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Forced Labour in West Central and South Central Africa: an Afro-European colonial heritage in comparative perspective, 1930-1970


Forced labour is a typical phenomenon of 20th-century European colonial structures in sub-Saharan Africa. While having been abolished in most parts of colonial Africa after World War II, it has, as a particular heritage of the Afro-European encounter, been partly or fully re-instated in many African countries after the end of the colonial period. Moreover, the practice (or practices) of colonial forced labour did not only have a strong influence on economic realities in the countries concerned. They also shaped the social relations between local authorities and their subjects, as all the colonial regimes in sub-Saharan Africa strongly relied on local collaborators. Hence, the practice and the abolition of forced labour did not only affect the contact situations and mutual visions between African subjects and European rulers, but they also had a strong impact on local balances of power in which the European side was only marginally involved. While the practice of forced labour has been identified (and condemned) as a typical aspect of European domination in sub-Saharan Africa, there is an impressive lack of studies on local realities of repressive labour organisation. Our project intends to close this gap, focusing on a large but nonetheless particular region of West Central and South Central Africa. Our four case studies (from Angola, Zambia and Gabon) will describe processes between 1930 and the 1970s, and compare experiences that involve the decolonisation process and post-colonial redefinition of labour relations, with two Angolan cases in which the colonial power maintains its hold on the territory until 1974. The comparison entails archival work including both a territorial perspective and local case studies, and interview series that relate to the same local cases. The project is planned for five years, and necessitates an intensive initial two-year research phase that would strongly benefit from a research grant.

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Centro de Estudos Africanos da Universidade do Porto
Faculdade De Letras Da Universidade Do Porto - Via Panoramica S/n
4150-564 Porto
Activity type
EU contribution
€ 140 450,72
Administrative Contact
Maciel Santos (Prof.)