Introduction to this Issue
This special edition of the MISR Review stems from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s supranational project. It involves a consortium of five universities (Makerere Institute of Social Research, Makerere University; Center for Arab and Middle East Studies, American University of Beirut; the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta; the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, and the Ifriqiyya Colloquium, Columbia University), under the leadership of Mahmood Mamdani, Director of MISR at Makerere University. This collaborative research endeavor was on the subject ‘Decolonization, the Disciplines and the University' and addressed the central question: what should be the mission of the university in a post-colonial context, and how should this mission be reflected in the curriculum?
As part of the project, a workshop, and institute on Historical Methods was held, in October 2020 and March 2021 respectively, to introduce Ph.D. students and post-doctoral fellows to the relevant literature and debates on decolonization in general and the two themes of research and writing specifically. Participants were guided to adapt their research to address questions centered on decolonization as a methodological imperative, a perspective from which to rethink the study of the humanities. The six articles that comprise this special edition have risen to this challenge and demonstrate the critical application of decolonial perspectives on pressing historical concerns across the Global South.
In his essay, Beyond Ethnic Patriotism: A case study of the intellectual and political history of Toro and Kigezi districts in Uganda, Evarist Ngabirano makes the case for rethinking post-independence ethnic nationalism in Uganda. He destabilizes the pervasive notion that native elites mobilized along ethnic lines. Using colonial archives and oral accounts, the paper examines native intellectuals in Toro and Kigezi. The essay argues that Toro was shaped by the colonial structure of indirect rule and mobilized along ethnic lines while Kigezi took inspiration from forces outside the structure of indirect rule politics, mobilizing a residence-based identity rather than an ethnic one.
David Ngendo-Tshimba’s essay A returning gaze at the ‘political’ in the ‘precolonial’: Towards a decolonial history of state formations in Upper Semliki Valley, seeks to throw light on thinking about the pre-colonial, as well as about clanship as a political formation. It creates a genealogy of political formation in the Upper Semliki valley prior to the European colonial state. Ngendo-Tshimba draws upon oral accounts and memories of the pre-colonial political while contesting a history of the pre-political itself and sketches the contours of an understanding of the historical away from a colonial-modern rendering of Africa’s distant past.
In the Uses and Abuses of History: How Uganda’s historiography affected Bunyoro’s development, Mary Kajumba Muhuruzi tackles the problem of privileging one ethnic group over another in post-colonial Africa through a historical lens. With parallels in Ghana and other African nations especially in the early colonial and post-independence period, she examines how a colonialist divide-and-rule approach to historiography and governance is at the root of a lot of current regional imbalances, especially between the Buganda and Bunyoro people in Uganda. The essay contends that a decolonial method of writing Ugandan history, utilizing oral histories, might give space to multiple voices, peoples, and institutions, and regional differences.
Continuing the process of reading the colonial archives differently to recover voices of resistance, Manuel Manu-Osafo’s article Interrogating Silences in Asante Historiography on Anti-Colonial Resistance, 1896-1957 discusses the silences and gaps in Asante historiography and the possibilities of decolonizing the field of Asante history. The essay provides three ways forward for this historiographic decolonization, namely to: acknowledge everyday resistance, consider archives other than the colonial archive, and to explore non-state-centric histories. Some of the archival alternatives the essays suggest are the realm of cultural practice and everyday life that can help re-temporalize, as it were, the narrative of Asante history punctuated by big epochs and watershed events.
Ammel Sharon’s Historical Errors: Debates in Kannada Text Criticism explores the field of text criticism in Kannada to engage ‘error’ as a site of interest for decoloniality. It tracks a shift in the relationship of the error to knowledge. It highlights the ways error was deployed and understood in colonial philosophy specifically by University scholars in twentieth-century southern India who took up the study of language, specifically Kannada-language literary-religious texts as their object of inquiry. Through the debates on text criticism in Kannada about the error, Sharon interrogates the relationship between truth and knowledge in philology and the importance and dangers of interrogating strong community-held truths through philological approaches and historical research in contemporary post-colonial India.
The concluding article of this special edition is Victoria Openi- foluwa Akoleowo’s Gender(ed) Scholar-Activism: Towards the Quest for Epistemic Justice in the Nigerian Academia. This article speaks to the need for decolonization within the academe. It exposes and critiques the hegemonic power relations in the Nigerian academe and rethinks the inequalities embedded in knowledge production and the role of women’s agency in the epistemological production of ideas. It argues that to achieve epistemic justice, the post-colonial Nigerian university curriculum requires a commitment to include the voices of female-authored texts and theorists.
All the papers in this special issue, therefore, grapple with different archival sites, methodological approaches, and conceptual frameworks to explore the ways in which decolonial perspectives can help open up received historiographical landscapes. They foreground hitherto unexplored or marginalized oral histories to supplement written archives, non-state-centric archives to decenter colonial, statist archives, cultural practice and everyday life to flesh out narrow, bony political narratives, female theorists and texts to counter patriarchal canons, the critical unpacking of foundational categories that have shaped disciplinary formations and colonial pasts, and the teasing out of imaginations and belong- ing outside those mandated by colonial discourses and policies.
The papers emerge out of rich conversations across several months of the “Historical Methods” Workshop and Institute where the question of decoloniality as a method, of decolonization as an approach and the very centrality of history (and history-writing) were robustly debated. The papers demonstrate that decolonization necessitates a critical apparatus not only against colonial archives (and their attendant silences) but nationalist projects of myth-making and histories as well. The foregrounding of voices outside of the hegemonic structures of power—the marginalized, oppressed, minority positions—creates an important source of solidarity across the Global South. These engaged essays make clear that to think and write from a decolonial perspective is to enter into dialogues across languages, archives, and embedded structures of power.
Cyrelene Amoah-Boampong | Manan Ahmed | Prachi Deshpande January 2022