Questioning Loyalties: Nation and Tradition in 19th- and 20th-Century Africa

AHA Session 259
Sunday, January 6, 2019: 9:00 AM-10:30 AM
Water Tower Parlor (Palmer House Hilton, Sixth Floor)
C. Cymone Fourshey, Bucknell University

Session Abstract

The panel addresses issues of identity, belonging, and loyalty in African communities. It sheds light on how ethnic belonging and identity are intertwined with and influenced by regional and state politics, as well as by cross-cultural interactions. We pay special attention to issues of nationalism, migration, and globalization. Thinking historically and comparatively about loyalty and belonging calls for a reconsideration of important themes in African history and politics, including nationalism and ethnic identity, claim-making, and the relationship between community and state. Constanze Weise’s paper “Memory, Legitimacy, and Ritual: Traditional Power in Modern Nigerian Politics, 1890-2000” addresses the agency of traditional institutions at the intersection of tradition and the modern nation-state. In particular, it discusses the conflicting loyalties arising among the Nupe traditional rulers in their struggle for recognition and representation. Roy Doron’s presentation entitled “Ken Saro-Wiwa, the Ogoni and the Problem of Conflicting Loyalties, 1970 – 2000" examines how the Ogoni were torn between their loyalty to Ogoniland and to Nigerian national institutions. Such loyalty was also complicated by their struggles for equal representation, protection of ethnic land and access to resources. Willis Okech Oyugi ‘s discussion on “Cultural and National Identity: Land, Rights, and Wildlife in Kenya’s Maasailand, 1960s-2000” shows how increased individuation of tenure and community-based wildlife sanctuaries in Kenya’s Maasailand between 1960s and 2000 became tools of resistance to local and state political intrusion. He focuses on the conflicts of interests between the Maasai, wildlife conservationists, and local and state governments to highlight the complex relationship between culture, loyalty, and national identity. Cymone Fourshey’s work “Loyalties, Tradition, and Imagined Citizenship” addresses issues associated with diasporic identities in a transnational context based on the narratives of Bantu Somali, a people on the move between Kenya, Somalia, Tanzania and the USA. The paper contends that providing rightful space to the enslaved and refugees, as agents of loyalty, mobility, and change in history and not merely as victims of forced migrations, allows for a more critical examination of their self-defined identities and their claims of belonging. Such an approach also provides important insights on issues of citizenship and exclusion from a transnational perspective.
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