This article explores the biography of a network of Soviet telescopic cameras stationed across the African Sahel during the Cold War. Through joint Soviet-African cooperative programs, scientists used these advanced cameras in Egypt, Somalia, Mali, the Sudan, and Chad to photograph satellites flying overhead to gather data to produce a new model of the Earth, one that Soviet scientists hoped would be an alternative to Western models. I argue that these technical artifacts in Africa, connected into a single global network, represented examples of “infrastructural irruptions” of Cold War technopolitics into African geography, wherein the superpowers placed networked technologies inside postcolonial spaces for the collection of data. Although these technologies were nominally Soviet in origin, the story could also be read as one of Africans who invested their geography with agency in the production of scientific knowledge. Like the socialist moment in Africa and indeed the Soviet Union itself, this camera network no longer exists, its data compromised and its material imprint disappeared. But this “failure” should not blind us to the immanent power of possibility embedded in this incomplete project. I argue that this combination of unbounded aspiration and incomplete materiality was a powerful manifestation of the African-Soviet Modern.
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Comments Off on Prof. Asif Siddiqi publishes, “Shaping the World: Soviet-African Technologies from the Sahel to the Cosmos,” in Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
My aim is twofold. Highlighting the value and importance of African archives in the construction of postcolonial African histories, I first reject what I call ‘postcolonial African archival pessimism’: the argument that postcolonial African archives are too disorganized or ill-kept to be of much, if any, value in configuring postcolonial African histories. Second, primarily through petition and complaint letters, I examine how Ghanaian workers protested racist and abusive workplace environments, government malfeasance, stagnating wages, and unfair dismissals in Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana. These archival gems illuminate how workers made claims to and performances of citizenship and reminded the state of their importance, politically and practically, to building the Ghanaian project. From Ghanaian and British archives, I seek to complement histories that highlight the centrality of African workers — through their letters and feet — in articulating the contradictions and aspirations of postcolonial African states.
You can follow him on Twitter @NanaOseiOpare
Comments Off on Prof. Nana Osei-Opare’s article, “If “‘If You Trouble a Hungry Snake, You Will Force It to Bite You’: Rethinking Postcolonial African Archival Pessimism, Worker Discontent, and Petition Writing in Ghana, 1957-66,” is now out on via the Journal of African History.
Osei-Opare’s article tells a new history of the Cold War, of Ghana’s early postcolonial foreign policy, and the formation of Ghana’s national identity through its diplomatic, economic, and migratory relationship with the USSR during Kwame Nkrumah’s government (1957–66). Through examining English and Russian sources from American, British, Ghanaian, and Russian archives, this article offers three arguments. First, by analyzing Soviet anxieties over its role in Ghanaian affairs, the article shows that Ghana significantly controlled the economic and diplomatic contours and pace of its relationship with the USSR. Second, that discourses of race and neocolonialism were more central to defining the terms of Ghana’s geopolitical positioning than the Cold War framework. Third, the virulent racism Ghanaians experienced in the United States and USSR helped forge a global Ghanaian national consciousness. The article illuminates an independent black state’s attempts to procure sovereignty against a white supremacist economic and political international order and calls for Cold War scholars to engage seriously with African archives alongside non-African ones to create more dynamic, representational historical accounts.