UCL African Studies Research Centre


UCL African Studies Seminar Series

UCL Gustave Tuck Lecture Theatre

UCL African Studies Research Centre (UCL Institute of Advanced Studies) is pleased to announce the inauguration of a regular lunchtime seminar series. During the 2016/2017 academic year the series will explore Africanist research conducted by UCL staff. Seminars will cover a wide range of topics and disciplines.

Winter 2018

Seminars will be held every other Wednesday 1.15-2.30 pm pm, in th common ground room at the Institute of Advanced Study (Wilkins building in the South wing, ground floor).

17th January Thomas Hendricks (University of Oxford)

'Making concessions: power and ecstasis in the Congolese rainforest'

Thomas Hendricks

Photograph by Thomas Hendricks

Zooming in on a multinational timber company operating in the north of the Congolese rainforest after the 2008 financial crisis, this paper evokes the rowdy intimacies of power at work in industrial logging activities. On the basis of long-term fieldwork with its Congolese workers and European expat managers – as well as with the many traders, farmers, smugglers and barkeepers the concession attracted – I show how and why logging gives rise to profoundly ecstatic dynamics that often remain under-theorized. Although the logging company presented its activities as rational exercises in planning, mapping and auditing, it was confronted with stubborn realities on which it barely had any control. Masculine bravura, logger machismo and delusions of power thereby coexisted with feelings of impotence, choleric outbursts and nervous compensations. Taking seriously the ecstatic aspects of rainforest logging, I argue that theoretical analyses of capitalism that exclusively focus on its assumedly all-encompassing power without foregrounding its failures and frustrations, remain complicit to the powerful images capitalist companies present of themselves. Queering the phallic pretensions of multinational corporations, this paper calls for thinking capitalism otherwise: beyond its supposedly totalizing reach and mastery and through the uncontrollable and vulnerable productivity of ecstasis.

31st January Matteo Rizzo (SOAS) – Book launch

'Taken for a Ride: Grounding Neoliberalism, Precarious Labour, and Public Transport in an African Metropolis. OUP, 2017.'

Matteo Rizzo

The growth of cities and their informal economies are key characteristic of societies in Africa today. Taken for a Ride contributes to our understanding of both, drawing on long-term fieldwork in Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) and charting its public transport system’s journey from public to private provision. This new addition to the Oxford University Press series “Critical Frontiers of Theory, Research, and Policy in International Development Studies”, investigates this shift alongside the increasing deregulation of the sector and the resulting chaotic modality of public transport. How does public transport work in an African city under neoliberalism? Who has the power to influence its changing shape over time? What does it mean to be a precarious and informal worker in the private minibuses that provide such transport in Dar es Salaam? What are the possibilities for theorising about the urban and economic informality from the streets of Dar es Salaam? These are the main questions that inform this in-depth case study of Dar es Salaam’s public transport system over more than forty years.

Taken for a Ride is an interdisciplinary political economy of public transport, exposing the limitations of market fundamentalist and postcolonial approaches to the study of economic informality, the urban experience in developing countries, and their failure to locate the agency of the urban poor within their economic and political structures. It is both a contribution to and a call for the contextualized study of neoliberalism.

21st February Phil Burnham (UCL Anthropology)*

'The Chad-Cameroon pipeline project: a 15-year retrospective'

Phil Burnham

Photograph by Phil Burnham

At the turn of the millennium, the Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline project, proposed by Exxon-Mobil in collaboration with the World Bank, excited much controversy in the world press, with international green NGOs leading an unsuccessful fight to block the project. Oil first flowed through the pipeline in 2003 and continues to do so today, although the project has suffered ups and downs throughout this period. With the recent announcement by the World Bank that it will no longer fund fossil fuel projects from 2019, it seems an appropriate moment to reassess the pros and cons of the Chad-Cameroon project. Phil Burnham will draw on his experience as a socio-economic consultant for the project during the construction phase and his subsequent research on corporate social responsibility of Exxon-Mobil in Cameroon.

28th February Joyce Nyairo (Independent Researcher, Eldoret; Currently co-director of Templeton World Charity Foundation project)*

'Boda Boda Rage: Economies of Affection in the Motorbike Taxis of Kenya'

Joyce Nyairo

Photograph by Joyce Nyairo

Nikushike namna gani? How should I hold you?

The questions that women ask motorbike taxis operators, are just one of the many ways in which this new mode of transportation in both urban and rural Kenya has become a vehicle for laughter, outrage, (in)dignity and wealth. This paper focuses on moments of delight in the danger-filled work of motorbike taxi operators in Kenya. How much joy do boda boda (motorbike taxis) generate in modern Kenya? The delight is measured, not simply in terms of the varied financial and psycho-social accumulation that is made possible in this industry but also, in terms of the tone of the public conversations that have been triggered by the boda boda phenomena.

I will interrogate the grammar that has grown out of this mode of transportation; the platforms through which that grammar circulates and the tenor of the voices of thought-leaders and policy-makers as they engage the conundrum of public transport. An examination of women’s engagement with boda bodas, reveals a long arc that stretches from moral panic born out of knee-jerk recourses to both ethnic mores and pious religion - which often conspire to police women’s bodies - to release and reclamation in acts of freedom that are performed in several ways.

Beyond the political economies of wealth and poverty in Africa, this paper is concerned with demonstrating cultural performativity in the context of post-colonial modernity, and answering key questions about the ways in which national identities are forged and reinforced in a series of rapidly circulating discourses that underline commonalities far more than they entrench the differences that many see as both indelible and emblematic of the modern African state.

7th March Marie Rodet (SOAS) – Film screening and Q&A*

'The Diambourou: Slavery and Emancipation in Kayes - Mali (Marie Rodet & Fanny Challier, 2014, 23 min)'

Marie Rodet

This special session will feature a 23-min film screening and a discussion with filmmaker Marie Rodet, a Senior Lecturer in the History of Africa at SOAS. Marie Rodet’s expertise is in modern gender and migration history in Francophone West Africa (Mali, Senegal). Her current research is a historical analysis of emancipation strategies in the context of the end of slavery in Africa.

African slavery was officially abolished in French Sudan (present day Mali) by the colonial authorities in 1905, but effective emancipation of formerly enslaved populations was in fact a lengthy process, the repercussions of which were still felt long after Mali's independence in 1960.
This documentary tells the story of those who resisted slavery by escaping their masters and founding new independent and free communities in the district of Kayes in the first half of the twentieth century. The film presents a unique audio-visual archive of slave emancipation in Mali.

21st March Iwa Salami (University of East London)

'The African Continental Free Trade Area and economic Integration in Africa – the role of law'

Iwa Salami

Plans to establish an African Continental Free Trade Area (ACFTA) was instituted by the African Union in January 2012, to be achieved by December 2017, however this is still underway. These plans are broadly in line with the agenda to achieve an African Economic Community in six stages by 2028, set out in the 1991 Treaty establishing the African Economic Community.

The ACFTA attempts to bring together fifty-four African countries with a combined population of more than one billion people and a combined gross domestic product of more than US $3.4 trillion. Its main objectives are to create a single continental market for goods and services, characterised by the free movement of goods and persons which will then lead to the establishment of the Customs Union. It is intended to expand intra-African trade, first, through better harmonization and coordination of trade liberalization policies across the sub-regional economic communities (RECs) and then across the continent. Amongst other things, the ACFTA is expected to enhance competitiveness at the industry and enterprise level through continental market access and better reallocation of resources.

As the plan to achieve the ACFTA is set against the backdrop of challenging attempts at achieving successful economic integration at African sub-regional (RECs) levels, this presentation moves beyond the political and economic underpinnings for economic integration and focuses on the role of law and institutions in facilitating the process of achieving the ACFTA.

* Please note that on those days the seminar will take place in room 22, first floor of the Wilkins building, South Wing.

This seminar series is convened by the African Studies Research Centre/IAS:

Dr Matt Davies (matt.davies@ucl.ac.uk)

Dr Hélène Neveu Kringelbach (h.neveu@ucl.ac.uk)

Prof. Megan Vaughan (megan.vaughan@ucl.ac.uk)


Previous seminars

6th December Elaine Unterhalter (UCL IoE)

Higher education & the public good in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria & South Africa – A comparative perspective

22nd November Wolde Tadesse & Elizabeth Ewart (University of Oxford)

Sustaining one another: enset, animals, and people in the southern highlands of Ethiopia

1st November Keren Weitzberg (UCL History)

'Political work beyond the archives: poetry and the making of nationalism on the Kenya/Somali borderlands'

25th October *Markku Hokkanen (University of Oulu)

'Quinine, malarial fevers and mobility in South-Central Africa: a biography of ’European fetish’, 1859-1949'

11th October Murray Last (UCL Anthropology)

'The economics of insurgencies in pre- and post-colonial northern Nigeria'

4th May Tim Gibbs (UCL History)

‘Taxation and Development: From The Peasants’ Revolt to the postapartheid delivery service protests’

11th May Robtel Neajai Pailey (International Migration Institute, University of Oxford)

‘Birthplace, Bloodline and Beyond: How ‘Liberian Citizenship’ Is Currently Constructed in Liberia and Abroad’

25th May Deborah Posel (University of Cape Town)

‘On the question of non-racialism in South Africa’

19th January, Jerome Lewis (UCL Anthropology)

Title TBC

9th February, Tamar Garb (UCL IAS) (Please note change of date from earlier versions)

Painting/Photography/Politics: Marlene Dumas and the Figuration of Difference

16th February, Marissa Mika (UCL IAS)

Cobalt Blues: The Half Life of Oncology's Technologies in Uganda"

2nd March, Christine Kelly (Epidemiology and Population Health, LSHTM)

School absenteeism in northern Malawi: trends, influences and the impact of cleaner burning biomass-fuelled cookstoves

16th March, Iwona Bisaga (UCL Centre for Urban Sustainability and Resilience)

Solar Home Systems and Performance Targets in Rwanda

20th October

Moses Oketch (UCL Institute of Education)

Cross-country analysis of youth opportunities and aspirations for TVET in sub-Saharan Africa

27th October: Sara Randall (UCL Anthropology)

The gendered trajectory to old age in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

Please note: Exceptionally, the first two seminars will be in consecutive weeks.

17th November: Michael Walls (UCL Development and Planning Unit)

Gender, elections and representation: political settlement in Somaliland

1st December: Ben Page (UCL Geography)

‘Better men’: Late colonial ideas about African leadership at the Man O War Bay Training Centre, Cameroon 1952-61

15th December: Tim Colbourn (UCL Global Health)

Childhood pneumonia in Malawi: evaluating PCV13 vaccine effectiveness, and on-going work to further reduce disease burden and mortality

This new series is convened by the African Studies Research Centre/IAS:

Dr Matt Davies (matt.davies@ucl.ac.uk)

Dr Hélène Neveu Kringelbach (h.neveu@ucl.ac.uk)

Prof. Megan Vaughan (megan.vaughan@ucl.ac.uk)