Durham Conference Papers


6 September 2013

Enlightening papers enhancing debate were presented over four days at the conference “Struggles over emerging states in Africa: The impact of political governance violence on governance and society in North-East Africa, 1950-1980” in Durham in May. The papers and their main findings will be published in the forthcoming year, but here is a taste of some of the issues raised during the conference and master class.

Cultural work and political violence on Uganda’s peripheries’, Professor Derek R. Peterson, University of Michigan.

The aggressive and violent politics developed by cultural minorities in post-colonial Uganda are deeply rooted in the abolitionist discourses of the 1930s. Inspired by their elders who used to represent themselves as slaves to get leverage over the colonial authorities, cultural minorities in post-colonial Uganda and other parts of British Africa reproduced this language and adapted it to the turbulent and violent politics of the 1960s.

Using the examples of the “lost counties” dispute and the Rwenzururu war, Derek R. Peterson elucidates the discursive link between the 1930s and the 1960s, arguing that the vocabulary through which violent political actions, secession movements and ethnic separatism was pursued in the post-colonial era emerged from the racial and cultural categories formulated during the colonial period. 

Power and its discontents in Ethiopia’s western periphery: Anywaa’s reaction to the consolidation of the Ethiopian state in the Gambella region”, Dr. Dereje Feyissa Dori

>This paper addresses the issue of color border and its political mobilisation through a case study of how the Anywa have related to the Ethiopian state in the second half of the 20th century. Five ethnic groups – officially referred to as “national minorities‟ – currently coexist in Gambella in Western Ethiopia: the Anywaa, the Nuer, the Majangir, the Opo and the Komo. These populations have gradually been supplemented by internal migrants from the Ethiopian highlands (highlanders) and by refugees from the Sudanese civil wars. Dr. Dereje Feyissa Dori’s paper explores the dynamics of these groups and describes how the boundary between Highlanders and local ethnic groups is constructed in terms both of regional origins and skin colour: the “black” Anywaa, Nuer, Majangir, Opo and Komo are contrasted with the “red Highlanders”.


For local people, especially the Anywaa and the Nuer communities, this difference of colour was the sign that they could not possibly identify themselves with the state. Ethiopian Anywaa and Nuer community felt more related to the southern Sudanese and rallied with their liberation movements during the first Sudanese civil war. During the initial stage of the rebellion, the conflict was hence framed by the Anywaa and the Nuer in Gambella in racial terms: the “black” against the “red” people with the objective then was to create a new state – jenubi – that would include all “black” people in the Sudan and in Ethiopia in contrast to the “red Muslims” (the northern Sudanese Arabs) and “red Christians” (Ethiopian Highlanders).

Genocide and the Practice of Rule in Burundi, 1966-1972”, Aidan Russell, former PHD student, Cambridge University

In 1972, eaten away by ethnic hatreds and political violence, Burundi went through a Cataclysm that led to the massacre of 100 000 to 300 000 mostly Hutu men, women and children.

A group of Suspects

A group of "suspects" arrested by the Tutsi-dominated army following the Hutu revolt in southern Burundi

Known in the local language as Ikiza, the Catastrophe, the genocide followed 6 years of selective persecution of individual dissidents between 1966 and 1972. Based on detailed field research, Aidan Russell's paper highlights the mechanisms behind the strategic choice of the Burundi military government in moving from a bloodless coup to extreme bloodshed, brutally reordering society and confirming their power.

"Let the Red Terror intensify": political violence, governance and society in urban Ethiopia, 1976-78’ Jacob Wiebel PhD student, St. Cross College, University of Oxford

Few if any periods in the history of modern Ethiopia have shaped the state and urban society as profoundly and enduringly as the years of the 'Red Terror'.

Mengistu Haile Mariam

Ethiopian President, Mengistu Haile Mariam, throwing a bottle of blood, 1977

From 1976 to 1978, urban Ethiopia was in the grip of campaigns of revolutionary terror. Commonly known as the Red Terror, this turbulent period has deeply impacted the country's social, cultural and political landscape. Drawing on a range of archival sources and oral interviews, Jacob Wiebel’s paper charts the transition in the mode of violence from civil war to state terror. He highlights the bureaucratisation of violence that this shift involved and traces some of the most significant legacies that the Terror's violence bequeathed to the Ethiopian state and to state-society relations.

It cannot be dealt with friendly cup of tea:” dealing with the deviance at Kamiti and Gitamayu detention camps’, Katherine Bruce-Lockhart, MSc student, St. Antony’s College, University of Oxford

From 1954-1960, the British detained approximately eight thousand women in response to the Mau Mau Rebellion in Kenya. Much of the existing historiography has focused on Kamiti Detention Camp, the main site of women’s detention, and the early stages of the ‘rehabilitation process’ that ensued there. However, new documentary evidence has revealed the existence of a second camp established for women: Gitamayu, created in 1958 to deal with the remaining ‘hardcore’ female detainees. Katherine Bruce-Lockhart's article examines the British struggle to deal with ‘hardcore’ women in the final years of the Emergency Period, one that was marked by uncertainty, violence and an increasing reliance on ethnopsychiatry. 

Kamiti prison

Kamiti prison 2013, Kenya