Adom Getachew is an assistant professor in the Neubauer family of Political Science at the University of Chicago and a visiting member of the Edmond J. Safra Ethics Center at Harvard University. Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and raised in Gaborone, Botswana and Arlington, Virginia, she is the author of "Worldmaking After Empire: The Rise and Fall of Self-Determination."
An academic conference is rarely an occasion for world historical predictions, but, when addressing a meeting on African politics at Wellesley College 60 years ago, Ralph Bunche made one.
Bunche, undersecretary of political affairs of the United Nations and the first African-American to win the Nobel Peace Prize, declared that "1960 will be & # 39; the year of Africa & # 39; because at least four, but maybe seven or eight , new member states will come from the continent, "as The New York Times put it in February of that year.
By December, not seven but 17 new African states had joined the UN.
The Year of Africa, as it became known, was a victory for the black world. It emerged from long-standing global movements for racial equality and resulted in political and cultural revolutions that forever transformed Africa's place in the world. However, along with the triumph of African independence, decolonization political crises revealed central dilemmas, from the place of ethnic identity in politics to the role and legitimacy of state power, which still worry the continent and the world usually.
For more than a decade before independence, nationalist organizations such as the People's Party of the Ghana Convention and the African National Union of Tanganyica had built mass political movements across the continent, using strikes, boycotts and other forms of civil disobedience to Challenge the imperial government. This was a strategy that echoed the civil rights movement, whose leaders closely watched the events in Africa. Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King and A. Philip Randolph attended the Ghana independence celebrations in 1957.
In his essay here, Luvvie Ajayi returns to a famous anecdote of that event when an African-American guest explained to Vice President Richard M. Nixon that he didn't know how freedom felt because he was from Alabama. The implication is clear: in 1960, Africa paved the way, showing that what Kwame Nkrumah, the president of Ghana, called "positive action,quot; could achieve the goals of racial equality and democracy.
The brutal violence during the Algerian War of Independence, which entered its seventh year in 1960, and in the Sharpeville massacre in South Africa made it clear that a peaceful transition was not always offered.
But the Year of Africa closed with a historic diplomatic victory. On December 14, 1960, the new African bloc at the UN led efforts to pass Resolution 1514, the Declaration of the granting of independence to colonial countries and peoples. The resolution legitimized the victories obtained with such effort on the ground and provided a new moral and legal framework for the struggles to come.
He described imperialism as "a denial of fundamental human rights,quot; and insisted that underdevelopment can never "serve as a pretext to delay independence." He asked for "total independence and freedom,quot; in all colonial territories. Nine states, including the United States, Britain and France, abstained, but Resolution 1514 was passed unanimously. As Amílcar Cabral put it in 1962, while leading a guerrilla war in Guinea-Bissau, the resolution made colonialism "an international crime."
However, the moment was more than the appearance of new states. African independence, in the words of Mr. Nkrumah, "means much more than simply being free to fly our own flag and play our own national anthem." According to the Martinian political theorist Frantz Fanon, it required the creation of new men from the colony. subjugation.
For the new post-colonial leaders, this often meant rapidly industrializing and spending more on education and medical care, without taking into account Fanon's caution not to imitate European history. And, in fact, during the first decade of African independence, economies grew, while investment in social services resulted in declining mortality rates, higher life expectancies and higher literacy rates. However, these transformations occurred when increasingly authoritarian states reused the repressive tools of colonial regimes.
Among these political contradictions, experiments emerged from the bottom up in the collective and self-taught reinvention. From the unconditional young boxer to the playful pose of the woman standing in front of the Afro-Black disco, the images here reveal the ways in which ordinary people clung to the promise of independence and the mantle of the Afro-modern. And as Yvonne Orji points out, these images persistently counter Africa's negative opinions by insisting that "we are all an accumulation of our dreams, our experiences, our misfortunes, our profits, our losses."
The cultural revolution captured in these images happened throughout the continent. It can be found in the photograph of Sanlé Sory by Burkina Faso, the Bamako dance floors captured by Malick Sidibé, the rumba of the Congo, the jazz of Ethiopia and Tanzania, the literary revival that included the novels of Chinua Achebe and Ngugi wa Thiong & # 39; or, the plays of Ama Ata Aidoo and many more. The oscillating 60s of Africa fused nationalism and pan-Africanism with global sounds and aesthetics. As the famous Mr. Ngugi would say, "decolonizing the minds,quot; of Africans was as important as reclaiming the land.
With the political and cultural triumphs of African independence, however, there were also great challenges. This new world of independent states fought to be born.
Weeks after the independence of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, the southern province of Katanga separated. The Congo crisis brought the first of many large-scale peacekeeping operations of the United Nations to the continent, and showed the pressure of decolonization. If self-determination were now a universal right, what could it mean for Katanga and other subnational units to claim this mantle? Would the new post-colonial states accommodate ethnic and religious pluralism? How could state power be decentralized and delegated?
These questions, and the political violence they generated, reappeared with the 1967 Igbo commitment to the independence of Nigeria, which precipitated a civil war; the Rwandan genocide of 1994; and the current citizenship crisis in Cameroon. The generation that celebrated the arrival of African independence did not foresee the pitfalls of decolonization and the failures of the post-colonial state.
As the novelist Ibolo Mbue writes in this section: “Did any of them imagine that a day would come when Cameroonians would risk their lives to flee their independent nation to Europe? Did any of them imagine that 60 years after independence, Cameroon would have had only two presidents, both dictators, one for 22 years, one now in its 38th year?
During the Congo crisis in 1960, many experts and observers concluded that decolonization had reached Africa too soon, that "development,quot; should have been a prerequisite for independence. But this trial loses what was ultimately at the center of the criticism of the imperial government: a vision of equality that insisted that self-government is not only for the educated, the elite and the whites. For photographer Omar Victor Diop, this vision means that, unlike his parents' generation, "we didn't have to yearn for independence: we were born with the right to a passport, ours."
However, the full promise of that passport is not fulfilled for migrants who cross the Mediterranean in the hope of making a living, and for those whose ethnic, religious and sexual identities are used to undermine their claims of political membership.
But from this paradoxical experience of post-colonial citizenship, a new African diaspora has emerged. The reflections on the Year of Africa included here from the members of this diaspora capture the many meanings of independence. When recovering family stories, offering personal stories and reading the photographic record, they insist that revisiting this past is a way of reinventing the future of the continent.