Our acclaimed core and affiliated faculty produce a wide range of works centered on both the growing concerns and historical cornerstones facing the continent of Africa.
African Studies Keywords: Queer by Kwame E. Otu and Adriaan van Klinken
“Queer” is a relatively recent and somewhat controversial term in African
studies. Yet it is proving to be productive, not only for understanding African subjectivities of sexuality and gender, but also for situating Africa’s position in the larger economy of knowledge. Otu and van Klinken explore the productive tensions between “queer” and “Africa,” and aim to read Africa as queer and to read queer from Africa. Thus, rather than imagining Africa and queer as polar opposites, the authors seek to harness the critical, productive, and creative affinities between these two terms that are vital for the project of decolonizing and queering queer Africa. Find the full Article PDF here.
Amid Record Drought and Food Insecurity, East Africa’s Protracted Humanitarian Crisis Worsens by Kyilah Terry and Aishwarya Rai
Catastrophic drought in East Africa is the region’s worst disaster of its kind in four decades and is primed to bring an unprecedented sixth consecutive failed rainy season in 2023. Record-low agricultural yields coupled with months of obstructed grain imports created by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have exacerbated food insecurity across the region, raising fears that East African countries are facing a repeat of the 2010-12 famine in Somalia, during which 260,000 people died, half of them children. More than 37 million people around the region faced acute food insecurity as of August 2022, and analysts predict that a famine will be declared in Somalia this year. Find the full article here, at the Migration Policy Institute.
Is it time to rethink how we study politics? by Ankushi Mitra and Lahra Smith
How do race and racism underpin contemporary politics? How do racist understandings of the world affect the topics political scientists examine and the ways they study those topics? Political science has a long history of excluding people of color and not taking seriously different ways that knowledge is produced and understood in different parts of the world. Find the full article on the Washington Post.
Building one’s own house: power and escape for Ethiopian women through international migration* by Lauren Carruth and Lahra Smith
This study uses ethnography along Ethiopian women’s irregular migration routes through Djibouti to analyse the complex reasons women leave home to seek labour opportunities in the Gulf States. Theories and policies that either narrowly depict women’s motivations as economic in nature or focus only on women’s needs for security and protection, fail to account both for the politics of seeking employment abroad, and the ways migration provides women a potential refuge from various forms of violence at home. Using a feminist analysis, we argue that women do not migrate only for financial opportunities, but also to escape combinations of domestic, political and structural violence. As such, irregular migration both evinces a failure of asylum systems and humanitarian organisations to protect Ethiopians, and a failure of the state to provide Ethiopian women meaningful citizenship. Lacking both protection and meaningful citizenship, international migration represents women’s journeys for opportunity and emancipation. Click here to read the full article published by Cambridge University Press.
How Should Clinicians Express Solidarity With Asylum Seekers at the US-Mexico Border? by Carlos Martinez, MPH, Lauren Carruth, PhD, Hannah Janeway, MD, Lahra Smith, PhD, Katharine M. Donato, PhD, Carlos Piñones-Rivera, PhD, James Quesada, PhD, and Seth M. Holmes, MD, PhD
Migrants along the US-Mexico border have been subjected to transnational violence created by international policy, militaristic intervention, and multinational organizational administration of border operations. The COVID-19 pandemic compounded migrants’ vulnerabilities and provoked several logistical and ethical problems for US-based clinicians and organizations. This commentary examines how the concept of transnational solidarity facilitates analysis of clinicians’ and migrants’ shared historical and structural vulnerabilities. This commentary also suggests how actions implemented by one organization in Tijuana, Mexico, could be scaled more broadly for care of migrants and asylum seekers in other transnational health care settings. To read the full article published by AMA Journal of Ethics click here.
Earliest African DNA Paints Vivid Picture of Ancient Human Lives by Kathryn de Luna
An analysis of the oldest DNA ever uncovered in Africa provides new insight into how early humans lived, traded and mingled with one another 50,000 years ago.
The findings, published in Nature, represent the combined work of more than 40 researchers from around the world, whose collaboration brought together geneticists, archaeologists, historians and anthropologists to plumb the depths of human history.
Kathryn de Luna, one of the paper’s authors who teaches courses in the Department of History, is excited by the ways this genetic analysis offers unprecedented insight into early human development.
A mixed-methods, population-based study of a syndemic in Soweto, South Africa by Mendenhall E, Kim AW, Panasci A, Cele L, Mpondo F, Bosire EN, Norris SA, Tsai AC.
A syndemic has been theorized as a cluster of epidemics driven by harmful social and structural conditions wherein the interactions between the constitutive epidemics drive excess morbidity and mortality. We conducted a mixed-methods study to investigate a syndemic in Soweto, South Africa, consisting of a population-based quantitative survey (N = 783) and in-depth, qualitative interviews (N = 88). We used ethnographic methods to design a locally relevant measure of stress. Here we show that multimorbidity and stress interacted with each other to reduce quality of life. The paired qualitative analysis further explored how the quality-of-life impacts of multimorbidity were conditioned by study participants’ illness experiences. Together, these findings underscore the importance of recognizing the social and structural drivers of stress and how they affect the experience of chronic illness and well-being.Read more here.
Unmasked: COVID, Community, and the Case of Okoboji by Emily Mendenhall
Unmasked is the story of what happened in Okoboji, a small Iowan tourist town, when a collective turn from the coronavirus to the economy occurred in the COVID summer of 2020. State political failures, local negotiations among political and public health leaders, and community (dis)belief about the virus resulted in Okoboji being declared a hotspot just before the Independence Day weekend, when an influx of half a million people visit the town. The story is both personal and political. Author Emily Mendenhall, an anthropologist at Georgetown University, grew up in Okoboji, and her family still lives there. As the events unfolded, Mendenhall was in Okoboji, where she spoke formally with over 100 people and observed a community that rejected public health guidance, revealing deep-seated mistrust in outsiders and strong commitments to local thinking. Unmasked is a fascinating and heartbreaking account of where people put their trust, and how isolationist popular beliefs can be in America’s small communities.
Unmasked: COVID, Community, and the Case of Okoboji is available at Vanderbilt University Press.
Social risks, economic dynamics and the local politics of COVID-19 prevention in Eldoret town, Kenya by Bosire EN, Kamau LW, Bosire VK, Mendenhall E.
A steady and consistent national and local government leadership is crucial in times of crisis. The trust in government – which can be so fragile – was strong in Eldoret town, a large municipal in western Kenya widely known for ethnic conflicts. In our interviews with 20 business people and 30 community members from Eldoret town, we found that the trust built early in the pandemic was broken due to individual leaders who eventually dismissed public health promotion and engaged in politics and corruption of funds for COVID-19 relief. When leadership was strong, locals in Eldoret town (and especially business owners) engaged in public health prevention measures for the greater good. But when leadership slipped, people complained and eventually ignored public health prevention measures at home, on the bus, and in businesses around town, causing the intensification of outbreaks. This was most common among those engaged in the formal economy as those in the informal economy were more likely to mistrust the government altogether. We show who falls through the cracks when government policy targets viral threats and suggest how local government and public health agencies might work to control COVID-19 infections while ensuring that all Eldoret residents are cared for. Read more here.
Reconsidering Reparations by Olufemi O. Taiwo
Reparations for slavery have become a reinvigorated topic for public debate over the last decade. Most theorizing about reparations treats it as a social justice project – either rooted in reconciliatory justice focused on making amends in the present; or, they focus on the past, emphasizing restitution for historical wrongs. Olúfemi O. Táíwò argues that neither approach is optimal, and advances a different case for reparations – one rooted in a hopeful future that tackles the issue of climate change head on, with distributive justice at its core. This view, which he calls the “constructive” view of reparations, argues that reparations should be seen as a future-oriented project engaged in building a better social order; and that the costs of building a more equitable world should be distributed more to those who have inherited the moral liabilities of past injustices.
This approach to reparations, as Táíwò shows, has deep and surprising roots in the thought of Black political thinkers such as James Baldwin, Martin Luther King Jr, and Nkechi Taifa, as well as mainstream political philosophers like John Rawls, Charles Mills, and Elizabeth Anderson. Táíwò’s project has wide implications for our views of justice, racism, the legacy of colonialism, and climate change policy. Reconsidering Reparations is available at Oxford University Press
In a fiscal ditch? African countries should try public participation in the budget process by Ken Opalo
Democratizing public finance management can help boost both tax collection and prudent public spending in African states. Click here to read the full article.
African Art Reframed: Reflections and Dialogues on Museum Culture by Bennetta Jules-Rosette and J.R. Osborn
African Art Reframed analyzes the global circulation of African art, drawing upon extensive curator interviews, ethnographic site visits, the visual and digital analysis of artworks (“digital unmixing”), and studies of audience response. African Art Reframed: Reflections and Dialogues on Museum Culture is available at University of Illinois Press
Legislative Development in Africa by Ken Opalo
Legislative Development in Africa, answers two simple questions: (i) what explains variation in legislative strength under autocracy? and (ii) under what conditions does the transition to democracy result in the strengthening of legislatures? The book speaks to the wider comparative political economy literature on autocratic institutions and the origins of limited democratic government. The main goal of the book is to trace, through quantitative and qualitative means, the autocratic origins of democratic institutions. In addition to a survey of legislative development in Africa from their founding under colonialism to the present, the book also provides detailed case studies of the Kenyan and Zambian legislatures.
Africa 2050 by Callisto Madavo
Africa is at a critical inflection point. After decades of disappointing performance a combination of sound macro policies and a commodity price bonanza has led to a dramatic and long overdue surge in African growth rates and concomitant improvement in social indicators. This impressive performance has now created its own challenge for African leadership-the heightened aspirations of their own people and the expectation of the world at large. And responding to this challenge will definitely require more than staying the course-more of the same will not work. It will require bold and tenacious pursuit of multifaceted policies and initiatives that will call for intellectual integrity and single?minded determination combined with political courage at home and statesmanship abroad. It is in this context that the experience of the other emerging markets economies may provide pointers as African leaders grapple with the complex multidimensional issues of not just maintaining but accelerating economic growth, prosperity and wellbeing of their populace. To set the stage for defining the opportunities and the promise that can lie ahead, this report sets out alternative scenarios of what the outcomes could be but not predictions of what they will be. This study also outlines a framework and action agenda that can deliver Africa’s promise. Africa 2050 is available from Oxford University Press.
To Dwell Secure: Generation, Christianity and Colonialism in Ovamboland by Meredith McKittrick
The Ovambo communities of the Cuvelai floodplain in northern Namibia have embraced Christianity with enthusiasm. Christianity meant many different things to floodplain communities and struggles to incorporate Christianity paralleled and intersected with other ongoing struggles. This work shows how a local micro-history can illuminate the understanding of historical process throughout Africa. To Dwell Secure is available on Amazon.
African Feminism by Gwen Mikell
African feminism, this landmark volume demonstrates, differs radically from the Western forms of feminism with which we have become familiar since the 1960s. African feminists are not, by and large, concerned with issues such as female control over reproduction or variation and choice within human sexuality, nor with debates about essentialism, the female body, or the discourse of patriarchy. The feminism that is slowly emerging in Africa is distinctly heterosexual, pro-natal, and concerned with “bread, butter, and power” issues. Contributors present case studies of ten African states, demonstrating that–as they fight for access to land, for the right to own property, for control of food distribution, for living wages and safe working conditions, for health care, and for election reform–African women are creating a powerful and specifically African feminism. African Feminism is available on Amazon.
Cocoa and Chaos in Ghana by Gwen Mikell
Cocoa and Chaos in Ghana is the story of the Ghanaian odyssey and, through it, the odyssey of all of Black Africa. Using historic and socioeconomic data plus readable analysis, Gwendolyn Mikell traces the past and present political and social systems in Ghana, focusing especially on the relationships over the years between rural producers in Ghana and the state. Mikell traces the causes of rural exploitation and political collapse in Ghana as well as the new and more destructive rural/national relations created by the dependence on cocoa. Also discussed is the fragmentation of social structures, lineage, and community relations. Cocoa and Chaos in Ghana is available on Amazon.
Making Citizens in Africa: Ethnicity, Gender, and National Identity in Ethiopia by Lahra Smith
Making Citizens in Africa argues that citizenship creation and expansion is a pivotal part of political contestation in Africa today. Citizenship is a powerful analytical tool with which to approach political life in contemporary Africa because the institutional and structural reforms of the past two decades have been inextricably linked with the battle over the “right to have rights.” Professor Lahra Smith’s work advances the notion of meaningful citizenship, which refers to the way in which rights are exercised, or the effective practice of citizenship. Using data from Ethiopia and developing a historically informed and empirically nuanced study of language policy and ethnicity and gender identities, this book analyzes the contestation over citizenship that engages the state, social movements, and individuals in substantive ways. By combining original data on language policy in contemporary Ethiopia with detailed historical study and an analytical focus on ethnicity, citizenship, and gender, this work not only brings a fresh approach to Ethiopian political development but also to contemporary citizenship concerns relevant to other parts of Africa. Making Citizens in Africa is available on Amazon.
Business and the State in Southern Africa by Scott Taylor
Why are productive, development-supporting relations between business and government still so rare in Africa? Scott Taylor addresses this question, examining state-business coalitions as they emerge, and endure or collapse, in three representative countries: Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Taylor illuminates three possible trajectories: an abortive state-business coalition, as in Zambia; the emergence of a short-lived coalition, as in Zimbabwe; and a relatively successful and thus far durable coalition, as in South Africa. Though rooted in the southern African experience, his cases reflect much of the variance in outcomes throughout sub-Saharan Africa and shed light on the prospects for economic reform and development on the continent. It explores why state-business coalitions emerge (or do not) in Africa, and why they endure or collapse, drawing on three representative case studies. Business and the State in Southern Africa is available on Amazon.
Culture and Customs of Zambia by Scott Taylor
Zambia stands out in Africa as one of the continent’s most peaceful countries. In its early years as an independent state, Zambia became a regional bulwark against imperialism and colonial domination and South African apartheid. Today, it stands out as an important example of Africa’s recent democratization, experiencing both incredible success as well as some notable setbacks. The country is also one of the most urbanized in Sub-Saharan Africa. As a result of this urban influx, Zambia’s diverse ethno-linguistic groups interact regularly. Moreover, many contemporary Zambian households, especially those in cities, are also exposed to the media, technology, and influences of western urbanized cultures, from Internet cafes to hip hop music. The interesting ways that “tradition” and “modernity” conflict and combine in contemporary Zambia are prime considerations in this book. This book explores Zambia’s culture, with an eye toward its historical experiences and its particular endowments. It focuses on how “traditional” and “modern” interact, and sometimes collide, in the country through topics such as religion, gender roles and family, cuisine, the arts, literature, and more. The major groups are examined to give the reader an idea about how many Zambians live. Culture and Customs of Zambia is available on Amazon.
Politics In Southern Africa: State And Society In Transition by Scott Taylor and Gretchen Bauer
The authors first introduce the themes and concepts that guide their analysis. Then, in each of eight country studies, they trace the country’s political history (beginning with the colonial period) and discuss state structures, political and social actors, fundamentals of the political economy, and the major challenges faced by both state and society. The final section of the book investigates issues that transcend borders: gender and politics, the HIV/AIDS crisis, and southern Africa’s role in Africa and the world. Politics In Southern Africa is available on Amazon.