Shadows of Empire: “Big Men,” Gendered Violence, and the Making of Colonial and Post-Colonial African States

Convener: Dr. Kirk Arden Hoppe (University of Illinois at Chicago, USA);

Using infamous “Big Men” of Africa as a lens while interrogating the “Great Men of History” as explanation for historical change, the papers of this panel illustrate the crucial role of gender and gendered violence in the making of colonial and post-colonial states in Africa. Kirk Arden Hoppe uses the historical example of Emin Pasha to explore issues of state power and the ordering of resources in the making of contemporary politics of the southern Sudan. Emin Pasha, neé Eduard Schnitzer, worked for the Ottoman state as the governor of Equatoria from 1878-
1888. In contrast to the hyper-masculine narratives of Henry Morton Stanley, Schnitzer’s self-

narrations depict a gentle scientist-administrator collecting biological specimens and mapping resources, quietly administering over a community of Egyptian and Sudanese soldiers and their families. Hoppe’s gender analysis of Emin Pasha exposes state attempts to forcibly order African people and landscapes in the southern Sudan through discourses of science, white masculinity, and the erasure of colonial violence. TJ Boisseau’s paper focuses on the public career as an “explorer” and supposed advocate for Africans of an American feminist named May French- Sheldon. French-Sheldon achieved minor fame as a result of her expedition from Zanzibar through British and German-controlled East Africa in the Kilimanjaro region in 1892. Later in
1903-04, she served as a double agent and spy for Leopold in the Congo, and building upon travel to that region, attempted to obtain her own rubber concession in Liberia. Boisseau’s research unearths the links between gender, race, and imperial ambition in the making of several colonial states at key moments in their construction and highlights the peculiarly gendered violence enacted by white women in the process of colonizing Africa. Alicia Decker examines Ugandan women’s complex and sometimes paradoxical relationship to Idi Amin’s military state. She argues that the gendered violence of Amin’s regime resulted in opportunities as well as challenges for Ugandan women. Some women assumed positions of political power or taught themselves to become successful entrepreneurs, while others experienced the trauma of watching their husbands and sons “disappeared” by the state’s security forces, or lived through violent sexual assaults themselves. Women had a mixed relationship to Amin and his military government, one that was complicated and uneven: while they appreciated many of the policies that he put into place, they feared and resented the violence of militarism and sought refuge from state violence in the obscurity of the shadows. Kevin Dunn’s paper offers a critical reading of Henry Morton Stanley’s understanding of Congolese identity. It does so against the backdrop of contemporary Congolese realities and an international construction of the country as synonymous with state collapse, aid inefficiency, and brutality (the “rape capital of the world” according to one UN official). Employing a feminist and post-colonial engagement, this paper explores the ways in which the colonial construction of “Congo” has produced and is reified in contemporary international politics, with ramifications for Congo and beyond.