Across the Decolonization Divide: UNESCOs Science Sector in Africa, 1949–65

Sunday, January 8, 2017: 11:00 AM
Room 402 (Colorado Convention Center)
Casper Andersen, University of Aarhus
In the existing literature UNESCO’s role in science in Africa has been regarded as “post-colonial” exclusively – a contributor to what Gaillard and Waast labelled the “National Science Project” in Africa after 1960. According to this view the establishment of UNESCO’s Regional Office for Science and Technology in Africa (ROSTA) in Nairobi in 1965 has been considered the starting point for UNESCO science in the continent.

However, UNESCO was also active in the late-colonial science scene in Africa. During the 1950s UNESCO based its activities on collaborations with the Commission for Technical Cooperation in Africa South of the Sahara (the CCTA) and the Commission for Science Africa (the CSA), intergovernmental organizations set-up in 1950 to promote inter-colonial science collaboration with Britain, France, Belgium, Portugal, South Africa and Rhodesia as founding members.

By analyzing the relations between these organizations, the paper shows that UNESCO emerged as a contested arena where colonial, international and national science agendas clashed. At one level it was a battle over the political future of the continent, particularly relating to the forced departure of South Africa from UNESCO. At another level it concerned individual UNESCO scientists whose careers had been shaped in the colonial administrations.

The paper fleshes out these political and personal levels by focusing on the British ecologist E.B. Worthington whose science career in Africa spanned the decolonization divide. In 1937 Worthington authored the magisterial Science in Africa as part of Hailey’s African Survey. He later headed the CSA and worked closely with UNESCO officials including Huxley and Alain Gilles, the director of ROSTA. Still later Worthington was employed directly by UNESCO. The career of Worthington demonstrates how UNESCO during the decolonization process re-interpreted the meaning of international science and redrew imperial as well as post-colonial maps of science.

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