Conable African Studies Symposium
Exile, Deportation, and Forced Labor in Colonial Africa
Rochester, New York
April 2-4, 2015
“the extreme solitude of his existence …saddened the ancestor’s spirit.”
Les derniers rois mages, Maryse Condé
In Maryse Condé’s 1997 novel, Les derniers rois mages, Spero, the fictional great-grandson of Béhanzin, the last king of Dahomey, reflects on his failures and feelings of inadequacy. Béhanzin was deposed from his throne by the French in 1894 and deported to Martinique. He brought with him into exile an enormous retinue, among them five of the “Leopard wives,” his daughter the princess Kpotasse, his son Ouanilo, and his honton, the prince Adandejan. Spero’s grandfather was left behind when the king was sent on to exile in Algeria, where he died in 1906. Several generations drown themselves in Caribbean rum as they wait interminably for the recognition they crave. And Spero, narrated by what literature scholar Chiji Akoma calls Condé’s “African griot aesthetic, ” experiences a double exile: an exile from his ancestral home, and the total separation from his royal family.
Deportation and exile have long, complex, and intertwined legacies in colonial Africa. From the forced removal of kings, queens, chiefs, and commoners, to the displacement of entire clans from their homelands, or the coerced expatriation of political dissidents and their families, deportation and exile operated as two edges of a single imperial weapon. British, French, German, Portuguese, Belgian, Spanish, Italian, and South African colonial regimes all employed exile and deportation—often coupled with threatened or real forced labor—to end dynasties, to silence rival chieftaincies, to forestall millennial religious movements, and to facilitate the wholesale seizure of agricultural and pastoral lands for industrial enterprises or white settler farmers.
Exile and deportation were often accompanied by forced labor. Colonial powers employed deportation and a life in exile as a threat, but many deportees and exiles first experienced incarceration and forced labor. Others still were imprisoned in exile and forced to labor for the colonial state. Forced labor was routinely employed as a group punishment against rioting women’s groups in West Africa during the economic upheaval of the 1930s, against imagined political opponents by the Vichy-led French West Africa Federation, and as a tool to suppress and exhaust the heroes of the anti-apartheid struggle.
Béhanzin’s experience was paralleled by that of Amadou Bamba, Bai Bureh, Prempeh, Ranavalona, Moshoeshoe, Haile Salassie, and numerous others, as Europeans attempted to cement colonial rule and displace existing orders. And as the calls for self-government and independence spread across Africa in the 1940s and 50s, the wholesale imprisonment and criminalization of political resistance forced many to flee internally or abroad. Self-imposed exiles included numerous future political and religious leaders, including Kwame Nkrumah, Simon Kimbangu, Oliver Tambo, Robert Resha, Kenneth Kaunda, and countless others. They sought the solace of likeminded individuals, pursued education, or simply strived for anonymity.
Deportation, exile, and forced labor were remarkably effective. They zeroed in on deeply held African communal values and powerful ethnic loyalties, and exacerbated existing rivalries, often producing instantaneous gratification for colonial allies, intermediaries, and collaborators. Exile, deportation, and forced labor did not, however, always have the desired effect. Colonized people were brought together from diverse imperial lands, and created new networks of ideas and mobile communities of defiance. Exiles disrupted colonial authorities, via large and small acts, as they struggled to return, resist, and rebuild.
As part of the fourth Conable Conference in International Studies, the 2015 Conable African Studies Symposium will examine the role of deportation, exile, and forced labor in colonial African in interdisciplinary comparative perspective. We seek to understand the uses and implications of exile, deportation, and forced labor as political and legal tools throughout the African continent, ranging from their roles in the incipient nineteenth-century “colonial encounter” to the expansion of mature colonialism in the twentieth century, to their employment to forestall nationalist, pan-Africanist, and independence movements. We welcome papers employing disciplinary, interdisciplinary, or cross-disciplinary perspectives from historians, geographers, anthropologists, literature scholars, sociologists, linguists, criminologists, legal scholars, psychologists, and others.
The conference encourages scholarly papers on any aspect of the colonial history of exile, deportation, and forced labor including (but not limited to):
- The political, ideological, and philosophical underpinnings of colonial policy.
- Exile as punishment.
- Narratives, biographies, and fictions of exile, deportation, and forced labor.
- Legal genealogies of deportation and exile.
- Gender and punishment.
- Communities of exile.
- Individual and group forced labor.
- Effects of exile on those left behind.
- Exile and colonialism.
- Deportation and communication
- Sustaining life and community in exile.
- Returns of exiles/deportees.
- Deportation, exile and death.
Abstracts for the Symposium up to 500 words clearly identifying the argument, method of delivery, evidentiary basis, disciplinary/interdisciplinary nexus, or analytical framework, and site of research, study, or project, accompanied by a two-page CV identifying the proposer(s) by name, affiliation, address, and email, should be submitted online by December 15, 2014, via the Conable Conference portal.
Informal inquiries may be submitted by email to Nathan Carpenter, Benjamin Lawrance, Babacar Fall, or Andreas Eckert.
Accepted proposals will be announced by email and on the Conable Conference website in early 2015. Draft symposium papers of 5000-7000 words will be pre-circulated. All participants must commit to have read all papers prior to arrival. All participants are required to register online and pay the registration fee as confirmation prior to the publication of the final program. Participants are responsible for their own travel and accommodation. Limited financial travel support may be available for those in need.