states and a revision of the political map of Africa put forth by various authors, namely: Cheikh Anta Diop’s Federal African State; Marc-Louis Ropivia’s geopolitics of African regional integration; Makau wa Mutua’s and Arthur Gakwandi’s new political maps of Africa; Joseph Ki-Zerbo’s Federal African State; Daniel Osabu-Kle’s United States of Africa; Godfrey Mwakikagile’s African Federal Government; and Pelle Danabo’s pan-African Federal State. The article concludes with an overview of Mueni wa Muiu’s Fundí wa Afrika paradigm advocating the creation of a Federation of African States (FAS) based on five sub-regional states with a federal capital (Napata) and a rotating presidency, eventually leading to total political and economic integration.

8 Mar: Daniel Tetteh Osabu-Kle_ The Politics of One-Sided Adjustment in Africa


Politics has been defined variously as organizing for human projects, struggle for power, or about who gets what, when, and how. Organizing for human projects gives politics a broader spectrum involving whatever humans do, the notion of struggle for power narrows the definition to the arena of authority in society, and the notion of who gets what, when, and how links politics to economics (the production and distribution of wealth) as close allies. The politics of one-sided adjustment in Africa embraces all three of these definitions. The author expresses the view that structural adjustment in Africa does not conform to natural justice, is one-sided, and not primarily concerned with solutions to economic problems in Africa but about organizing for human projects in which decisions about who gets what, when, and how have become the source of the power struggle between the Bretton Woods institutions and African leaders. This struggle may be conceived as an attempt by the Bretton Woods institutions to recolonize Africa on behalf of their allies while African leaders strive to resist that new form of colonialism. The allies of the Bretton Woods organizations are the Western governments, international businesses, the commercial banks of the West, and some neoliberal intellectuals. […]

15 Mar: Martin Doornbos_ The African State in Academic Debate: Retrospect and Prospect


QUESTIONS about the role and position of the African state are not new, but today they are being asked with increased emphasis. The reasons for this vary with the position and perspective of the questioner, but they often include a concern about capacity and performance, about styles and orientations of leadership, and about the measure of representativeness and legitimacy which African governments enjoy within the society at large. In short, a strong current of opinion believes that there is a problem with the African state, and this concern has recently led to much discussion as to what its proper role is or should be, as well as fostering a variety of proposed and actual interventions by international organisations and consultants to help ‘solve’ the problem.
It would be futile to try and reverse the picture and assert that there is no ‘problem’ with the African state. In fact, few people today would take that position. None the less, it will be useful to try and place existing preoccupations in perspective by highlighting some aspects of the debates on African state formation in the post-colonial period. Given the scope of the subject matter, it will be necessary to limit the perspective to some observations, on some aspects, of this discussion – which itself has been as much subject to change and revision as the African state itself. Thus, this article will not be discussing the role of the military, or the important question of democratisation, except indirectly.

5 Apr: Kelly Gillespie_Before the Commission: Ethnography as Public Testimony (Ch. 3)

What kind of information is ethnography? Is it possible fo rthe information to be used well for purposes other than ethnographic writing? What the the stakes of the translation of ethnographic data and method into different contexts, in which information is managed and negotiated in different ways and for different ends? How might ethnographers engage with these moments of translation, of transposition, in ways that allow ethnography to cleaim a generative role in public life? How does the constitution of an ethnographic object differ or coincide with the constitution of other kinds of obbjects? These are questions that have been with me since I somewhat reluctantly agreed to write a report and testify for a commission of enquiry into policing in South Africa in 2014. Officially titled the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of Police Inefficiency in Khayelitsha, it requested testimony from me because of the ethnographic research I had been conducting in Khayelitsha, the largest and poorest black township of Cape Town, on matters broadly concerning violence and policing. This essay is an attempt to work through the meaning of my reluctance to testify before the Commission and to understand what that reluctance implies about the nature of ethnography and about its relationship to commissions as institutions of governance.
‘It’s our bible.’ That was how the deputy director of research at an important French national welfare agency described a book I had published on the encounters between welfare offices and their clients. Such an enthusiastic sentence came as a surprise. The research from which my book was issued had been commissioned by this organization, but the report had sat on a shelf for a long time before gaining the attention of my institutional partners. My ethnography of face-to-face interactions between the low-level bureaucrats who sit behind desks and the impoverished welfare recipients who stand before them underlined relationships of domination from a critical perspective and was never intended to provide advice on how to improve ‘client relationship management’. Such an orientation was inauspicious for my book to become an official reference, which, if not always read, seemed widely acknowledged by policy managers (‘a bible’). Its long and circuitous road to canonization was helped along the way by academic recognition and, to a lesser extent, media attention. Yet thanks to this postponed institutional acknowledgement, I was able to access even more information, enjoyed a fair amount of leeway in choosing research topics (even controversial ones) and defining my framework, and secured support for further research I conducted in collaboration with the welfare organization in question.

This personal experience provides an occasion to reflect on ethnography and policy and, more precisely, on how to ensure favourable conditions for autonomous critical ethnographic research when it comes to public policy.