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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.


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


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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.



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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.

3 Vaughan, Chris, ‘The politics of regionalism and federation in East Africa, 1958–1964’, Historical Journal, 62 (2019), pp. 519–40.

4 Afro-Asian Networks Research Collective, ‘Manifesto’, Radical History Review, 131 (2018), pp. 176–82.

5 Most importantly, Cooper, Frederick, Citizenship between empire and nation: remaking France and French Africa, 1945–1960 (Princeton, NJ, 2014); Wilder, Gary, Freedom time: negritude, decolonization, and the future of the world (London, 2015); Skinner, Kate, The fruits of freedom in British Togoland: literacy, politics and nationalism, 1914–2014 (Cambridge, 2015); Getachew, Adom, Worldmaking after empire: the rise and fall of self-determination (Princeton, NJ, 2019), ch. 4.

6 Collins, Michael, ‘Decolonisation and the “federal moment”’, Diplomacy & Statecraft, 24 (2013), pp. 2140.

7 These tensions are best captured in responses to the work of Frederick Cooper: Samuel Moyn, ‘Fantasies of federalism’, Dissent Magazine (Winter 2015); Drayton, Richard, ‘Federal utopias and the realities of imperial power’, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, 37 (2017), pp. 401–6.

8 Vaughan, ‘Politics of regionalism’.

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).

10 An exception is MacArthur, Julie, ‘Decolonizing sovereignty: states of exception along the Kenya–Somali frontier’, American Historical Review, 124 (2019), pp. 108–43.

11 Notably, White, Luise, Speaking with vampires: rumor and history in colonial Africa (Berkeley, CA, 2000); Monson, Jamie, Africa's freedom railway: how a Chinese development project changed lives and livelihoods in Tanzania (Bloomington, IN, 2009). Recently on the Federation, see Cohen, Andrew, The politics and economics of decolonization in Africa: the failed experiment of the Central African Federation (London, 2017).

12 Hunter, MacArthur, McCann, and Vaughan, ‘Thinking East African’.

13 James, Leslie, ‘The flying newspapermen and the time-space of late colonial Nigeria’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 60 (2018), pp. 569–98; Asseraf, Arthur, Electric news in colonial Algeria (Oxford, 2019), Epilogue.

14 Groves, Zoë, ‘Transnational networks and regional solidarity: the case of the Central African Federation, 1953–1963’, African Studies, 72 (2013), pp. 155–75; Brooks Marmon, ‘Pan-Africanism versus partnership: African decolonisation in Southern Rhodesian politics’ (Ph.D. thesis, forthcoming).

15 Howe, Stephen, Anticolonialism in British politics: the left and the end of empire, 1918–1964 (Oxford, 1993), pp. 196200.

16 ‘Anti-Federation League: aims and objects’; Anti-Federation League press release ‘Central African Federation’; letter from J. Murumbi and I. H. Gathanju to Michael Scott, 26 Aug. 1952, all in Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, Records of the Africa Bureau (AB) 290/2. See also ‘Anti-Federation League formed in Kenya’, Tribune, 9 Aug. 1952; Kaggia, Bildad, Roots of freedom, 1921–1963: the autobiography of Bildad Kaggia (Nairobi, 1975), pp. 92–4.

17 ‘Aims and objects’, AB/290/2.

19 On nineteenth-century roots, see Collins, ‘Decolonisation and the “federal moment”’, p. 23.

20 South African Outlook, 1 Nov. 1922, p. 229. Thanks to Henry Dee for pointing to and sharing this material.

21 Phiri, Bizeck Jube, ‘The Capricorn Africa Society revisited: the impact of liberalism in Zambia's colonial history, 1949–1963’, International Journal of African Historical Studies, 24 (1991), pp. 6583.

22 Rotberg, Robert I., ‘The “partnership” hoax: how the British government deprived Central Africans of their rights’, Journal of Southern African Studies, 45 (2019), pp. 89110.

23 White, Speaking with vampires, pp. 83–4.

24 Autobiography of D. M. Mkandawire, reproduced in the catalogue at Malawi National Archives.

25 Kaggia, Roots of freedom, p. 92.

26 Pio Gama Pinto to Fenner Brockway, 10 Mar. 1952, Nairobi, Kenya National Archives, Murumbi Africana Collection (MAC) KEN/71/3.

27 Famously, Stora, Benjamin, La gangrène et l'oubli: la mémoire de la guerre d'Algérie (Paris, 1991).

28 Murumbi and Gathanju to Scott, 26 Aug. 1952, AB/290/2; Pinto to Brockway, 10 Mar. 1952, MAC/KEN/71/3. Similarly, F. W. Odede to Brockway, 29 Dec. 1952, MAC/COPAI/155/5.

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.

34 Mitchell to Lloyd, 17 June 1949, UK National Archives, Colonial Office 967/59/f.1, quoted in Brennan, James R., ‘Sir Philip Mitchell and the Indian Ocean, 1944–49’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 45 (2017), p. 22.

35 ‘Editorial comment’, Freedom Newsletter, 1, 15 Apr. 1952, p. 6.

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

37 E. D. Sawe, ‘A graph of unrest’, Politica, 1, May 1953, pp. 16–18. All issues consulted at Archives of Makerere University (AR/MAK) 57/5.

38 Goldthorpe, J. E. and MacPherson, M., ‘Makerere College and its old students’, Zaïre: Revue Congolaise, 12 (1958), pp. 347–63, at p. 356. 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. 52. 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. 168.

46 Editor, ‘General comments on African politics’ Politica, 1, July 1953, pp. 8–10.

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.

53 On Chisiza, see Phiri, D. D., Dunduzu K. Chisiza: Malawi Congress Party secretary-general, parliamentary-secretary, brilliant thinker, pamphleteer and essayist (Blantyre, 1974); Power, Joey, ‘Remembering Du: an episode in the development of Malawian political culture’, African Affairs, 97 (1998), pp. 369–96.

54 Power, Joey, ‘Building relevance: the Blantyre Congress, 1953 to 1956’, Journal of Southern African Studies, 28 (2002), pp. 4565.

55 ‘Do you know what a protectorate is?’, Kwaca, 1, 6, Nov. 1955. See also ‘Nyasaland and Uganda are the same’, Kwaca, 1, 7, Dec. 1955.

56 Anon., Reform in Buganda: background of the Hancock mission’, Round Table, 45 (1954), pp. 3643, at p. 39.

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

58 ‘Reform in Buganda’, p. 40.

59 ‘Constitutional reform in Nyasaland’, NAC to colonial secretary, Apr. 1955, AB/238/4.

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

61 Nye, Joseph S., Pan-Africanism and East African integration (Cambridge, MA, 1965); Cox, Richard, Pan-Africanism in practice; an East African study: PAFMECSA 1958–1964 (London, 1964); Vaughan, ‘Politics of regionalism’.

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. 157–92.

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).

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).

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.

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




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