Jus Soli and Jus Sanguinis in the Colonies: The Interwar Politics of Race, Culture, and Multiracial Legal Status in British Africa

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Law and History Review, Volume 29, p.497–522 (2011)




In April 1929, an unremarkable man—a local entrepreneur and defendant in a minor lawsuit—entered the High Court of Nyasaland (contemporary Malawi) and made a remarkable gesture. The son of an Indian immigrant and an African woman, Suleman Abdul Karim declared himself a “non-native” and that he should consequently be tried as such. The lawsuit brought against him concerned the ownership of a Ford truck for which he had failed to complete payment. Approximately ten months earlier on June 28, 1928, Ernest Carr of Blantyre, Nyasaland—a local auctioneer and businessman who frequently ran advertisements in The Nyasaland Times during the 1920s—had sold the Ford to Karim with a written agreement that it would be paid for with £30 as a down payment, £20 on July 31, 1928, with the remaining £50 to be paid in monthly installments of £10 starting August 31, 1928. All told, this business transaction was intended to be resolved expeditiously, with its completion by the new year of 1929. However, the minor expectation that this contract had promised was not fulfilled. Two payments were made, an initial one on the day of sale for £30 and a second several months later on November 16, this time for £8. Karim defaulted on the remaining amount. Furthermore, he failed to make an insurance premium payment of £10 to the African Guarantee and Indemnity Co. Ltd., for which Carr was a local agent. Despite these defaults, Karim had not returned the Ford. Consequently, after several more months elapsed, a claim against Karim came before the High Court on April 11, 1929.

African Futures

As major transformations unfold, our understanding of Africa, its past, its future and its relation to the world seems to be caught between two contending paradigms. The first is shaped by the discourse of crisis and disaster, emergency and survival. The second is future-oriented. It is preoccupied with Africa’s shifting position within the global economy and its apparent rise, the material and virtual flows and the infrastructures that connect Africa to its diasporas and the broader world, and to the social and aesthetic experiences of its inhabitants. This project will take stock of the contending discourses on African futures. It aims at drawing together in robust conversation a broad range of parallel debates currently going on in areas as diverse as literature, science-fiction, music and digital technologies, economics, futures markets, demography and public health, environmental studies, arts, design and fashion. It will also tease out the theoretical and practical implications of these discourses and the extent to which Afro-futurism could be read against similar trends elsewhere, in China, India, Russia and Brazil in particular.

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