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. Seminars will cover a wide range of topics and disciplines.

Spring 2019

Seminars will take place every other Thursday this term, 1.15-2.45 pm in seminar room 22, first floor of the Wilkins building, South Wing.


17th January** Laura Murphy (U. of Nottingham and Loyola University New Orleans)

The New Slave Narrative and the Transitive Property of African Suffering

** Exceptionally, this session will be held in the IAS Common Ground, ground floor of the Wilkins building, south wing.

In this talk, Dr. Laura Murphy will discuss her new book The New Slave Narrative, which takes a cultural studies approach to the recent reemergence of the slave narrative genre.  She will present some of the contours of the genre's renaissance, including some of the political, social, and economic reasons why the slave narrative reappears at the turn of the 21st century. She will focus this talk on a post-9/11 strand of antislavery Islamophobia that she has dubbed "blackface abolition," as it plays on a "transitive property of African suffering" through age-old tropes familiar from the slave narrative tradition.

Laura Murphysruvivors of slavery

31stJanuary Erin Pettigrew (IMAF and NYU Abu Dhabi)

To Invoke the Invisible: Islam, Spiritual Mediation and Social Change in the Sahara

This talk focuses on invisible forces and entities – secret knowledge and spirits – to bring into view important social and political shifts in West Africa over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Situating this ethnographic history in what is today the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, the talk traces the changing roles of Muslim spiritual mediators and their Islamic “esoteric sciences”, with a focus on the colonial and post-colonial eras. These sciences and their experts have been part of a framework of therapeutic and protective practice attending to physical insecurity, social anxiety, and personal desires. Single women sought out the expertise of these Muslim spiritual mediators to ensure a timely marriage. Once married, they came to these specialists asking for numerological charts that would guarantee fertility and their husbands’ fidelity. Warriors and emirs rewarded these specialists in secret knowledge with herds of animals and promises of exemption from taxes usually paid for protection from raids. Families with a suddenly ill child summoned these spiritual mediators to diagnose and heal illnesses caused by jealous neighbours understood to harm through the evil eye or bloodsucking. These powerful sciences constitute a system of knowledge in response to the needs of its consumers, most often ensuring the health and welfare of local populations. Spiritual mediators invoked these divine forces in retribution for social wrongs, albeit less frequently. This Islamic esoteric knowledge could then be used both productively and destructively according to circumstance.

Erin Pettigrew seminar

21st February David Pratten (U. of Oxford)

The arts of oil: dis/enchantment and popular culture in Port Harcourt

This research engages with the emerging field of ‘oil culture’ or ‘petro-culture’ studies. It aims to make visible the conspicuously invisible role of oil in everyday life and culture, and to do so by examining the cultural history of Port Harcourt - a symbol and a catalyst of Nigeria’s incorporation into the global economy of energy capitalism. It examines how the popular arts reflect a dialectic of enchantment and disenchantment with the Nigerian petro-state. In what ways do the popular arts celebrate its profits and politics, and critique its inequalities and injustices? Is the popular culture of oil a protest culture? Can we demonstrate the role of political ecology on cultural creativity in local arts and in the diaspora?

Johnson Uwadinma

Johnson Uwadinma Breaking News 2017

7th March Christine Cheng (LSE)

Book launch: Extralegal Groups in Post-Conflict Liberia (OUP, 2018)

In the aftermath of the Liberian civil war, groups of ex-combatants seized control of key natural resource enclaves in the country. With some of them threatening a return to war, these groups were widely viewed as the most significant threats to Liberia’s hard-won peace. Building on fieldwork and socio-historical analysis, this book shows how extralegal groups were incentivized to provide basic governance goods in their bid to create a stable commercial environment during the country’s war-to-peace transition. By analysing the trajectory of extralegal groups in three sectors of the Liberian economy— rubber, diamonds, and timber— this book traces how livelihood strategies merged with the opportunities of Liberia’s post-war political economy. At the same time, this is also a context-specific story that is rooted in the country’s geography, its history of state-making, and its social and political practices. Extralegal groups did not emerge in a vacuum.

Where the state is weak and political authority is contested, where rule of law is corrupted and government distrust runs deep, extralegal groups can provide order and dispute resolution, forming the basic kernel of the state. Further, they can establish public norms of compliance and cooperation with local populations. This logic counters the prevailing “spoiler” narrative, forcing us to reimagine violent non-state actors as accidental statebuilders in an evolutionary state-making process, and not simply as national security threats. These are not groups who seek to rule; they provide governance because they need to trade— not as an end in itself. This leads to the book’s broader argument: it is trade, rather than war, that drives contemporary statebuilding. Along the way, this book poses some uncomfortable questions about what it means to be legitimately governed, whether our trust in states is misplaced, whether entrenched corruption is the most likely post-conflict outcome, and whether our expectations of international peacebuilding and statebuilding are unrealistic and self-defeating.

christine cheng

21st March Simone Datzberger (UCL Institute of Education)

Schools as Change Agents? Education and Individual Political Agency in Uganda

By drawing on the case study of Uganda, we challenge common assumptions about education, gender, regional differences and political agency. Comparing findings from four different regions, we scrutinize whether and how educational institutions empower Ugandan youth to participate in society as active, informed, critical and responsible citizens. Theoretically, we focus on four different aspects of individual political agency that education can foster, namely: understanding of political structures; independent critical thinking; levels of political interest; and political participation. Throughout our analysis, we make use of a survey (n=497), conducted in 2017 with respondents from secondary schools and universities; and data obtained from 37 qualitative interviews across four regions in Uganda. The aim behind the survey was to move beyond a priori models on how education affects the political agency of individuals. Instead, we offer insights on how Ugandans themselves perceive the politically empowering elements of the education they receive, connecting this to the wider cultural political economy context of Uganda. We find that Ugandan schools make only a very modest contribution towards nurturing an individual’s political agency. While the majority of respondents felt they critically reflect on societal issues in school, their knowledge of national political institutions, and on how they would claim and advocate for their rights as citizens was remarkably low.


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

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

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

Dr. Keren Weitzberg (k.weitzberg@ucl.ac.uk)


ias logo

Autumn 2018

Seminars will take place every other Thursday this term, 12.15pm -1.45pm in seminar room 22, first floor of the Wilkins Building, South Wing.

11th October    Hannah Höchner (University of East Anglia)

Senegalese migrants’ children, homeland ‘returns’, and Islamic education in a transnational setting

Photograph Hannah Hochner

A growing body of literature explores today how transnational migration affects both family life and childrearing practices. Several authors describe how young people raised in Western countries are sent ‘back’ to their parents’ homeland for reasons ranging from financial constraints, over the perceived threat of school failure, to ‘disciplining’. However, little has been said within this body of literature about ‘returns’ for religious reasons. Yet, sending children ‘back’ to the homeland for the sake of Islamic education is a widespread practice among Muslim migrants from several parts of West Africa. Drawing on data collected over a total of 14 months both among Senegalese migrant communities in New York, and in Islamic schools receiving migrants’ children in Dakar, Senegal, this paper outlines how living in a Western setting has heightened demands for religious education among Senegalese migrant parents. It then presents the different Islamic educational institutions migrant parents rely on in Senegal for their children’s education, and explores the experiences of the young people attending them. The paper challenges narratives equating homeland ‘returns’ with intergenerational continuity and the smooth transmission of religious identities, and highlights instead how homeland ‘returns’ give rise to complex negotiations of meaning and identity.

25th October         Ini Dele-Adedeji (SOAS)

Known unknowns and unknown unknowns: perception, reality, and disputation in the field of study on Boko Haram

Photograph: Ini Dele-Adedeji

Compared to other movements bearing similar characteristics, the literature on Boko Haram is a fledgling one, and is highly discursive. On the one hand, where the sect’s insurgency is concerned, Boko Haram has optimised the use of audio-visual modes (e.g. video recordings of its hostages, of threats, and of sermons). On the other hand, this hyper-visibility can be argued to be a controlled one due to the limited access of non-members to territories occupied by Boko Haram fighters, the insular ideology of the sect’s membership, and the overall difficulty of conducting fieldwork in northeast Nigeria and its neighbouring regions. Within the literature on Boko Haram, schisms have developed in relation to what can be considered factual or reliable data. As a consequence, there are diverging views on what Boko Haram actually is. This paper delves into the ongoing debate by critically exploring the academic and non-academic literature on Boko Haram, with the aim of teasing out the different approaches towards the movement. Relying on a combination of ethnographic fieldwork and a critical deconstruction of scholarship on Boko Haram, this paper argues that the knowledge gaps in this area of study, combined with the lack of ‘’proximity’’ to Boko Haram-related data, have been instrumental in shaping popular perceptions of the movement.

22nd November    Marie Rodet (SOAS) – Film screening and Q&A with filmmaker

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


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.

6th December    Tatiana Thieme (UCL Geography)

‘When the day hustle goes down, the night hustle goes up’: Temporalities of the hustle economy in Mathare, Nairobi

Based on ethnographic research in one of Nairobi’s oldest and largest informal settlements, this paper mobilises the notion of ‘hustle’ to ground the narratives of struggle, opportunity and place-making expressed by youth whose livelihood strategies have centred in part around informal waste labour. As everyday lives are mired by constant uncertainty, youth occupy a ‘precarious present’ (Millar 2018) caught in a state of suspension d but also versed in adapting to adversity and shaping local politics of provisioning in the absence of formal structures of support. The paper focuses on a set of ethnographic portraits and particular ‘bases’ in Mathare Valley, examining the non-linear and unpredictable vicissitudes of hustling as a survival, livelihood and political strategy to get by and get things done. The set of skills and knowledges that navigate ebbs and flows of makeshift urbanism include negotiating opportunity and set-back, hope and disappointment, waithood and rapid adjustments to emergencies, making work and loitering on the jobless corner. Finally, the paper examines the temporalities of the home-grown hustle economy of Mathare, as the younger youth seek to ‘redraw the maps’ of local informal economies such as garbage collection and older youth start getting involved in local politics alongside their multiple side hustles.

This seminar series is convened by the African Studies Research Centre/IAS:
Dr. Hélène Neveu Kringelbach
Prof. Megan Vaughan
Dr. Keren Weitzberg


Previous seminars

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.

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 post apartheid 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

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