‘Mastering the River Niger: James MacQueen’s Map of Africa and the Struggle over Atlantic Slavery’ (Review of David Lambert’s presentation on the 13th February 2013)

This post is a review of the seminar given by David Lambert on James MacQueen’s Map of Africa (University of Leeds, 13 February 2013).

David Lambert presented a fascinating analysis of the influences upon James MacQueen’s geographical imagination of the River Niger during the classic age of exploration.

There were three main sections to Lambert’s presentation.  First, he provided an overview of MacQueen’s life yet this aspect of his paper should only be addressed briefly.   The salient details were that he was a Glaswegian bookkeeper who attempted to map the River Niger during his time as an overseer on the Westerhall estate, Grenada, from 1799 due to the potential economic rewards of control trade along the tributaries.  His motive and methodology are further explored through the analysis of his professional life in section two. Continue reading

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‘Identifying with War: A Historical Appraisal of Child Combatants in African Conflicts, c.1950-2010’ (Review of Stacey Hynd’s presentation on the 13th March 2013)

This post is a review of the seminar given by Stacey Hynd on African child combatants (University of Leeds, 13 March 2013).

Hynd’s paper tackled a range of disparities between the humanitarian narrative of the child soldier and the actuality of warfare involving children.  To solve this misunderstanding Hynd’s paper took an alternative two-step approach: first, she contextualised the child’s role in warfare and, second, she historicised the reading of the basis to current arguments.  This process is conducted through three main stages and by using non-traditional archival material, such as oral interviews, media camps, grey literature, and humanitarian and NGO reports.  It should also be noted that Hynd tackled the definitional debate surrounding childhood in Africa and attests much of the Western misunderstanding to this difference.  Continue reading

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Nigeria, a Russian website and Chinua Achebe (1930-2013)

I think it was on a Russian website a few years ago. I am not so sure. I knew I wanted to study Nigeria and I didn’t know where to start. I googled “Nigeria” and found a series of texts certainly reproduced with the permission of their authors (obviously).  I ended up reading a poem about Biafra and the Nigerian civil war (1967-1970). Two hours later, I was still in front of my screen. This is how I started reading Chinua Achebe’s poems and novels.


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Impact of the internet on historical research

The rise of the internet has profoundly changed historical research.  This paper will analyse the two main aspects of the internet’s impact on historical research.  Increased accessibility is the main advantage across both sections whereas there are a myriad of different problems with respective digitisation processes.  The first part of the paper will analyse the digitisation of existing sources.  Whilst this encompasses a wide range of sources, archival digitisation is the most interesting and relevant and so will be the focus of this paper.  There are three main disadvantages to this process: contextualisation, potential edits and poor reproduction, and the sensual nature of the archive.  The drawback of contextualisation is the most threatening to valid historical research and thus this paper will focus heavily on this section.  However, there is a lack of academic focus upon contextualisation.  Therefore, analysis on this section will rest heavily upon Vajcner’s paper yet this was proved academically sound after examination.    The second facet to this study will address the development of new ways to present existing information and the increased use of informal sources.  Both aspects are already changing the nature of historical research yet the latter section could have a profound impact upon the profession itself.  It should also be noted that the impact of informal sources has not yet been analysed and thus this part of the paper is largely hypothesising and philosophising about its importance and potential impact.  A final note on the literature is that it is important to use current literature on a quickly changing topic such as the internet.  However, there is not a wealth of studies in this field and thus sometimes it is necessary to use older papers that still contain explicit relevance to this thesis, such as the survey in 2004 by Duff, Craig and Cherry that surveyed 400 historians at degree-granting institutions in Canada.  Continue reading

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Andrew Feinstein’s The Shadow World

As Andrew Feinstein admitted in the packed former LUCAS library at 4pm on the 6th March 2013, it is hard to compress 500+ pages and 3000+ references of his latest book, The Shadow World, into 45 minutes.  It is harder still to explain his work in fewer than 1000 words, but I will try.  His account comes from a real experience of the South African Arms deal of 1999.  He blew the whistle on the extortionate levels of corruption, lost his position as an elected member of the ANC and began an exploration of the dark world of arms trade.  His work revealed that there was a minute difference between the legal and illegal arms deals.  They are one of the same.  Whilst his talk touched upon an array of anecdotes and research, the two most poignant examples were the South African Arms Deal and the Al-Yamamah arms from 1985 to the present day.  Both highlight how corruption and illegality were central to the ‘legal’ trade of arms and how this had profound effects for the people that the government’s claimed to represent. Continue reading

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Local media representation of famine in Africa: cover-ups, instability and death

De Waal’s seminal publication in 1995, Famine that Kills, altered Western academia’s interpretation of famine.  The basis of his thesis is that the African concept of famine does not use the presence of deaths from starvation as a criterion for famine.  Rather, they describe a three-fold process in line with maja’a, the Arabic term for famine.  First is hunger, which is something you put up with.  Second is destitution, which to try your utmost to prevent.  Third is death, which is beyond your power or influence.  It is important to note that this theory is applicable famines with low mortality rates, which de Waal argues is most famines.  The famines where mortality rates were astronomical, such as the Ethiopian famine (1984-1986) and the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970), are exceptions to his thesis.  My research focuses upon the validity of his theory that there is a disparity between the experiences of famines by Africans and the western perceptions of famine, relating to all three stages of the famine.  However, I am most interested in how westerners are fixated upon death during any famine whereas most Africans during most famines do not experience famine as synonymous with death.  Rather, they see it as a socio-economic problem.  This branch of research led me ask how local media represented of famine?  Was it closer to the western perception of famine or the African experience of it? In search of any answer to this question I travelled to the BBC Written Archives in Reading and explored the Summary of World Broadcasts (SWBs) held there.  For those that do not know about SWBs, the BBC have been summarising the radio broadcasts of most nations across the world since the end of the Second World War.  I was focusing upon Ethiopia (1973-74 and 1984-86) and Sudan (1984-86).  The collection was extensive, nearly one every day, and covered a variety of issues, from economic performance to political developments.  I manage to find some really useful information and began to examine it thoroughly in the final chapter of my dissertation.  The study revealed that the local media emphasised death rates in the Ethiopian famine of 1984 to 1986, which was to be expected due to high mortality rates.  However, they did not do so for the Sudanese famine from 1984 to 1986 and the Ethiopian famine between 1973 and 1974.  Crucially, these were the famines that had a relatively low mortality rate and thus a majority of those experiencing famine would not have focused upon death.  After exploring two potential causes for this difference in media representation, the most logical conclusion is that in the first Ethiopian famine and the Sudanese famine both governments did not possess the political stability or economic base to enact wide scale changes.  Therefore, they covered up the famine.  However, I understand that more research into this topic is needed for this conclusion to be validated.  Hopefully this will be achieved when I complete my MSc in Development Studies at SOAS.  In conclusion, local media representation of famine in Africa has not been addressed by academics.   This is strange given the 2008 report by the LSE that emphasises the importance of the media upon the accountability of governments during a famine [http://www2.lse.ac.uk/media@lse/POLIS/Files/dgmfull.pdf.]

Brendan Lawson, 3rd year BA History student at the University of Leeds

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Uganda Separatism: Acholi’s Seek to Form New Nile Republic

After many years of civil war caused by the Lord’s Resistance Army under Joseph Kony in northern Uganda, the most affected people, the Acholi, are raising the issue of whether they should remain part of the country. Through their lawmakers such as Kitgum’s female MP Beatrice Anywar and Kilak County MP Mr Gilbert Olanya they are seeking to secede from Uganda to form a ‘Nile Republic’ or to join Southern Sudan. In large part increasing opposition has arisen over the northern Uganda recovery program fund. Last Friday leading figures called a rally at Pece stadium to announce the move.

The move comes after rampant corruption and embezzlement of rehabilitation funds given by western powers through the prime minister’s office. The leaders from the Acholi region are discontented about the poor distribution of resources and poor infrastructure since the end of the LRA war in Uganda.

Another fear by Acholi figures is based around the land issue. The government is planning to give a significant amount of land, especially from Amulu district, to the investor Madvani to grow sugarcane for sugar production in Uganda. Most people in the region disagree with the move since most land here is customary land.

Although the government of Uganda has played a big role in developing the region, much is still needed to comfort vulnerable people who have stayed in IDP camps for over twenty years. Much as the NGO’s have involved themselves in improving peoples’ lives many of the funds meant to help communities are being wasted in hotel workshops.

If the government is to ensure a good relationship with the Acholi people it should adopt a collaborative approach and involve local leaders in the rehabilitation of the region.

Kisaka Samuel Robinson: Director, Muro Tours and Travel Ltd, robiskisa@yahoo.com

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