Sep 15 2014

#GreatWarInAfrica: France, Africa, and the First World War, 100 Years On

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France stands out as the only European country to include black African soldiers in their armies that fought in Europe. Richard S Fogarty of the University at Albany, State University of New York explores the resulting issues of identity for Africans and French people.

In April of this year, the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, 90 year-old Claude Mademba Sy died in a small village in southwestern France. He was, in fact, a French-African veteran of the Second World War. But his father, Abdel Kader Mademba Sy, was a Senegalese veteran of the Great War of 1914-1918, and the son’s memories of his father encapsulate some of the complex ways that war affected the people living in France’s African colonies.[1]

As Claude Mademba Sy remembered, his father “let himself die” when ill with pneumonia in 1932. And this assimilated African living in France, a career soldier and officer in the French army, refused to speak French during the last few months of his life. According to his son, this was the result of his tortured conscience, since he had helped recruit thousands of Africans to fight for France, many of whom died. What, then, did the Great War mean for Africans, for French people, for ideas about identity among both groups?

Senegalese Tirailleurs are addressed by an armored French Cuirassier at a1913 Bastille Day parade.

Senegalese Tirailleurs are addressed by an armored French Cuirassier at a1913 Bastille Day parade.

This centenary year of 2014 has been the occasion for a great deal of remembering and commemoration activity, particularly in Europe. But increasing recognition that the Great War was a genuinely global event has focused attention on Africa as well. France, one of the war’s major combatants and scene of the devastated and decisive Western Front, as well as a major colonial power in Africa, brought Africans into the heart of the war experience in Europe. Nearly 450,000 Africans lived, worked, and fought in France during the war. The presence of large numbers of Africans on French soil for the first time rendered African, French, and colonial culture very visible and placed them in the forefront of political, military, and colonial policy.   Continue reading

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Sep 15 2014

#GreatWarInAfrica: La France, l’Afrique et la première guerre mondiale, 100 ans déjà.

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La France se distingue comme le seul pays européen à avoir inclus des soldats africains noirs dans ses armées qui ont combattu en Europe. Richard S Fogarty de l’Université d’Albany, Université d’état de New York explore les questions identitaires qui en résultent pour les africains et les français.

Au mois d’Avril de cette année marquant le centenaire du début de la Première Guerre mondiale, Claude Mademba Sy, 90 ans, est mort dans un petit village du sud-ouest de la France. C’était, en fait, un vétéran français-africain de la seconde guerre mondiale. Son père, Abdel Kader Mademba Sy, lui, était un ancien combattant sénégalais de la Grande Guerre de 1914-1918, et les souvenirs de son père qu’a gardé le fils reflètent certaines des façons complexes dont la guerre a affecté les personnes vivant dans les colonies africaines de la France.1

Selonles souvenirs de Claude Mademba Sy, Son père « s’est laissé mourir » alors qu’il souffrait d’une pneumonie en 1932. Et cet africain assimilé vivant en France, un soldat de carrière et officier de l’armée française, refusa de parler français pendant les tout derniers mois de sa vie. Selon son fils encore, ceci était la conséquence de sa conscience torturée par le fait qu’il avait dû aider au recrutement de milliers d’africains pour se battre pour la France, dont beaucoup d’entre eux sont morts.

Un cuirassier français en armure s’adresse à des tirailleurs sénégalais lors du défilé du 14 juillet 1913

Un cuirassier français en armure s’adresse à des tirailleurs sénégalais lors du défilé du 14 juillet 1913

Ce centenaire en 2014 a été l’occasion d’un travail de mémoire et de nombreuses commémorations, particulièrement en Europe. Cependant le fait qu’il soit de plus en plus admis que la Grande Guerre fut un événement réellement mondiale a porté l’attention sur l’Afrique aussi. La France, l’un des belligérants les plus importants et lieu du Front Ouest, dévasté mais décisif, a poussé les Africains au cœur de la guerre en Europe. Environ 450 000 africains vivaient, travaillaient et se battaient en France pendant la guerre. La présence de ce grand nombre d’africains sur le sol français rendirent les cultures africaines, françaises et coloniales très visibles et les mirent au premier plan des décisions politiques, militaires et coloniales. Continue reading

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Sep 11 2014

Book Review: Sexual Violence as a Weapon of War? Perceptions, Prescriptions, Problems in the Congo and Beyond by Maria Eriksson Baaz and Maria Stern

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Based on original fieldwork in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as research material from other conflict zones, Sexual Violence as a Weapon of War? aims to challenge the recent prominence given to sexual violence, bravely highlighting various problems with isolating sexual violence from other violence in war. The authors invite us to examine our own participation in Western aid efforts which have cast women solely as victims of rape, finds Katherine Williams.

If you’re academically interested in conflict-driven sexual violence then make Sexual Violence as a Weapon of War? a priority read. In conflict situations, ‘rape as a weapon of war’ is often used as a blanket term to analyse rape. Maria Eriksson Baaz and Maria Stern, of The Nordic Africa Institute, argue that this is something of a misnomer, and attempt to challenge dominant understandings of sexual violence in conflict settings primarily by deconstructing notions of gender, colonial lexicons and militarisation.


Eriksson Baaz and Stern claim that the dominant framework surrounding rape in conflict settings has become too universalising. They proceed to unpack this initially by exploring notions of the sexed/gendered body. Is it simply enough to equate all women in conflict settings as victims and all men as perpetrators of sexual violence? Continue reading

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Sep 10 2014

Impact of changes in Tanzania’s family planning policies could benefit other African countries

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Based on a new paper, LSE’s Ernestina Coast and alumna Michelle Weinberger examine the lessons learned from trends in Tanzania’s family planning policy over the past 20 years.

Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest regional fertility rates in the world.  Contraception impacts fertility levels, and is strongly affected by policies and programming, including levels of funding (including donor funding) and regulations on who can provide different contraceptive methods.  Access to family planning programmes that are voluntary, accessible, acceptable and affordable remains the principal policy instrument in most countries for satisfying the unmet need for contraception.


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Sep 9 2014

Globalisation and Africa’s development: The Limits of an Inward-Looking Economic Policy

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The African continent would do well to adapt to the opportunities and challenges of globalisation rather than engage in a policy of self-sufficiency which could set it back in the world economy, argues LSE Visiting Fellow, Olu Fasan.

On 23 July, Dr Kingsley Chiedu Moghalu, Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, visited the London School of Economics to deliver a public lecture on Africa’s development. The lecture, entitled Beyond Africa Rising, drew on his recent book, Emerging Africa: how the global economy’s ‘last frontier’ can prosper and matter.

Dr Moghalu’s mission was to challenge current orthodoxy about Africa’s development and to articulate a new vision for the continent. Africa may be emerging, he said, but it is far from rising. He argued that recent positive macroeconomic indicators in the continent have led to the growth of what he called the “Africa Rising industry”. Yet Africa has not emerged, let alone risen as a co-creator of global prosperity.

globalisationDr Moghalu gave two reasons why Africa has not risen. First, Africa lacks a worldview in its economies and its governance. Second, globalisation has hurt the continent more than it has helped. From these “fundamental understandings”, as he put it, came Dr Moghalu’s big ideas, his “new” paradigm for Africa’s development. He urged Africa to adopt an inward-looking economic policy to become a “self-sufficient player”. He advocated a more muscular state hand on the levers of capitalism so that Africa can “short-circuit” globalisation and “liberate itself from the oppressive dominance of globalisation”. Continue reading

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Sep 8 2014

#GreatWarInAfrica: “Loyalty” does not explain why African soldiers fought in East Africa in World War I

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Michelle Moyd of Indiana University seeks to dispel the myth of blindly loyal colonial troops during World War One.

One hundred years after World War I began in Europe, the question of why tens of thousands of African soldiers fought for European colonial powers in Africa intrigues us. European colonial military officers writing about their troops after 1918 proclaimed their soldiers’ loyalty and dedication to imperial goals and ideals. This is particularly true of the East Africa campaign, which captured the attention and imaginations of many post-war writers. Thousands of colonial troops from German East Africa, British East Africa, Belgian Congo, Portuguese East Africa, and elsewhere did indeed fight to the end of the protracted and grueling campaign, which had lasted slightly longer than the war on Europe’s western front. But does it make sense to describe these soldiers as “loyal?”


The askari troops pictured fought alongside the Germans in East Africa

In a limited sense, perhaps. When the campaign ended in late November 1918, some 1200 German colonial troops (askari) surrendered to Allied forces alongside their commander, General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck. At the end of the war, the British King’s African Rifles (KAR) still had some 30,000 men in arms, and the Belgian Force Publique about 15,000. Inasmuch as these soldiers remained with their armies until the armistice, they met a minimum standard of loyalty to their organisations and commanders. Continue reading

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Sep 5 2014

Book Review – A Poisonous Thorn in Our Hearts: Sudan and South Sudan’s Bitter and Incomplete Divorce by James Copnall

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LSE’s Janel Smith finds James Copnall’s writing style and analysis refreshing in A Poisonous Thorn in our Hearts: Sudan and South Sudan’s Bitter and Incomplete Divorce.

A Poisonous Thorn in Our Hearts: Sudan and South Sudan’s Bitter and Incomplete Divorce by James Copnall provides a rich and vivid account of the period immediately following the separation of South Sudan from Sudan and represents a fascinating introduction to a wealth of views and experiences of Sudanese peoples residing in both Sudans from politicians, businessmen, and civil society activists to celebrities, cow herders and tea sellers. As the BBC’s Sudan correspondent from 2009-2012, Copnall travelled extensively throughout the Sudans and has reported from over 20 African states, thus, possessing knowledge and familiarity with the political, economic, and social climate and cultural contexts of the region.


Published in 2014 the book includes material from well over 100 interviews as well as first-hand accounts from the author’s own travels within both countries. It covers the recent violence in 2013 in both Sudan and South Sudan that saw protests and a violent clampdown by government take place in Khartoum, and political tensions between President Salva Kiir and former Vice-President Riek Machar in South Sudan that plunged the world’s newest country into civil war in December 2013. As such, A Poisonous Thorn in Our Hearts is an extremely timely and relevant publication. Continue reading

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