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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 February 2020

University of Edinburgh
School of History, Classics and Archaeology, University of Edinburgh, Office 3.07 24 Buccleuch Place, Edinburgh, eh8


This article assesses the relationship between the imposed Central African Federation (1953–63) and the ways in which East and Central African thinkers and leaders conveyed and pursued the possibilities of decolonization. Existing literature on federalism in twentieth-century Africa fails to place regional projects in dialogue, studying in isolation East Africa and Central Africa, ‘utopian’ and oppressive regionalisms. But such clear dividing lines were not articulated in the four discursive ‘sketches’ of East and Central Africa that this article brings to light: those of anti-Federation organizations in Nairobi and Ndola in 1952; students at Makerere College (Kampala) in 1953; mobile Malawian activists in regional and pan-African forums around 1955–8; and East African party publicity representatives around 1958–60. At each of these critical moments, thinkers creatively constructed various relationships between geographical space and chronological change, through the lens of a broader, interdependent East and Central Africa, as a means to fend off perceived threats to a precarious advancement towards a democratic future. Attending to the evolution of these ideas shows not only how the Central African Federation placed material constraints on regional solidarity, but how ‘thinking regionally’ could support the case for national borders, even before decolonization.

Copyright © The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press.

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Thank you to Henry Dee, Emma Hunter, and Chris Vaughan for comments on earlier drafts and to Anna Adima for help obtaining image permissions.


1 D. D. Phiri to Tanganyika African National Union secretary, 29 Dec. 1963, Dodoma, Archives of the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) box 122 file UNIP.

2 Throughout, ‘Federation’ is capitalized when referring to the Central African Federation or planned East African Federation, but not to federation as a general concept.

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9 Emma Hunter, Julie MacArthur, Gerard McCann, and Chris Vaughan, ‘Thinking East African: debating federation and regionalism, 1960–1977’, in Frank Gerits and Matteo Grilli, eds., Visions of African unity (forthcoming).

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29 Pinto to Brockway, 10 Mar. 1952, MAC/KEN/71/3; Murumbi and Gathanju to Scott, 26 Aug. 1952, AB/290/2; Kaggia, Roots of freedom, pp. 92–4. On the failed attempt to hold a conference of East and Central African leaders in Lusaka in 1953, see Ismay Milford, ‘Harnessing the wind: East and Central African activists and anticolonial cultures in a decolonising world, 1952–64’ (Ph.D. thesis, European University Institute, 2019), pp. 85–6.

30 Pinto to Leon Szur, 6 Jan. 1953, MAC/COPAI/155/5.

31 Africa Digest, 1 (1953), p. 63.

32 David Chiwelewele, ‘A wider federation’, Freedom Newsletter, 1, 15 Apr. 1952, p. 5.

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36 Echoing other studies on federation, notably Cooper, Citizenship between empire and nation.

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38 Goldthorpe, J. E. and MacPherson, M., ‘Makerere College and its old students’, Zaïre: Revue Congolaise, 12 (1958), pp. 347–63, at p. 356Google Scholar. This was also a consequence of financial issues, which saw Makerere raise annual fees for students from Central Africa from £120 to £500. See Secretariat (Lusaka) to East African High Commission (Nairobi), 17 Jan. 1951, Zomba, Malawi National Archives, box 1294, file 14162.

39 Chiume, Kanyama, Kwacha: an autobiography (Nairobi, 1975), p. 52Google Scholar. On the strike, see Milford, ‘Harnessing the wind’, pp. 32–9.

40 E. D. Sawe, ‘Presidential address’, Politica, 1, May 1953, pp. 4–7.

41 Sawe, ‘A graph of unrest’.

42 James Rubadiri, ‘African nationalism and alien rule’, Politica, 1, May 1953, pp. 20–2.

43 Hansard HC Deb 1 July 1953, vol. 517, c. 392.

44 Hansard HL Deb 28 July 1953, vol. 183, cc. 953–94.

45 Hughes, Anthony J., East Africa: the search for unity; Kenya, Tanganyika, Uganda, and Zanzibar (Harmondsworth, 1963), p. 168Google Scholar.

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47 Editor, ‘Makerere College political society’, Politica, 1, July 1953, pp. 13–14.

48 A. L. Wina, ‘Why Britain unilaterally abrogated her treaty obligations to the Africans of Central Africa’, Politica, 1, July 1953, pp. 14–16.

49 F. F. M. Gatenju, ‘Partnership and democracy’, Politica, 1, July 1953, pp. 16–18.

50 Suba-Anisi, ‘An East African student's attitude to politics’, New Politica, 3, Sept. 1957.

51 Dunduzu Chisiza, Unpublished manuscript for Below and above the partnership racket (1955), MAC/COPAI/160/3.

52 Chisiza to Brockway, 26 Nov. 1955, MAC/COPAI/160/3.

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60 Chisiza, Below and above the partnership racket, MAC/COPAI/160/3.

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62 Chiume, Kwacha, ch. 7.

63 ‘Minutes of the Pan-African Conference held at the Ladha Meghji Library, Mwanza, 16–18 September 1958’, CCM box 123 file PAFMECA DP/P/34.

64 Julius Nyerere to Harry Nkumbula, 10 Oct. 1958, CCM box 91 file Julius Nyerere local correspondence.

65 Vaughan, ‘Politics of regionalism’, pp. 6–10.

66 On PAFMECA's ‘missions’, see Cox, Pan-Africanism in practice, pp. 20–44.

67 Minutes, CCM box 123 file PAFMECA DP/P/34.

69 Chiume, Kwacha, p. 101. See speech of PAFMECA delegate Jeremiah M. Bauamdenja at 1961 AAPC, MAC/CON/187/3.

70 Foreign Mission of the Uganda National Congress (Cairo), Uganda must be free (1958), documents on African political history compiled by Ruth Schechter Morgenthau, microfilmed for Cooperative Africana Microform Project 134859.

71 Uganda must be free, p. 3. This echoes Nkrumah's speech of March 1957 on the occasion of Ghanaian independence.

72 The author was probably UNC activist and Makerere graduate John Kale, the party's main Cairo representative until his death in a plane crash in August 1960. Ismay Milford, ‘“Shining vistas” and false passports: recipes for an anticolonial hub’, Afro-Asian Visions (2017), at <>.

73 Abou-El-Fadl, Reem, ‘Building Egypt's Afro-Asian hub: infrastructures of solidarity and the 1957 Cairo Conference’, Journal of World History, 30 (2019), pp. 157–92CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

74 ‘Direct elections in Uganda: a compromised stage’, Uganda Renaissance (Cairo), July 1958, documents on African political history.

75 On the emergency, see Phiri, Kings Mbacazwa, McCracken, John, and Mulwafu, Wapulumuka O., eds., Malawi in crisis: the 1959/60 Nyasaland state of emergency and its legacy (Zomba, 2012)Google Scholar.

76 Armitage to Welensky, 5 Feb. 1959, UKNA Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) 141/14223.

77 Armitage to secretary of state for the colonies, copied to governors of Uganda, Kenya, Tanganyika, Northern Rhodesia, and the British Resident in Zanzibar, 16 Apr. 1959, UKNA FCO 141/14223.

78 Growing literature on the idea of imperial ‘free movement’ includes Henry Dee, ‘Central African immigrants, imperial citizenship and the politics of free movement in interwar South Africa’, Journal of Southern African Studies, doi: 10.1080/03057070.2020.1689005.

79 Mainza Chona, speech at the second AAPC, Tunis, Jan. 1960, CCM box 202 file AAPC.

80 Byrne, Jeffrey, Mecca of revolution: Algeria, decolonization, and the Third World Order (Oxford, 2016)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

81 Chiume to Nyerere, n.d. (1959), CCM 2/38 (reference relates to copy at Julius Nyerere Resource Centre, Dar es Salaam).

82 George Roberts, ‘Politics, decolonisation, and the Cold War in Dar Es Salaam c. 1965–72’ (Ph.D. thesis, Warwick, 2016).

83 Byrne, Mecca of revolution, pp. 9–10.

84 John Kakonge, speech at the second AAPC, Tunis, Jan. 1960, CCM box 202 file AAPC.

85 Oscar Kambona, speech at the second AAPC, Tunis, Jan. 1960, CCM box 202 file AAPC.

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