P 05

Mobility, Control, and Suspicion in Colonial and Postcolonial Africa

Panel abstract
For colonial and postcolonial governments, African mobility has often been suspicious. While many Africans have utilized travel and migration in order to maintain, negotiate, and create social, cultural, political, and economic networks within and outside Africa, colonial and postcolonial administrations have rather been inclined to control this mobility by imposing checkpoints, border controls, and surveillance systems. This panel examines the tension between African mobility, which has largely contributed to the connectedness of the continent, and the politics of control and suspicion. The panel is mainly focusing on the colonial, decolonization and Cold War period, but is also open to papers which propose more recent case studies on mobility control and suspicion. During the colonial period, traveling without a travel permit was per se suspicious, even when the destination was considered to be a ‘friendly’ country. However, colonial administrators mistrusted even more African students as well as political and religious leaders who travelled to Arab countries or to the East, fearing that they would connect with pan-Islamic and communist movements. Even after independence, in a Cold War context, former colonial powers continued to follow the paths of mobile African ‘suspects’, while newly independent African countries encouraged exchange with some countries, but distrusted those who were passing through others as travellers, migrants, students, or displaced people. This panel argues that it is important to consider the political restrictions on African mobility and exchanges when exploring African connections within Africa and around the world.

Time: Friday, 29/06/2018, 11 am - 1 pm
Venue: Hörsaalgebäude, HS 16

Susann Baller (German Historical Institute, Dakar, Senegal)

Nicola Camilleri (Free University of Berlin)
Husseina Dinani (University of Toronto Scarborough, Canada) - tbc
Amadou Dramé (German Historical Institute, Dakar, Senegal)
Florens Eckert (University of Bayreuth)
Daniel Tödt (Humboldt University of Berlin)


Paper abstracts

Nicola Camilleri
The Borders of the Subjecthood: Mobility and Legal Status of the Colonial Population in Italian Eritrea (1890-1940)

During the Italian colonial rule, a large amount of certificati di sudditanza (‘certificates of subjecthood’) were issued by the colonial authority in Asmära. Many of them and the related administrative correspondence are available in the colonial archives and are useful to inquire into the origin and the meaning of the legal status that the Italian Kingdom created for its subjects at the Horn of Africa. Based mostly on these sources, the paper focuses on the colonial bureaucratization and the local agencies in Italian Colonia Eritrea. In this colony, established in 1890 as the first Italian colony, the inexperienced colonial administration soon faced the question of how to deal with its supposed ‘uncivilized’ and ‘racially inferior’ inhabitants. Thus, the Italians created a discriminatory legal status - sudditanza coloniale -, to cut them off of the metropolitan citizenship. This became the legal status of the majority of the colonial population: the natives as well as the people hailing from neighbouring regions, working and living in the colony. Movements of people across the newly fixed colonial borders were historically common, especially among populations like the Təgrəñña-speakers, who lived (and still live) on both sides of the Eritrean-Ethiopian border. The colonial government used the certification of the legal status of the colonial population as an instrument of control both of subjects’ outflows and foreigners’ inflows, the latter being suspected of espionage or anti-colonial intrigues. But why did Eritreans apply for these certificates? What do these certificates tell us about the relationship between colonial subjects and Italian authorities?

Husseina Dinani
Making the Southern Province Palatable: Colonial Officials, Mobile Men, and Regionalism in Colonial Southern Tanganyika

This paper examines the vulnerability of colonial governance and power through the lens of wage labour and regionalism in southern Tanganyika. In alignment with the Colonial Development and Welfare Act of 1940, colonial officials of the expansive Southern Province (SP) expended material and political support towards the expansion of the regions’ infrastructure and commercial enterprises and the increased welfare of its inhabitants. A notable outcome of ‘developmental colonialism’ was the dramatic intensification and expansion of wage labour throughout sub-Sahara Africa. Although SP officials’ successfully lured men more prominently into the wage labour and cash economy more broadly, they were less effective in controlling and containing local and immigrant labour within the province. Archival data highlights provincial officials’ escalating frustration with labourers’ preference to work elsewhere in the territory or in colonies beyond the south-western border. These records also illuminate colonial officials’ grievances against the central government for treating the region as a labour reservoir. To circumvent the flow of labour beyond the province and to mitigate the power of other provincial and non-Tanganyikan colonial administrations, SP officials instituted a range of measures in the hopes of making life in the province more palatable for Africans. In examining SP officials’ growing anxiety over the enhanced mobility of wage labourers in the post-WWII period, this paper illustrates the limitations of colonial power by simultaneously considering Africans’ agency in pursuing wage-work according to their own terms, and the intra-and inter-territorial factors that contributed to making the SP into a peripheral region.

Amadou Dramé
Mobility, Control, and Suspicion: the Policy of Limiting Student Emigration to Arab-Muslim Countries in Colonial and Postcolonial Senegal (1950-1970)

At the end of the Second World War, the political-religious movements in the Arab-Muslim world frightened the colonial and postcolonial authorities in Senegal. In North Africa and the Middle East, people and elites challenged the colonial rulers under the banner of religious reformism which called for the ‘purification’ of Islam, sometimes turning into anti-colonial and nationalist agendas. In Senegal, the fear of ‘orientalism’ was reinforced by the rhetoric of so-called reformist Muslim religious associations against colonialism and their desire to appropriate Islam in order to escape the ‘monopole’ of Western civilization. Thus, any contact between the Arab-Muslim world and sub-Saharan Africa in general as well as Senegal, in particular, was subject to close surveillance or interdiction. In fact, the colonial administration’s biggest fear was the so-called ‘religious contamination’. They thought that young Africans would bring back to the country new practices and ideas, capable of dividing the traditional confessional landscape. My paper analyses the tensions between the mobility of Senegalese students, who travelled to the Arab-Muslim world, which was part of a logic of interconnecting with the ummah, and the policy of control and surveillance which was based on the suspicion that ‘Eastern Islam’ would have an impact on African populations. This fear led to an increase in reports, missions, and other investigations, which reflect a desire to restrict any mobility of African students to Arab-Muslim universities. Eventually, the colonial and postcolonial administrations in Senegal aimed at controlling this mobility by imposing rules and regulations for identifying and checking students through identification documents (identity cards, passports, scholarship certificates, etc.). The paper also considers how the Senegalese state after independence referred to colonial arrangements for monitoring the mobility of Muslim students. This demonstrates the continuities and disruptions in Muslim politics before and after independence.

Florens Eckert
Maritime Migration from German Colonial Togo: the Invention of Migration Policy in a Trans-Colonial Arena

The harbour in Lomé was a bottleneck for people aiming to migrate to destinations such as Fernando Po or Cameroon. The maritime border can thus serve as an example for the introduction of effective migration control measures. Regarding the proximity of other harbours (in both British and French territories), however, it is also an example of how these measures were a product of inter-colonial discourses. With my paper, I want to enable some insights into practices of migration and the motivations for those willing to migrate. Then, I want to highlight the different viewpoints of German colonial officials on how to regulate migration and how this lead to the introduction of colonial migration laws. I then aim at showing the inter-colonial dimension of the connected policies and, last but not least, the ability of migrants to circumvent these efforts to limit their mobility.

Daniel Tödt
Suspicious Shore Leave. The Immobility of Congolese Seafarers in Antwerp and Matadi (1920-1960)

As gateways to the imperial world, port cities both enabled and prevented the mobility of goods, ideas, and people. For seafarers from colonies, maritime labour meant not only mobility and connections, but also immobility, disconnection, and confinement. What role did African seafarers play in the translocal exchange of political ideas, social practices, and cultural styles? How did they react to the authorities’ attempts to maintain colonial order by means of port regimes, police control, and paternalistic initiatives? My paper deals with Congolese seafarers on shore leave in Antwerp and Matadi. In the late colonial period, one-third of the crews on Belgian steamships were Africans. The Belgian state had rigorous immigration policies toward their colonial subjects: with the exception of some priests, seafarers were the only Congolese setting foot in the metropole. Since the 1920s, authorities have been worrying about unions and communists trying to use seafarers for spreading anti-colonial propaganda in Belgian Congo. Until the 1960s, different seamen’s home run by Catholic priests aimed at supervising the suspicious passage of colonial subjects. The Congolese themselves tried to find ways to evade control and shape the respective politics of the seafarer’s home. The history of Congolese seafarers provides a way to interrogate the extent of mutual influence, horizontal connectedness, and vertical coercion in imperial networks. It is a story of immobility on the African and European waterfront.