- John Percival Building, Colum Drive, Cardiff, CF10 3EU
I work on contemporary history and politics in Africa, researching histories of political education and and working lives in South Sudan and its borderlands. I'm interested in the intellectual lives of migrant workers and refugees within 19th century slaving systems, colonial rule, and long postcolonial civil wars. I do my research mainly through direct interviews and discussions with residents in South Sudan and across its borderlands.
Previously Harry F Guggenheim Research Fellow at Pembroke College, University of Cambridge, 2017-2020. PhD from Durham University in 2016.
With the Rift Valley Institute in South Sudan, I help to run oral and archival research methods courses for students, and have worked with the South Sudan National Archives team since 2012. For more on my career, see here.
I teach on modern African history, with a focus on the histories and ideas of African and Black scholars and activists: from elite political figures like Amílcar Cabral and Thomas Sankara, to poetry and radio phone-ins. I am working on a new modern African history module I am designing for 2020-2021. I'd like to supervise students working on African, pan-African and Afro-Asian anti-colonial movements, imperial and colonial history, post-colonial African history and politics, and histories of civil war.
My research focuses on people living in circumstances of terrifying poverty and insecurity, mostly in South Sudan and its borderlands. I work on two connected themes: the political thought and intellectual debates of migrant workers and refugees over the last hundred years or so of colonial and postcolonial violence and civil wars, and contemporary militarised political economies and migrant livelihoods. The intellectual lives of displaced tea ladies, brick layers, volunteer teachers and migrant farmhands, and military workers are not hidden but marginalised.
I've just completed a book manuscript about the intellectual history of war-displaced residents in Khartoum's slums and camps during the 1983-2005 Sudanese civil war, rooted in hundreds of interviews, pamphlets, songs and poems collected with people across the region after the war.
Political education in war
Based on this work, I'm building a new project on the history of wartime education with Professor Yosa Wawa at the University of Juba, South Sudan. Unlike research in South America and Southeast Asia, there are almost no studies of rebel-run educational projects in Africa. Prof. Wawa and I won AHRC-GCRF funding in 2019 for an exploratory research network in which we're meeting with market-women, ex-child labourers, and ex-militiamen who have sought their own informal schooling, organised classes, and wrote their own textbooks and curricula, in conflict since the 1960s. Their syllabi and curricula were self-made, using various technologies (songs, tape recorders, typewriters and photocopiers), cuttings from international media and human rights reports, and lines and imagery from rebel radio and propaganda, in creative and often subversive ways.
Militarised political economies and armed livelihoods
My second focus is on militarised labour systems and political authority in north-east and central African borderlands and migrant paths, discussing how workers navigate and understand exploitative political economies and armed livelihoods. This research is supported by the Department for International Development via the X-Border Research Network, and by the UK’s East Africa Research Fund. This research is run in collaboration with young South Sudanese researchers at the University of Juba and the Rift Valley Institute in South Sudan, examining evolving systems of economic exploitation, military labour and migration controls, which underpin violent militarised governance in the region.
The politics of my work
All of my work is done in direct partnership with academic colleagues, early-career researchers and students in South Sudan, Sudan and across eastern Africa. I have long term collaborations with colleagues at the Universities of Juba and Khartoum, and with local research institutes and activist groups. I use grant funding in supporting the salaries, ideas, publishing, work opportunities and research training of colleagues and students in South Sudan, including the South Sudan National Archives project and public history radio. My aim is to be an administrative and practical help for African and Black intellectuals, and a good colleague.
Black and African history should be the domain of the Black and African intellectual community. But African studies is dominated by white scholars and institutions in the Global North, because of the neo-colonial apparatus of funding, access to resources and the structures of Western academia, the asset-stripping of African universities since the 1980s, and the workload of African academics on the continent.
I am aware of my complicity in colonising African studies and benefiting from the Western academic system. I work throughout my research, funding, partnerships and teaching to challenge and change this, to open up space for Black intellectuals, scholars and students, and to decentre myself. I see my role as getting funds, research opportunities, training, paid work and support to African and Black colleagues and students, and demanding real recognition of Black and African scholarship and political thought. I'm really open to comment and criticism of my methods and the politics of my work.