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Anti Anti-Colonialism: Vernacular Press and Emergent Possibilities in Colonial Zambia

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 January 2015

Harri Englund*
Division of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge


African newspapers published in vernacular languages, particularly papers sponsored by colonial governments, have been understudied. A close reading of their contents and related archival sources provides insights into diverse ways in which the colonized framed and made claims. New kinds of claims were mediated by the government-sponsored vernacular press no less than by nationalists. Just as vernacularism was not nativism, African aspirations that posed no direct challenge to the colonial order did not necessarily entail mimicry. I show also how Europeans who debated a newspaper for Africans in the 1930s Zambia voiced diverse approaches to print culture, addressing a variety of objectives. The newspaper that emerged, Mutende, was replaced by provincial newspapers in the 1950s, and I focus on one of these: the Chinyanja-language Nkhani za kum'mawa, published under African editorship in Eastern Province between 1958 and 1965. Its modes of addressing African publics were neither nationalist nor colonial in any straightforward senses. Its editors and readers deliberated on what it meant to be from the province in an era of labor migration, how African advancement and dependence on Europeans were to be envisaged, and how relationships between women and men should be reconfigured. To hold divergent views on a world in flux, they had to keep something constant, and the order of governance itself remained beyond dispute. But this did not preclude emergent possibilities. The newspaper's columns and letters to the editor reveal claims on novel opportunities and constraints of a sort that mainstream nationalist historiography, with its meta-narrative of anti-colonialism, has rendered invisible.

Research Article
Copyright © Society for the Comparative Study of Society and History 2014 

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