F – Solidarities, internationalisms, and global movements

Pan-African cultures of solidarity: Anti-colonialism, exiles and refugee politics in Africa

Event Details

  • Date

    Sunday, 28 June - 9:00 – 11:00

  • Venue
    tba
  • Theme
    F – Solidarities, internationalisms, and global movements
Convenor
  • Eric Burton (University of Innsbruck)
  • Marcia C. Schenck (University of Potsdam)
Chair
  • Su Lin Lewis (University of Bristol)
Commentator
  • Su Lin Lewis (University of Bristol)
Panelists
  • Eric Burton (University of Innsbruck)
  • Marcia C. Schenck (University of Potsdam)
  • Christian Williams (University of the Free State / University of Freiburg)

Papers

  • Christian Williams
    “SWAPO Dissidents or Namibian Refugees? A History of Two Hundred Namibians in Zambia, 1977-89”

    “SWAPO Dissidents or Namibian Refugees? A History of Two Hundred Namibians in Zambia, 1977-89”

    To date, scholarship on Southern Africa’s exile history has maintained a national focus, organised around liberation movements and their narratives. Nevertheless, many exile experiences do not fit within this frame. This paper examines such experiences through a group of two hundred Namibians who lived in Zambia during the late 1970s and 1980s. This group was among the guerrilla soldiers whom the Namibian liberation movement SWAPO identified as dissidents and detained in Zambia in 1976 and 1977. Rather than “confess” to betraying the liberation struggle and returning to SWAPO, they chose to leave SWAPO and were transported by the Zambian army to UNHCR’s Meheba Camp. Most left the camp within a few years, moving to the Copperbelt and Lusaka, where they received scholarships to pursue further studies. Although excluded from aid sent to Namibians via SWAPO, they did access resources through organizations whose work has been excluded from prior histories of anti-colonial solidarity. Drawing from Namibian oral histories, German mission archives, and other sources, the paper illuminates both a particular group of exiled Namibians and recurring exile social dynamics. As I argue, for SWAPO and many of its late 1970s and 1980s supporters, the term “Namibian refugees” was synonymous with people living in SWAPO camps. Nevertheless, during the same period, hundreds of Namibians lived in Zambia and neighbouring countries outside these camps. Although often presented as “SWAPO dissidents,” the individuals at the centre of this study were indeed “refugees,” both in terms of their international legal status and their sense of group identity. By drawing attention to this discrepancy, the paper considers what it meant to be a refugee in the frontline states during the late Cold War era – a place and time in which refugee politics were widely accepted as long as they aligned with an internationally recognized liberation movement.
  • Marcia C. Schenck
    Aiding freedom fighters? The Organization of African Unity’s Refugee Convention of 1969 in the making

    Aiding freedom fighters? The Organization of African Unity’s Refugee Convention of 1969 in the making

    Today, two legally binding regional refugee protection regimes exist globally, one of them in Africa, the other in Europe. Africa’s came into existence first: The OAU’s regional regime began developing in 1964, the EU began formulating a common asylum system only in 1999. At the end of 2016, member states of the African Union, the successor organization to the OAU, hosted more than 32% of the worlds’ refugees, compared to just 11% in the EU. While the European context has been covered extensively, too little is known about the African context. This paper examines the drafting the Organization of African Unity’s refugee convention between 1964 and 1969 through the archives of the UNHCR in Geneva. The UNHCR was involved in drafting the final convention drawing on its expertise in the European refugee crisis after the second world war and the international refugee convention of 1951. I argue that it is through studying this archive that we can trace tensions between an African notion of refugeehood referring largely to the idea of refugees as freedom fighters, and the notion of refugees with which the UNHCR operated, which was based on the protection afforded through the 1951 legal framework.
  • Eric Burton
    (Un)welcoming guests: African liberation struggles, frontline citizens and their relations with exiles in Tanzania

    (Un)welcoming guests: African liberation struggles, frontline citizens and their relations with exiles in Tanzania

    In Swahili, freedom fighters and refugees are not far apart, at least phonetically: while Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere and other leading politicians emphasised that exiles from other Southern African countries under colonial and white minority rule should be referred to as wakombozi (freedom fighters, liberators), many Tanzanian citizens as well as politicians critical of the state’s support for liberation struggles elsewhere on the continent preferred to call these exiles wakimbizi (refugees). This was a difference that went not only to the heart of anticolonial solidarities but also to the core of efforts to refashion Tanzanian citizenship. Through educational measures, including school education, songs in the paramilitary National Service and reports in newspapers close to the ruling party TANU (from 1977 onwards: CCM), political elites tried to refashion Tanzanians as what I call “frontline citizens”: citizens that took pride in their vanguard role in assisting liberation movements in various roles and fighting apartheid. This paper will elucidate these practices and competing dimensions of solidarity by juxtaposing elite and official discourses with retrospective accounts of exiles and “frontline citizens” in Tanzania. It highlights the ambiguities of Tanzanian support for liberation struggles as practice that sought to integrate and unite Africa while often highlighting national and racialized differences.

Abstract

Spurred by anticolonial resistance, Cold War proxy wars, civil wars and natural disasters and famines millions of Africans sought refuge – often across borders that had been drawn by colonial powers and confirmed by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1963. Several visions and practices of providing refuge coexisted on the continent. Following independence, several states, such as Egypt/the United Arab Republic, Ghana, Tanzania or Algeria actively supported liberation movements and welcomed exiles from other territories. Here, exiles were reframed as “freedom fighters” (rather than “refugees”) and part of the ruling elite’s projects of anti-imperial solidarity. These visions also found their expression in the formulation of a binding convention on refugees at the OAU between 1964-1969, which was the only regionally binding convention for decades. Yet practices of solidarity and competition, inclusion and exclusion also existed on other levels that have often been neglected. In this panel, we want to push the boundaries of thinking about practices of African solidarity to include and connect the transnational, national and local levels of interactions. We intend to (1) highlight inter-African exchanges while paying attention to broader transnational dimensions of these processes and (2) investigate the mutually constitutive character of welcoming exiles and building nation-states. These practices were also connected to new channels of transnational mobility as well as new methods of controlling novel flows and mobilities –  these included, in addition to refugee camps, scholarships for secondary and higher education, military training and continuing education initiatives for migrants perceived as “freedom fighters” in African countries but also around the world. We invite contributions that pursue one or more of the following questions: