Tag Archives: resistance

Resistance (III): The Expansion of Culture—Developing World Movements and Gender

The focus on the cultural dynamics of resistance paved the way for analyses of social movements in the global south and for a focus on mobilization and gender specifically. In a study of the former, Clifford Bob asked what inspires powerful transnational networks to spring up around particular movements. He aimed to demonstrate that hard calculations of costs and benefits in the competitive marketplace for recognition and aid appear to outweigh sympathy and emotion in determining which of the world’s myriad of oppressed groups profit from globalization (Bob 2005). The book underscores the elements of competition over cooperation, interest over principle, and strategic and structural advantage over the justice of a group’s cause. Paradoxically though, his “global civil society approach” notes the emergence of principled forces arrayed against various injustices. These principled forces play a large part in the story of transnational advocacy networks (TANs).

In their grounded theory study, Keck and Sikkink concentrated on these TANs, groups often omitted from traditional social movement research, that have proliferated across the globe.  In some ways their narrative is rationalist in nature. TANs use techniques such as information politics and leverage politics. They engage in creative use of strategic information and are employed by NGOs in sophisticated political strategies for their campaigns.  On the other hand, they also employ culturally symbolic politics and accountability politics. They all have principled ideas at their core as well as the belief that individuals can make a difference. TANS often advocate for purely moral causes that are not their own and causes in which they, at least initially, don’t have much of a stake. Furthermore, the authors point out that the biggest challenge to the environmental movement is lack of a “face of victimhood” while the greatest strength of gender-based violence movements is that there is an instinctive, transcultural repugnance of “practices that result in bodily harm to vulnerable individuals” (Keck & Sikkink 1998, 195). In other words, activists attract outside participants and supporters partly by globalizing their rhetoric to make it seem as sweeping as possible rather than particular and contingent (Jasper 1997, 292). So, although Keck and Sikkink cited rationalist scholars such as Tilly and Tarrow, their account is largely cultural.

Fully embedded in the cultural camp, Sally Merry has emphasized the “translation” necessary for gender violence activists navigating both international law and their local communities in the developing world. NGO workers must frame their issues in a manner acceptable to global north donors at world conferences, legal hearings, briefings, and UN meetings, all while speaking in the lingua franca of international human rights, English. Additionally however, activists must then “translate” those same global human rights laws into local social movements and rights awareness through cultural transformation and mother tongue communication (Merry 2006).


Along with the research on social movements outside the West, gender has come to the fore as an important dimension of social movements studies. Espoused by Bahati Kuumba, Susan Staggenborg, and Verta Taylor, this lens assumes that gender is a basic organizing principle in human society and that gender roles, relations, and inequalities impact social processes in complex ways. The power, resource, and status differentials between women and men in broader social structures like economies and political systems, as well as in individual lives, must be taken account at each stage of the social movement analysis. Furthermore, it assumes that gender interacts with other systems of stratification, such as race, ethnicity and sexuality, which mediate the institutional context, organizations, and collective identities and strategies of movements (Taylor 1999, 26). Social movement outcomes can be both liberating and subordinating for women at the same time.  Gender hierarchy is so persistent that, even in movements that purport to be gender-inclusive, the mobilization, leadership patterns strategies, ideologies, and even the outcomes of social movements are gendered (Taylor 1999, 9). Sites of resistance can also be sites of exclusion, such as when many women were left out of anti-apartheid struggles (Meth 2010).

To this end, there is now increased emphasis not only on the role women in social movements, but also of non-Western women as well.  Ifi Amadiume shifts the discussion of social movements from the usual gender-neutral state-civil society paradigm (alá Mamdani’s Citizen and Subject) to the concept of women’s anti-power, anti-state movements. In other words, these are political struggles which are not out to wrest power from anyone, but simply to defend and maintain their autonomy. African women’s movements have been a perfect example of these anti-power efforts, struggling against domination and violation without seeking to take power or resources from others. Women have struggled to defend their autonomous organizations, as well their structures or systems of self-rule since the colonial era and continue to do so today (Amadiume in Mamdani & Wamba-dia-Wamba 1995, 35-60).

Women’s unique forms of mobilizations have only recently been the subject of increased study. Overall, the rationalist explanations for resistance strategies that focus on structure and opportunity ignore the largely female ways of mobilizing that include grassroots networking and organizing people (Christiansen-Ruffman 1995). The dominant literature has gendered the political as “male,” emphasizing the importance of top-down speech-making over organizational bridging, that latter of which is more common in women’s activism (Robnett 1997). When women are political in their own ways it is viewed by academics and laypeople alike as “working for their communities” and not using conscious political tactics. Tarrow argues that politics of order (non-violent sit-ins) and disorder (roadblocks) are women-friendly while politics of violence are male and this has been overlooked (Kuumba 2001).

Four scholars claim that regardless of how women choose to mobilize, their best chance for organization always comes after a conflict.  Conflicts are politically empowering to women because women do not have as many male incumbents to contend with since many of those men have fallen to violence.  Conflict also offers women an opportunity to mobilize on one side of the struggle and thus empowers them, and women are not willing to give this up just because the conflict has ended. Moreover, in post-conflict environments, Western international donations go up and with those the pressure to include women in politics increases as well. Their last explanation is long recognized in the work on post-WWII gender dynamics: women take up men’s business roles in conflict and want to protect those business interests during peace as well (Tripp, Casimiro, Kwesiga, Mungwa 2009).

For an excellent perspective on The Women’s Colloquium in Liberia, the only African country with a female head of state, please see:

Resistance (II): A Cultural and More Emotive Perspective

A change in rationalist modeling of how resistance functions was preceded by those espousing a more cultural and emotive perspective at least a decade earlier. The first cultural analysis to emerge on the framing of resistance movements was not incompatible with notions of opportunities. This stressed the effort that goes into symbols creation, establishment of solidarity, and portrayal of grievances. Framing, including identity shaping, is an important process that determines who joins a movement based on whether issues resonate with potential recruits, the media, outside leaders, and the public at large. Acknowledging that framing was a central dynamic in understanding social movements, Benford and Snow focused on how collective action frames have been conceptualized, framing dynamics and processes, contextual factors that constrain and facilitate framing, as well as framing outcomes (Benford and Snow 2000). They later agreed with Oliver and Johnston that frames and ideology are definitionally and analytically distinct entities that merit studying in their own right, and that the relationship between frames and ideology needs to be elaborated further. Snow argued for the study of identity frames as both dependent and independent variables, as well as stressed the dearth of scholarship on frame transformation and diffusion of identities (Snow in Snow, Soule, & Kriesi 2004, 391).

Framing and identity activation are culturally contingent, and culture is now widely accepted as being key to understanding social movements. For one, identities may be taken for granted, but in other instances activists must convince recruits of their cultural identity to get them to join, or those identities may be culturally constructed during the movement (Goodwin & Jasper 2003, 103). James Jasper has been prolific in linking culture and emotion. He writes about “the satisfactions of protest that derive from highly emotional, often ritualistic, collective activities.  These are some of the most striking achievements of a movement, a vibrant culture that gives participants a strong sense of movement identity, and internal movement practices that yield immense solidarity.” Protestors can care about reinforcing their subculture and networks as much as about their publicly stated, instrumental goals (Jasper 1997, 209). This identity activation and formation is both a cultural and emotional experience for many mobilizers.

It is so strong in fact, that such emotions can even overcome challenges to resource mobilization and can be much stronger impetuses than traditional political opportunities for getting a movement started (Jasper 1997, 292). Emotions also answer the question of why individuals continue in a social movement when it becomes clear they could quit and become a free-rider (Goodwin & Jasper 2004).

Interestingly, Francesa Polletta has argued that even structures are in part cultural. Past literature has tended to see culture as subjective, malleable, and enabling of protest, as being mobilized by the powerless to challenge structure. All of these have been described as being opposite of the political structure model, but should not be. Culture shapes our perception of reality and therefore our behavior, which in turn shapes social movements. Aspects of culture such as collective memory, perception of state repressive capacity and legitimacy, and personal identity give form to collective action. Culture helps activists to discern possible strategies for mobilization, e.g. what strategies would be socially acceptable or not (Polletta in Goodwin & Jasper 2004, 97-109).

A James Jasper talk:

Resistance (1): An Economic Perspective

An analytically sound assessment of Niger Delta politics would take not only the oil state and law into account, but the vast body of literature on resistance as well.  Initially, social movements were largely regarded as being unpredictable mobs of emotional rioters, which has clearly proved not to be the case. In 1965, Mancur Olson brought economic rationality to the subject by arguing that individuals are self-maximizers who will mobilize once the potential benefits outweighs the high costs, in other words, when there are enough “selective incentives.” Although his account failed to explain how large groups with a higher mobilization costs than small groups still manage to organize, and failed to solve the “free-rider” problem, his seminal work inspired subsequent social movement theory by posing important questions about the conditions that determine both the degree of groups’ mobilization and how individuals decide to join.


In the following decade, Resource Mobilization Theory was first ushered in by Mayer Zald and John McCarthy who agreed with Olson’s economic view but focused on the rational nature of organizations rather than individuals.  Social movement organizations (SMOs) were described as business firms that utilized political and financial resources in competition with other SMOs (Zald & McCarthy 1979, Introduction). These scholars, joined by Charles Tilly, Jo Freeman, and Gary Marx, stressed the importance of movements seizing political openings provided by the state or elites. They all argued that the best way to understand collective behavior is to study how social movement organizations acquire and use resources, and that most of these resources comes from elite “sponsors,” e.g. churches, labor unions, NGOs, etc. In this model, there is little emphasis on the individual participants and long-term actions are not accounted for. There is also not a clear definition of “resources” and there is an obfuscation of the concept of grievances. There is difference between objective social conditions and their subjective perception, and this difference is not clarified (McAdam 1999, Introduction).

Political Process Theory first emerged in the 1970s to focus on the interaction between mobilizers and the state, while emphasizing the foremost role of political opportunities in explaining and when and how a social movement operates. Doug McAdam and Sidney Tarrow (a student of Charles Tilly) continued to adhere to rationalist interpretations of social movements, but saw movements as part of normal politics. In this model, it was not just the movement against the state, but the movement being influenced by and responding to the state. Three factors were seen as crucial to the generation of social resistance: level of organization within the aggrieved population (“organizational readiness”), collective assessment of the prospects for success (“insurgent consciousness”), and the political alignment of groups within the larger political environment (“opportunity structure”). Contrary to the previous school of thought, advocates of PPT saw that some resources can be detrimental to a movement and they de-emphasized the importance of elites (McAdam 1999, Introduction). This was better than previous paradigms for analyzing long-run political contexts over time as well as demographic or migratory shifts in mobilization. However, Goodwin and Jasper charge that the theory has been stretched too thin to cover too many cases, and has thus lost analytic potency.  Plus, it suffers from selection bias in choice of cases and ignores the fact that social ties may constrain as well as encourage activism (Goodwin & Jasper 1999).

Tarrow's Power in Movement

Tarrow’s Power in Movement

Several publications that include work on “framing” demonstrate that the economic explanations, namely Resource Mobilization Theory and Political Process Theory are still strong but not necessarily dominant. In 1996, McAdam, McCarthy and Zald published a compilation of comparative essays with three sections. The first two, on political opportunities and mobilizing structures, the nuts and bolts of their perspective, are unsurprising topics of study for them. However, the third section on framing demonstrates that rationalists had to contend with the scholarship on the newer cultural and emotive accounts of social movements. Sidney Tarrow’s Power in Movement argued that contention is more closely dependent on the POS than by the persistent social or economic factors that people experience. These opportunities, he wrote, depend on state strength, prevailing strategies, and repressive capacity. However, he too included work on framing. Then in 2001, McAdam, Tarrow and Tilly, traditional structuralists, engaged in a theoretical reorientation of their past work and even pointed out its inadequacies (McAdam, Tarrow, & Tilly 2001). They admitted that political opportunities, master frames, and structures offer a static view of movements that are unable to deal with the transforming and contingent nature of variables. Their newer emphasis in this comparative study was on mechanisms and processes.

Gender Essentialism (Part III)

When is it not in women’s best interest to embrace the motherhood frame to propel forward female protests? The problem with this essentialism in resistance is that it may compromise an ideological tenant for a pragmatic one. By definition, essentializing must simplify the experiences and forms of knowledge of participants in resistance, and thus inevitably omit those that are outliers. It is tempting to suspend a commitment to including individual needs if it means substantively furthering a cause beneficial to the subaltern group as a whole; it may serve as a means to an end.  Tangible gains for social movements through the use of strategic essentialism may not outweigh the ideological costs of its use.

It can be problematic for a social movement to use this maternal identity as the basis for political authority, as it excludes those who are not mothers and confines participants to the mothering role.  As Tripp, Casimiro, Kwesiga, and Mungwa (2009) describe it, “their roles may limit them to [only] that of mother. It also associates women’s participation with what many consider a natural role rather than agency and choice. It may prevent women from entering into politics on an equal basis with men if the focus is on their roles as mothers”. Additionally, such a tendency simplifies the variation in women’s lives.

In the Delta context, for example, the role of chiefs’ wives in resistance is very different from that of non-elite female farmers. Elite wives must navigate a different social terrain, in which their husbands may be using them to influence the actions of women in the community or, conversely, in which they may be able to exercise an unusual amount of autonomy. The princess of * told me, “My grandfather was founder of * [so] no, I cannot really go to protest, but I can tie my wrapper and turn it upside down to protest when I want in my house”.  Farmers, on the other hand, may act with more freedom since they are not royalty or, conversely, their positions may mean they don’t have the resources or social capital to behave as autonomously as an elite woman.  So, not only must one eschew gender essentialism and cultural essentialism but also socioeconomic or any other essentialism that discounts the variations in the ways that women experience society based on their economic, educational, or marital status.

One of the disadvantages of mothering as a frame can be found in a paradox: being mothers can justify women’s presence but, once they are engaged, then it constricts their actions within the movement. As an illustration, a majority of the two dozen female protesters I spoke with at Occupy Nigeria reported that their husband or a male organizer had directed them to come.  None of them had made their own signs or banners. They all said that they would not return to protest for another day. They didn’t take up the bullhorn as often, nor did they chant very loudly, and they marched together in back of the procession behind the men. If women were not choosing to protest on their own, or were not exercising autonomy during protest, then it presents a paradox: Motherhood is their justification for public engagement, yet that same gender construct constrains their independent participation within that space of engagement. So, in all, the maternal frame offers the contradiction of empowering women to demonstrate while also possibly limiting their chance for success.


allAfrica.com: Nigeria: Half-Nude Women Protest Against Shell in Bayelsa

allAfrica.com: Nigeria: Half-Nude Women Protest Against Shell in Bayelsa.

The Kioble case is dismissed in the Supreme Court

In a unanimous ruling this past Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the Kiobel case against Shell in Nigeria. The Kiobel case was filed by Esther Kiobel, the wife of a former activist, and alleges that Shell collaborated with the Abacha regime to violently suppress oil reform activities in the 1990’s.  The case brings claims for extrajudicial killing, torture, crimes against humanity, and prolonged arbitrary arrest and detention.

CorpsWatch argues that the ruling effectively blocks other lawsuits against foreign multinationals for human rights abuse that have occurred overseas from being brought in U.S. courts. Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. (Shell) was brought under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), a U.S. law dating back to 1789, originally designed to combat piracy on the high seas – that has been used during the last 30 years as a vehicle to bring international law violations cases to U.S. federal courts.

Lawyers began using ATS as a tool in human rights litigation in 1979, when the family of 17-year-old Joel Filartiga, who was tortured and killed in Paraguay, sued the Paraguayan police chief responsible. Filartiga v. Peña-Irala set a precedent for U.S. federal courts to punish non-U.S. citizens for acts committed outside the U.S. that violate international law or treaties to which the U.S. is a party. Almost 100 cases of international (often state-sanctioned) torture, rape and murder have been brought to U.S. federal courts to date under the ATS. The new ruling limits the law to U.S citizens and entities.

“Corporations are often present in many countries and it would reach too far to say mere corporate presence suffices,” wrote John Roberts, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, in the majority opinion. “There is no indication that the ATS was passed to make the United States a uniquely hospitable forum for the enforcement of international norms.” Stephen Breyer, another of the nine judges, agreed with Roberts in the decision but left the door open for some lawsuits. “I would find jurisdiction under this statute where (1) the alleged tort occurs on American soil, (2) the defendant is an American national, or (3) the defendant’s conduct substantially  and adversely affects an important American national interest,” wrote Breyer in a separate legal opinion. “(T)hat includes a distinct interest in preventing the United States from becoming a safe harbor (free of civil as well as criminal liability) for a torturer or other common enemy of mankind.” Shell – in Breyer’s opinion – did not qualify as a U.S. entity. “The defendants are two foreign corporations. Their shares, like those of many foreign corporations, are traded on the New York Stock Exchange,” Breyer wrote. “Their only presence in the United States consists of an office in New York City (actually owned by a separate but affiliated company) that helps to explain their business to potential investors.”

Other such cases have been filed against Chiquita and Halliburton. Chiquita was sued by surviving victims of brutal massacres waged by right-wing paramilitary squads in Colombia. The paramilitary, who killed thousands of civilians during Colombia’s dirty war of the 1980s and 1990s, were on Chiquita’s payroll in the 1990s. Now-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder defended Chiquita in the case and won a plea bargain for them of $25 million and five years of probation. Kellogg, Brown and Root, a former subsidiary of Halliburton, has also been sued under the ATS for allegedly trafficking 13 men from Nepal to Iraq against their will to work on U.S. military bases. The men, 12 of whom were killed, believed they were going to work at hotels in Jordan and elsewhere.

The Obama administration backed Shell last June after abruptly changing sides. In its submission the Justice Department urged the Supreme Court to dismiss the suit against Shell. The brief’s authors stated that the ATS was not appropriate for Kiobel or other lawsuits involving foreign corporations accused of collaborating in human rights abuses with a foreign government outside U.S. territory. U.S. courts “should not create a cause of action that challenges the actions of a foreign sovereign in its own territory, where the [sued party] is a foreign corporation of a third country that allegedly aided and abetted the foreign sovereign’s conduct,” the Justice Department wrote.

Many activists say that the decision will set back human rights causes. “This decision so severely limited a law that has for decades been a beacon of hope for victims of gross human rights violations,” says Elisa Massimino, president of Human Rights First, a New York based NGO. “Abusers may be rejoicing today, but this is a major setback for their victims, who often look to the United States for justice when all else fails.  Now what will they do?” However, other lawyers drew a measure of hope from the fact that the Supreme Court decision did not exclude all lawsuits against multinationals overseas in U.S. courts.


Military Recruitment, Casualties, and Public Opinion

Originally posted on Mobilizing Ideas:

International Studies Quarterly just published Yagil Levy‘s most recent work on the reshaping of military conflict due to democracy, technology, and now protest.  I have posted elsewhere about his work on casualty aversion due to the intersection of democracy and technology (and also on related work by Jonathan Caverley).  This piece, titled “How Military Recruitment Affects Collective Action and its Outcomes” [gated] explores the impact of military recruitment on a public’s willingness to “absorb” casualties among its soldiers during military conflict.  In other words, Levy wants to know the extent to which recruitment impacts the collective action opportunities of those who would (de)mobilize public opinion in democracies regarding casualties, and thereby support for the war.

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Further remarks on Niger Delta violence and amnesties

The second section of the interview (see post above) focused on the militancy in the Niger Delta and included the following questions and my responses:

1. In your opinion, what are the conditions that drive individuals toward militancy in the Niger Delta?

Poverty alone is not a causal mechanism for insurgency, nor does simply being a weak state cause collective violence.  In the Niger Delta it is a two-part dynamic in which poverty amidst vast oil wealth combines with weak state apparatuses to create insurgency. The former creates the incentives and the latter provides the conditions. Niger Deltans suffer from deprivation while seeing that resources, e.g. oil profits, exist that could be bettering their lot, fostering a sense of injustice. It is easy for militant leaders to galvanize this injustice and organize it along ethnic lines due to the often contentious tribal diversity of the Delta. Then, the Nigerian government does not have the capacity or sometimes the will to stop the social disorder, creating a sense of stateless that is conducive to violence.

2. Do you believe these are the same root causes for cultism and other such violent activity in the Niger Delta region?

To an extent, but I do see the insurgency as analytically different from cultism and other forms of collective violence. The particular nature of oil drives militancy, and group violence unrelated to natural resources is in many ways a separate issue. Groups with income flows from control of oil are more likely to attract opportunistic participants, make insurgents like those of MEND primarily economic actors (insurgents have not been ideologically driven for many years, if they ever were). Unlike cultism and other forms of collective violence, militancy requires clear leadership, sustained engagement, access to arms, and it must have a local population on which it can rely on for resources (Weinstein 2006). On the other hand, other collective violence campaigns unrelated to oil can arise more sporadically, use fewer or homemade weapons, and I think can have more porous membership networks.

3. What expectations do you think that the Amnesty Program created for ex-militants and their communities?

From my observations, there was little expectation among the average Niger Deltan that the Amnesty would have a lasting impact on the insurgency in the long-term, because the number of men who could pass through the program was far fewer than the number of unemployed youths attracted to militant engagement.  Militants themselves could have been hopeful for personal gains, but that was an individual aspiration.

 4. Since after the declaration of the Amnesty Program, have you seen any positive service delivery or infrastructural changes in the region?

No.  From what I understand, the Amnesty Program has provided stipends and job training for former militants, but has not affected service delivery for communities.

5.What do you think will happen in the region after the Amnesty Program ends in 2015?

When the Amnesty Program ends in 2015, insurgency will go up to its previous levels since the overall conditions that led to start of insurgency, such as rampant unemployment, have not changed. The problem with the amnesty is that creating some jobs does not stop violence. Job creation temporarily lowers rates of violence because employment pulls non-committed militants away from the movement and simply keeps more men busy so they have less time for violence, but in a region with such poverty and lawlessness there will always be more recruits to replace those who join an amnesty. Obviously if every Nigerian was gainfully employed with a good standard of living then that would presumably end the insurgency, since violence is generally inversely proportional to economic development. For me however, the sheer number of unemployed men in the Delta, surely hovering around 50%, will always outpace any increase in the number of local jobs created with any government program, so as one militant leaves the movement another one will replace him. So, theoretically non-oil jobs would probably end violence but realistically that would be improbably just based on the population number of the Delta. The Amnesty Program has always just been a temporary fix in which insurgents were paid to stop engaging in violence.

Dutch court rules mostly in favor of Shell

Four Nigerian farmers of the Goi and Oruma villages, supported by the Dutch NGO Friends of the Earth and the local Environmental Rights Action, sued Royal Dutch Shell in the Dutch District Court of The Hague for four oil spills between 2004 and 2009. This past Wednesday, the court ruled that the oil spills were caused by sabotage, and that Royal Dutch Shell is not liable towards 3 of the 4 farmers. It dismissed the claims of the Friends of the Earth. The court’s decision would support the idea that much of the Niger Delta pollution is caused by criminal activity carried out by locals, which has been the argument of  oil companies defending their role in the environmental damage there.

The court did find that the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC), a Nigerian subsidiary, could have prevented the sabotage in one case by plugging up the well but then acknowledged that the SPDC subsequently contained the leak. Nevertheless, Shell has been ordered to pay compensation to one farmer and has agreed to do so.

The verdict is not necessarily a total defeat for Niger Deltans.  Although the farmers did not prevail, the case does establish that cases against Dutch companies for misdeed abroad can be heard in Dutch courts. Friends of the Earth announced that the case was intended as a test and that the organization is satisfied by the precedent. The case been followed closely by those who have been interested in the Saro-Wiwa and Kiobel rulings.

Read details of the ruling here.

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Italian Colonization in Africa

Flag of the Italian Empire

When we think of the colonization of Africa, the British and the French are the key empires that first come to mind, followed by the Portuguese, Belgians, Dutch, and Germans.  In the Scramble for Africa, Italy was not considered a key player in comparison to other major European powers. Italy did come to occupy Libya, Somalia, modern-day Eritrea, and later on Ethiopia briefly (although Ethiopia can boast to have had the only army to successfully repel an European force, the Adwa victory in 1896). As a student of Nigerian history, I have spent the last several years analyzing the nature of British rule in West Africa, especially in comparison to the French style. An overly simplified description would be that the British were comparably hands-off, I emphasize comparably, preferring to use indirect rule by bribing local chiefs and maintaining pre-existing structures of indigenous rule.  France however took a more top-down approach, centralizing its governments in Africa using officials from France, ousting local rulers, and imposing oppressive law known as IndigenatSince arriving to Florence to write my Niger Delta findings, I have spent more time thinking about how a European power could have been comparably less successful in its attempts to colonize African territories. Italy is an example of this.

At lunch with a noted Italian historian yesterday, I asked, “Why was Italy so poor at colonization?” His answer was direct, that Italy simply arrived too late to the colonization game to be able to compete with the firmly established empires that were already occupying most of Africa.  He emphasized that Italy did not become united as a country until 1861, and by then European colonizers had already been exploiting African peoples and resources for centuries.  At this time Italy barely knew how to govern itself, let alone far away foreign lands.

I would add to his account that there was a resurgence in the idea of an Italian Empire during WWI, a war during which Italy secured its stronghold in Libya particularly.  There existed a popular rhetoric of nationalism, in which interlocutors described Libya as still part of the ancient Roman Empire, and by extension of that as being part of Italy. Giovanni Pascoli, a great nationalist writer, stressed the importance both in his written works and speeches of forging an expanded national identity through conquest and praising of the proletariat. Yet still, Italy could never quite “catch up” with other Europeans in the colonization of Africa.

Mussolini‘s regime sought to regain a foothold in Africa starting in the 1920’s, and did so with his conquering of Ethiopia 1936, when he declared an official “Italian Empire.” However, WWI had depleted the resources of the Italian government and Mussolini failed to understand realistically what was necessary to successfully maintain rule over African colonies. It was only a matter of time before his fascism was brought to an end, and WWII created such reverberating changes in the European-African relationship that Italy essentially no longer had any power in Africa by the end of the War.

There is a bridge in Addis Ababa that I have heard about which has Mussolini’s inscription on it, essentially marking it as his future domain.  Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and apparently makes rulers have totally unrealistic goals for their conquests.

Benito Mussolini