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Staging the State, Celebrating the Nation: The 2010 Independence Jubilees in Africa

August 31st, 2012

In the year 2010, as many as seventeen African states celebrated their independence jubilees. The debates surrounding the organisation of these celebrations, and the imagery and performances they employed, reflect the fault lines with which African nation-building has to contend, such as competing political orientations as well as religious, regional and ethnic diversity. The celebrations represented constitutive and cathartic moments of nation-building, aiming to enhance citizens’ emotional attachments to the country, and inviting to remember, re-enact and re-redefine national history. They became a forum of debate about what should constitute the norms and values that make up national identity, and, in the interstices of official ceremonies, provided space for the articulation of new demands for public recognition. A study of the independence celebrations thus allows to explore contested processes of nation-building and images of nationhood, and to study the role of ritual and performance in the (re)production of nations. This keynote lecture will present material from research on the independence celebrations in various African countries and focus, in a comparative perspective, on two issues: how independence was commemorated and, more generally, national history was (re)constructed and (re)enacted during the festivities, and how the celebrations represented (or disregarded, as the case may be) the regional and ethnic diversity that characterises many of the countries celebrating the independence jubilee. Or, in other words, the keynote lecture will explore the jubilees’ discursive, performative and symbolic (re)production of national ‘time’ and national ‘space’.

Carola Lentz is professor of social anthropology at the Department of Anthropology and African Studies of Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz, and has recently been elected president of the German Anthropological Association. Since 1987, she has been conducting research on labour migration, ethnicity, the history of chieftaincy, land rights, and the politics of belonging in Northern Ghana and Burkina Faso. She is author of Ethnicity and the Making of History in Northern Ghana (Edinburgh, 2006) as well as other monographs and numerous journal publications, and she has edited, among others, Land and the Politics of Belonging in West Africa (Leiden, 2006). Since 2009, she supervises the PhD research group ‘The poetics and politics of national commemoration in Africa’ at Mainz University whose members have conducted field research on the 2010 African independence jubilees in six different African countries. First research results have been published in Staatsinszenierung, Erinnerungsmarathon und Volksfest. Afrika feiert 50 Jahre Unabhängigkeit (edited by C. Lentz and G. Kornes) (Frankfurt/Main, 2011).