Edgar Taylor

Graduate Student
East African History
Intellectual Biography: 

My dissertation examines the fractured and incomplete processes by which relationships among South Asians and Africans in Uganda were rendered intelligible across multiple registers in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Elites sometimes strove to forge spaces of multi-racial modernity in social clubs, at university, and in business. At other moments, non-elite women and petty traders sought to claim political space and create avenues for economic mobility by using violence to produce social and spatial distance between racialized communities. In 1972, Idi Amin declared a rupture with the past as he promised that the expulsion of nearly all people identified as Asians from the country would propel black Ugandans into an era of economic independence. Narrating and commemorating the expulsion and Asian life in Uganda before 1972 provides a sense of mutual recognition within racialized groups but provokes anxiety when opened to outside audiences. While the project is grounded in East African social and intellectual history, two aspects of this work have led me to examine the relationships that are productive of the Global South in debates over postcolonial African life. The first concerns struggles over the symbolic place of, and the specific spaces inhabited by, Indians in postcolonial Uganda, as well as those arenas in which ‘Indian’, ‘Asian’, ‘African’, or ‘European’ lost coherence. In an effort to avoid a linear analysis of “racialization”, I examine how urban spaces that were shaped by unequal relations of production and access to capital characteristic of colonial resource extraction provided arenas in which the category ‘Indian’ was contested. In such struggles, urbanites articulated aspirations of modernity – in consumption habits, style, and political organization – that diverged from those leading in a direct line toward the European city. Second, I am concerned with how images of the Global South as a marginal and embarrassing zone of exclusion circulate across arenas that ostensibly divide the Global North and South. In the 1970s, Idi Amin’s political adversaries helped to co-produce his image as a buffoonish tyrant who embodied African postcolonial degradation, while others lauded his embodiment of an authentic African warrior tradition. Today, such images (in movies, books, and stories) circulate widely in Uganda and often evoke a sense of cultural intimacy among specific Ugandan audiences. In the conclusion to my dissertation, I examine how commemorative events surrounding the fortieth anniversary of the Asian expulsion successfully and unsuccessfully mediated this potentially dangerous feeling of self-recognition through stories about Amin and the expulsion. How might theoretical work on the production of history look by focusing on the circulation of images that reinforce divisions between the Global North and the Global South?

Presentation Title: 
The Asian Expulsion and Historical Intimacy in Uganda
Guarav Desai. Commerce with the Universe: Africa, India, and the Afrasian Imagination. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013) Chapter 3 "Post-Manichean Aesthetics" or Chapter 7 "Anti-Asianism and the Politics of Dissent" Desai examines how East African Asian writers have written about the diverse geographies of East African Asian life, sometimes in the shadow of ideologies of racial binary opposition