The Tank Hill Party: Generational Politics and Decolonization in East Africa

Monday, 24 April, 2017 - 15:00

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A drinking party in Kampala in December 1963 nearly precipitated a breakdown in East Africa’s nascent postcolonial social and political orders. This paper combines affective and political histories to underscore the fragility of those orders when the raw emotion of colonial injustice entered the public political sphere. In the early 1960s, both young Africans and young Europeans disrupted and mocked the arenas of polite sociality and public performativity through which East African states negotiated their independence and maintained British administrative assistance. Accounts of young Europeans insulting symbols of African sovereignty at a Kampala drinking party circulated around Kampala and across the British Commonwealth in the days following neighbouring Kenya’s independence on 12 December 1963. These stories animated ongoing debates over the integrity of African sovereignty, the future of British presence on the continent, and the sustainability of postcolonial racial and generational hierarchies. Ruling party youth wing activists almost succeeded in using the furore that the party provoked to pressure Uganda’s cabinet ministers into severing diplomatic ties with Britain. However, Uganda’s Prime Minister Milton Obote and a newly arrived corps of British diplomats united around their mutual disdain for colonial culture and for perceived youthful intemperance. Their responses (deporting the party’s organizers, arresting youth wing leaders, reaffirming British technical assistance) led to a sharp decline in Uganda’s radical, youth-driven activism. It also set the condition for the accelerated militarization of Uganda’s politics, as a few weeks later Obote used alliances cultivated in the party’s fall-out to secure British military intervention for putting down an army munity.

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