Precarious Conditions: A Note on Counter-Insurgency in Africa after 1945

TitlePrecarious Conditions: A Note on Counter-Insurgency in Africa after 1945
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2004
AuthorsWhite, Luise
JournalGender & History
Date Published11/2004

This paper looks at the politics of surfaces, and the practices of veiling (and unveiling) and of white men wearing blackface in counter-insurgency efforts in post-war Africa. The stun gun beneath the veil, the unveiled woman with a bomb in her handbag and the counter-gangs masquerading as African guerillas all embody specific kinds of violence; they also embody a political imaginary in which racial and cultural lines are more fluid than previous studies of these periods suggest; indeed, they raise questions about what makes a race, a gender or a regiment: are racial and national categories learned, mimicked, or are they literally skin deep? My question, however, is not why do people dress up as guerillas or as Western women to wreak havoc on their enemies, but how historians of post-war Africa might understand such actions. To this end I want to read accounts of counter-insurgency, Fanon's famous essay, the memoirs of British soldiers in Kenya and Rhodesian soldiers in Rhodesia and some of the volumes of Rhodesian wartime fiction through the lens of transgender literature, looking at how various crossings, and the multiple markers thereof, shed light on broader issues of hierarchy, race and gender at the time of decolonization.

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