‘Performing Citizenship and Enacting Exclusion On Africa’s Indian Ocean Littoral’ is the latest special feature from The Journal of African History. In this blog post, editors Felicitas Becker and Joel Cabrita discuss the development of the feature and provide a summary of the articles.

The concept for this special issue started at a conference we organised in Cambridge, UK, during March 2012. Its topic, inspired by the title of the AHRC grant that funded it, was ‘Languages of Citizenship in Translation: Conversations across Africa and the Indian Ocean’.

Our conference took its cue from a growing trend in African studies: to focus on notions of belonging and identity not confined to conventional categories of state-hood and nation in Africa. Instead, and building on the recent turn to ‘transnational history’, we wanted to stimulate a discussion exploring the more eclectic ties – including common religion, merchant and slaving networks, and circuits of diaspora and exile – that bound together disparate people across Africa and beyond. We sought to view the landmass of the African continent in conjunction with the Indian Ocean that stretches down its eastern coast and southern tip.

How, then, does putting Africa and the Indian Ocean under the same analytic lens change our understanding of processes of community building and claims-making?

In the special issue, the five contributing authors, Patrick Harries, Preben Kaarsholm, James R. Brennan, Jonathan Glassman and Jeremy Prestholdt, take on these questions, most of them drawing on conference contributions.

The contributions explore how the politics of belonging in Africa seldom worked along purely territorial, ethnic or linguistic lines, the occasional salience of nativist rhetoric notwithstanding. Rather, activists, intellectuals and politicians drew on far-flung networks that encompassed the ocean. At the same time, these articles explore the forms of exclusion and marginality that often were the flip side of long-distance connections.

Titled ‘Performing Citizenship and Enacting Exclusion On Africa’s Indian Ocean Littoral’, the special issue shows that the making and claiming of ties to the wider Indian Ocean context (or repudiating the Ocean, as Glassman and Prestholdt’s subjects did) had important political valences, providing grounds upon which groups could claim belonging, marginalize rivals and challenge elites.

Enjoy free access by following this link to a collection of articles on Africa and the Indian Ocean from The Journal of African History.

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