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Archive for the 'Africa' Category

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

Interview with Gaurav Desai, author of Commerce with the Universe: Africa, India, and the Afrasian Imagination

Commerce with the UniverseThe following is an interview with Gaurav Desai, author of Commerce with the Universe: Africa, India, and the Afrasian Imagination:

Question: The subtitle of your book refers to the “Afrasian” Imagination. Can you explain the term “Afrasian”?

Gaurav Desai: My book is concerned with the ways in which a number of individuals and communities that have historically traversed the Indian Ocean have imagined their lives and their interactions with communities that have been ethnically and culturally different from their own. The book, for the most part, looks at narratives of South Asians in East Africa writing in the twentieth century, but I frame their lives in the longer history of commerce across the Indian Ocean ever since antiquity.

I dedicate a chapter on Amitav Ghosh’s In an Antique Land which itself provides a theoretical and methodological model for reading such lives contrapuntally. Here the life and travel of a twelfth century Tunisian Jewish merchant and his Indian slave Bomma gets read against more contemporary travels across the Indian Ocean. In invoking the term “Afrasian,” which, incidentally I borrow from Michael Pearson, I hope, like him, to signal an inclusive space of exchange that is not ethnocentrically delineated. My usage of the term “Afrasian” is meant not to delineate a particular ethnic community – such as South Asians in East Africa – but rather the entire nexus of individuals who have historically crossed (and continue to cross) what we have conventionally called the “Indian” Ocean. Thus, the Tunisian Jew Ben Yiju is as much of an Afrasian as the twentieth century merchant Kalidas Nanji Mehta who is also the subject of one of my chapters.

Q: In some senses, your own biography interests with the concerns of the book. Reading through your book, one gets the distinct sense of an author who is working with lived knowledge, presenting a first-hand account of the lives and texts of South Asians in Africa. Yet, you only address this in the last few paragraphs of the book.

GD: I chose not to situate my personal history upfront, since I didn’t want the book to be read as being about me. But in a way, it is true that my readings of both the fictional and autobiographical narratives by South Asians in East Africa draw on my experience as an Indian teenager moving from Bombay (now Mumbai) to East Africa (first Nairobi and then Dar es Salaam) in the early eighties. I am sure that even the texts that I chose to focus on address questions and concerns that I have privately pursued for a long time.

To give just one concrete example – one of the prevalent stereotypes that I challenge in the book is that of the Indian businessman or corporate manager as being someone completely lacking interest in literature and the arts. This stereotype has always wrung false to me since my own interest in literature and theater was most enthusiastically nurtured by my father who happened to be one of those corporate types. When I turned in the book to what some might call CEO narratives – those of Mehta, Madhvani and Manji – I was more interested in looking at the role of literature, art and the imagination in shaping their lives than in any practical wisdom that they might have to offer to aspirant CEOs. In a broader framework, I was keen on exploring the connections between the world of commerce and the imaginative world of literature in order to suggest that what many consider to be antithetical pursuits may not necessarily be so.

(more…)

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

Mamadou Diouf on Nelson Mandela

Columbia News recently posted remarks from Lee Bollinger and others from the Columbia community about Nelson Mandela. In the video below Professor Mamadou Diouf, director of Columbia’s Institute for African Studies and the editor of Tolerance, Democracy, and Sufis in Senegal, discusses the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela.

Diouf believes the way in which Mandela left power may be his most important legacy. “This man decided to do one term and leave. And this is a revolution in Africa,” says Diouf. “He could have stayed until his death because he was already the myth.”

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

New inquiry into the 1961 death of Dag Hammarskjöld

On September 18, 1961, Swedish Secretary-General of the UN Dag Hammarskjöld was killed when his airplane crashed in Northern Rhodesia (modern-day Zambia) as he was on a mission to negotiate peace agreements in the Congo. While the official explanation was that the crash was caused by pilot error, there have been a number of questions about the Rhodesian government investigation, and a number of theories about what really might have caused the crash. Recently, the investigation has come under more scrutiny, as in her book Who Killed Hammarskjöld?, Susan Williams claims that the Rhodesian investigation “investigation suppressed and dismissed critical evidence.” An investigation by British newspaper the Guardian helped to bring the matter of Hammarskjöld’s death back to the public’s attention.

Now, over fifty years after Dag Hammarskjöld’s plane went down, an international inquiry has been commissioned to look into the possibility that the plane was shot down and that the incident was subsequently covered up by local colonial authorities. According to a recent story in the Guardian, this commission “will include a retired British appeal court judge, Sir Stephen Sedley, as well as Richard Goldstone, a South African judge who was formerly chief prosecutor at The Hague war crimes tribunal. The panel will also include a retired Swedish ambassador, Hans Corell, and a Dutch judge, Wilhelmina Thomassen.” The Independent and the Huffington Post have also picked up the story.

The inquiry has no official legal power, but will report their findings to the UN. The jurists hope to complete their investigation within a year.

Friday, May 11th, 2012

More Photographs by Pierre Bourdieu via “Picturing Algeria”

In today’s post, we offer some more photographs from Picturing Algeria. The extraordinary photographs were taken during the years of 1957-1960 when Bourdieu was working there as a university lecturer. Taken during the Algerian War, Bourdieu’s photography offer a sympathetic and insightful portrait of a country and a people, who were ostensibly the enemies of France.

You can view more photos by Pierre Bourdieu here.

For more on the book, you can read an interview with Pierre Bourdieu about his time in Algeria or read Craig Calhoun’s foreword to Picturing Algeria.

Pierre Bourdieu, Picturing Algeria

Pierre Bourdieu, Picturing Algeria

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Thursday, May 10th, 2012

The Photographs of Pierre Bourdieu

In today’s post, we are featuring some of the photographs from Picturing Algeria. The extraordinary photographs were taken during the years of 1957-1960 when Bourdieu was working there as a university lecturer. Taken during the Algerian War, Bourdieu’s photography offer a sympathetic and insightful portrait of a country and a people, who were ostensibly the enemies of France.

For more on the book, you can read an interview with Pierre Bourdieu about his time in Algeria or read Craig Calhoun’s foreword to Picturing Algeria.

Pierre Bourdieu, Picturing Algeria

Pierre Bourdieu, Picturing Algeria

(more…)

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

Craig Calhoun on Pierre Bourdieu and Picturing Algeria

We continue our week-long focus on Picturing Algeria, by Pierre Bourdieu with an excerpt from Craig Calhoun’s foreword. (You can also read an interview with Bourdieu about the book and his time in Algeria):

Bourdieu sailed to Algeria in the company of working-class and peasant soldiers with whom he identified as the son of a provincial postman. He tried, not entirely successfully, to persuade them of the problems with French occupation. As he realized, their very recognition that he had voluntarily (but perhaps only temporarily) renounced some of the privilege conferred by elite education only accented the class division between them. Assigned to national service as a clerk in the bureaucracy of the French army, he found himself working for a colonial administration he would come increasingly to hate as it repressed a growing insurrection. But Bourdieu’s hatred was not only for the violence of the French military, but for the larger colonial project and the ways it disrupted and damaged the lives of individuals and the collective life of communities. He entered a country torn apart not just by colonialism but also by the introduction of capitalist markets and consequent social transformation. It was in this context that Bourdieu developed the concept of “symbolic violence” to refer to the many ways in which people’s dignity and capacity to organize their own lives were wounded—from the forced unveiling of women to the disruptions a new cash economy brought to long-term relations of honor and debt to the categorization of the rural as backward and the denigration of Berber languages (by Arabophones as well as Francophones).

Bourdieu was initially posted to boring duty with an army air unit in the Chellif Valley, 150 kilometers west of Algiers. Before long, however, he was reassigned to Algiers. The move was a favor from a senior officer who was also from Béarn, the same rural province as Bourdieu. Bourdieu’s mother had interceded on his behalf.

Mothers don’t get enough credit in histories of social science, and Bourdieu’s made a second crucial contribution to his career, even more basic to this book. She bought him a Leica camera. This came a little later, though, as Bourdieu’s engagement with Algeria grew deeper and became a crucial, formative influence on his career and life.

(more…)

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

Interview with Pierre Bourdieu on Picturing Algeria

“Algeria is what allowed me to accept myself.”—Pierre Bourdieu

Pierre Bourdieu, Picturing AlgeriaWe continue our week-long focus on Picturing Algeria with an excerpt from an interview with Pierre Bourdieu included in the book. In the interview with Franz Schultheis, Pierre Bourdieu discusses his time in Algeria and his interest in photography. You can read the full interview with Pierre Bourdieu with photographs here.

Pierre Bourdieu: It is perfectly natural to link the content of my research and my photos. One of the things that interested me most in Algeria, for example, is what I called the “economy of poverty” or the “economy of slums.” Normally, the slums were perceived (not only by racist, but also by naive observers) as something dirty, ugly, disorderly, thrown together, etc., whereas, in truth, it is a place for a very complex life, for a real economy with an inherent logic, where you see a great deal of resourcefulness, an economy that at least offers a lot of people a minimum with which to survive and, above all, for social survival—i.e., to escape the shame for a self-respecting man of doing nothing and contributing nothing to his family’s livelihood. I took a lot of photos on this subject, photos of all the hawkers and street vendors, and I was really amazed at the resourcefulness and energy in these unusual buildings, that were reminiscent of shop windows or a shop; or this motley collection of displays on the ground (which also interested me from an aesthetic point of view, as it was a very baroque scene); the pharmacists I interviewed, who were selling almost all sources of traditional magic, whose names I wrote down, aphrodisiacs, etc.

There were also very picturesque butcher’s shops (those three big, triangular wooden stands with cuts of meat hanging on them)—a typical subject for a photographer in search of picturesque, exotic scenes. I myself always had hypotheses about the organization of space on my mind: There is a layout plan of the village with a certain structure, a structure of a house; and I also discovered that the distribution of graves in the cemetery corresponded roughly to the layout of the village based on clans. And I wondered, “Will I
find the same structure in the markets?” That reminds me of a photo I took in a cemetery: a Cassoulet tin filled with water on an anonymous grave. On the seventh day after someone has died, you have to bring water to their grave in order to capture the female soul; in this case it was a Cassoulet tin that had
previously contained a taboo product: pork….

(more…)

Monday, May 7th, 2012

Book Giveaway! Picturing Algeria by Pierre Bourdieu

This week our featured book is Picturing Algeria, by Pierre Bourdieu.

Throughout the week we will highlight aspects of Picturing Algeria by Pierre Bourdieu and we are also offering a FREE copy of the book to one winner.

To enter our book giveaway, simply e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu with your name and address (U.S. and Canadian mailing addresses only, unfortunately). We will randomly select one winner on Friday at 1:00 pm. Good luck and spread the word!

More about Picturing Algerian, by Pierre Bourdieu:

As a soldier in the French army, Pierre Bourdieu took thousands of photographs documenting the abject conditions and suffering (as well as the resourcefulness, determination, grace, and dignity) of the Algerian people as they fought in the Algerian War (1954–1962). Sympathizing with those he was told to regard as “enemies,” Bourdieu became deeply and permanently invested in their struggle to overthrow French rule and the debilitations of poverty.

Upon realizing the inability of his education to make sense of this wartime reality, Bourdieu immediately undertook the creation of a new ethnographic-sociological science based on his experiences—one that became synonymous with his work over the next few decades and was capable of explaining the mechanics of French colonial aggression and the impressive, if curious, ability of the Algerians to resist it.

This volume pairs 130 of Bourdieu’s photographs with key excerpts from his related writings, very few of which have been translated into English.

Friday, March 16th, 2012

Nicoli Nattrass on Pro-Science Advocacy and Challenging AIDS Denialists

The AIDS Conspiracy, Nicoli Nattrass

We conclude our week-long feature on The AIDS Conspiracy: Science Fights Back, by Nicoli Nattrass with an excerpt from her conclusion in which she considers the challenges in confronting AIDS denialists particularly in the Internet Age:

Will This Popular Enlightenment Project Work?

Defending science is a quintessentially enlightenment project. It assumes that progress is possible through reason and the accumulation of evidence, and that the scientific method is persuasive and can be made more so. Those who engage in the defense of science necessarily reject relativist approaches to the truth as unreasonable, defeatist, and dangerous….

Reasserting the enlightenment project of progress through reason and evidence is one thing. But whether such progress is possible remains an open question. How easy is it to persuade people through factual corrections of their misperceptions? The answer seems to depend a great deal on the individual. For example, AIDS denialists like [Christine] Maggiore are impervious to corrective evidence about HIV science because they are, as Kalichman observes, in a psychological state of encapsulated delusion. They are impossible to argue with, and indeed it may even be counterproductive to do so. According to recent research in political psychology, providing people who are ideologically committed to a particular view with “preference-incongruent information” can “backfire” by causing them to support their original argument even more strongly. This could be because they misread or reinterpret the information to support their original position, or because they “counterargue” the information in their minds, thereby increasing their intellectual commitment to it.

(more…)

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

Nicoli Nattrass on the AIDS Conspiracy

Nicoli Nattrass, The AIDS Conspiracy: Science Fights Back

In the opening to her book The AIDS Conspiracy: Science Fights Back, Nicoli Nattrass discusses how she became interested in AIDS conspiracy theories.

The Conspiratorial Move Against HIV Science and Its Consequences

Most people do not believe conspiracy theories about the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). But suspicions that the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) may have been created in a laboratory, and that the pharmaceutical industry invented AIDS as a means of selling toxic drugs, persist on both sides of the Atlantic. During the 2008 US presidential campaign, Barack Obama had to deal with politically embarrassing revelations that his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, believed the government had created HIV to harm blacks. Four years earlier, the Nobel Prize–winning Kenyan ecologist Wangari Maathai stunned the world with her casual observation that HIV had been “created by a scientist for biological warfare.” Most tragically, conspiracy theories about HIV were promoted in the early 2000s by then South African president Thabo Mbeki and his health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang—with devastating consequences for AIDS policy.

(more…)

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

Nicoli Nattrass on The Specter of Denialism

Nattrass, The AIDS Conspiracy

In a recent op-ed for The Scientist, Nicoli Nattrass, author of The AIDS Conspiracy: Science Fights Back , describes the harm that has been done by AIDS denialists in South Africa and elsewhere.

Nattrass argues that a small group of AIDS denialists have kept alive the myth that antiretroviral treatment (ART) is harmful and that HIV science has been corrupted by commercial interests. Even though these claims have been disproved by science, they have hindered the battle to stop and treat AIDS. South African President Thabo Mbeki, debated the issue of the effectiveness of ART, holding up treatment and leading to the unnecessary death of 330,000 South Africans.

Nattrass also discusses the contested work of University of California virologist Peter Duesberg, another Denialists as well as activist Christine Maggiore, seen as a key icon for the Denialist movement: “Maggiore campaigned against the use of ART to prevent mothers passing HIV to their babies, Despite her 3-year-old daughter’s succumbing to AIDS, Maggiore remained staunchly opposed to HIV science and ART. She opted for alternative therapies and died at the age of 52, from AIDS-related infections.”

(more…)

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

Nicoli Nattrass discusses AIDS Denialism and AIDS in South Africa

In the following interview, Nicoli Nattrass, author of The AIDS Conspiracy: Science Fights Back, discusses the issue of AIDS denialism as well as her work on AIDS in South Africa:

Friday, February 17th, 2012

The Legacy of Dag Hammarskjold

“I realize now, that in comparison to [Dag Hammarskjöld], I am a small man. He was the greatest statesman of our century.”—John F. Kennedy

We conclude our week-long feature on Who Killed Hammarskjöld?: The UN, the Cold War, and White Supremacy in Africa, by Susan Williams with an excerpt from her moving epilogue. Williams focuses not on the mystery surrounding his death but rather his important legacy. Who Killed Dag Hammarskjold, Susan Williams

On 14 March 1962, six months after Hammarskjöld’s death, President John F. Kennedy invited Sture Linnér [a Hammarskjöld aide], who had by now left the Congo and was at UN headquarters in New York, to the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. He told Linnér that he wanted to apologize for the pressure that had been put on Dag to implement US policy in the Congo—a pressure which Dag had refused to heed. The Secretary-General’s strategy had been straightforward: ‘I do not intend to give way to any pressure, be it from the East or the West; we shall sink or swim.’ Equally clear were his instructions to Linnér: ‘Continue to follow the line you find to be in accordance with the UN Charter.’

Kennedy explained to Linnér the reasons for US opposition to Dag’s policy in the Congo. For his own political survival, said the President, he had felt obliged to heed the deep aversion towards Communism and left-wing views, which even after McCarthy’s heyday played an important role in American politics. He then said that because it was now too late to offer an apology to Hammarskjöld, he wished to do so to Linnér. ‘I realise now,’ said Kennedy, that in comparison to [Dag], I am a small man. He was the greatest statesman of our century.’

(more…)

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

Was Dag Hammarskjold’s Death a Conspiracy?

Susan Williams, Who Killed HammarskjoldA few weeks ago, the BBC reported on the continuing controversy concerning Dag Hammarskjold’s death in 1961 when his plane crashed in Zambia. His death, of course, is also the subject of Susan Williams’s new book, Who Killed Hammarskjöld?: The UN, the Cold War, and White Supremacy in Africa .

Williams’s book and the BBC report describes some of the evidence that have surfaced in recent years that have cast doubt around the official explanation of how Hammarskjold’s plane crashed. Raising doubts is the way the crash scene was handled, a mysterious hole in Hammarskjold’s head that had been airbrushed from official photographs, and another plane which was spotted around Hammarskjold’s DC-6.

Who would want Hammarskjold dead?

(more…)

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

Crash of Hammarskjöld’s Plane in 1961: ‘VIP planes don’t crash…’

Upon publication of Who Killed Hammarskjöld?: The UN, the Cold War, and White Supremacy in Africa, the Hurst Blog, published an essay by Adrian Begg, who was then a 20-year-old officer in the Northern Rhodesia Police when Dag Hammarskojld’s plane crashed in 1961. In this essay, he describes that fateful day and the mystery that surrounds the crash. We thank Hurst and Mr. Begg for allowing us to reprint the article on our blog. To view Begg’s photographs from the site, please visit the Hurst Blog.

It began as a normal, quiet Sunday shift at Ndola’s central police station, where I had been stationed as a young assistant inspector since completing my training six months earlier – but it soon became obvious there was something big on the go. Officers were being called in from home, and in the early afternoon I was sent with a squad of other officers to secure Ndola Airport and put it in security lockdown in readiness for VIP arrivals. The word quickly spread among us that Dag Hammarskjöld was expected.

(more…)

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

Interview with Ngugi wa Thiong’o

We recently published Globalectics: Theory and the Politics of Knowing, by renowned Kenyan author Ngugi wa Thiong’o. In the book, Ngugi wa Thiong’o summarizes and develops a cross-section of the issues he has grappled with in his work, which deploys a strategy of imagery, language, folklore, and character to “decolonize the mind.” Ngugi confronts the politics of language in African writing; the problem of linguistic imperialism and literature’s ability to resist it; the tension between national and world literature; and the role of the literary curriculum in both reaffirming and undermining the dominance of the Western canon.

In this 2010 video with Granta, Thiong’o discusses some of these issues as well as his life growing up in Kenya, contemporary African writing, and modern Kenyan history:

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

‘Who Killed Hammarskjöld?’ and the UN in Zambia

Who Killed HammarskjoldWhile serving as United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) representative to Zambia from 1998-2005, Margaret O’Callaghan spoke at a memorial service upon the anniversary of UN secretary-general Dag Hammarskjold’s death. In an article originally published by the Institute of Commonwealth Studies and reprinted on the Hurst Blog, O’Callaghan writes about how she might have felt at the memorial had she read Who Killed Hammarskjöld?: The UN, the Cold War, and White Supremacy in Africa, by Susan Williams, at that time.

In Who Killed Hammarskjöld?, Susan Williams re-examines the plane crash that took Hammarskjold’s life as he traveled to the Congo, a hot spot during the Cold War. O’Callaghan writes:

Williams is not just raking over old ashes but shining a bright light into the dark recesses of government archives and other sources, and revealing new information which clearly indicates that the crash was no accident. She produces evidence which shows that a number of governments, themselves member organisations of the fledgling UN, along with powerful business interests, played crucial roles in the event. This is perhaps why the book is causing such a stir – despite the half century which has passed.

(more…)

Monday, February 13th, 2012

Book Giveaway: Who Killed Hammarskjold?

Who Killed HammarskjoldThis week our featured book is Who Killed Hammarskjöld?: The UN, the Cold War, and White Supremacy in Africa, by Susan Williams

Throughout the week we will highlight aspects of the book and we are also offering a free copy of the book to one lucky winner.

To enter our book giveaway, simply e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu with your name and address (U.S. and Canadian mailing addresses only, unfortunately). We will randomly select one winner on Friday at 1:00 pm. Good luck and spread the word!

Praise for Who Killed Hammarskjold?:

“This is an extraordinary story, narrated with clarity and devastating effect. Susan Williams is to be congratulated for shining a light onto a very strange and disturbing incident. The result is a gripping and astonishing read.” — Alexander McCall Smith, novelist, author of The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

Martin Murphy, author of “Somalia the New Barbary,” on the Newshour

In the wake of the most recent incident of hijacking by Somali pirates, PBS’s Newshour interviewed Martin Murphy, author of Somalia, the New Barbary?: Piracy and Islam in the Horn of Africa and Small Boats, Weak States, Dirty Money: Piracy and Maritime Terrorism in the Modern World.

In the interview Murphy argues that though attention has faded from this problem, hijacking continues. There are now around 700 hostages still being held by pirates and the amount of money they now receive is greater than ever.

He argues that while improvements have been made in terms of naval vessels patrolling the area and there has been greater coordination in prosecuting hijackers, the area in which pirates now roam has grown tremendously. For the problem to improve, the United States and other nations must directly engage with North East Somalia, where many of the hijackers are based.

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

Award Winner! The African Diaspora, by Patrick Manning

Patrick Manning, African DiasporaCongratulations to Patrick Manning, whose book The African Diaspora: A History Through Culture was recently named the winner of the 2010 Association of Third World Studies Toyin Falola Africa Book Award.

Here’s what the judges of the book had to say about the book:

“The author is adept at tying together what are seemingly separate and unconnected phenomena. Integrating such a complexity (six centuries and several continents) was challenging enough, but it was done with an almost elegant simplicity….”

“Manning challenges three paradigms that have shaped the study of African peoples: (1) their exclusion from studies on modernity, (2) their exclusion from a global integrated study as a group, and (3) their absence of clearly defined thematic structures that encapsulate the experiences of the Africana. Through a new approach to the study of the African Diaspora, Manning shows how African peoples in the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Mediterranean contributed to modernity through Diasporas, networks, mixes, hinterlands, and exchanges on the roads between centers….”

For more on the book read the epilogue, The Future of the African Diaspora .