Felicitas Becker - ASEA

Description of the PI

Felicitas BeckerFelicitas Becker did her undergraduate studies at Humboldt University, Berlin, before obtaining an MA from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London, and a PhD from Cambridge University. She held posts at Eotvos Lorand University, Budapest, SOAS, London, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, and Cambridge University before joining Ghent University in 2016.  

She is a specialist in the modern history of East Africa, with a particular focus on the role of non-elite actors and popular politics, on religious as well as secular expectations of progress, and the connections or contradictions between them. These interests led organically to this project’s focus on the aftermath of slavery, as slave emancipation is typically cast as an inherently progressive development, while both Islam and Christianity provided ways for ex-slaves to pursue new unspoiled identities.

Description of the project Asea Shimoni slave cave sign 2.jpg

Around 1900, the East African region (present-day Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Eastern Congo, and northern Mozambique and Malawi) contained hundreds of thousands of slaves. By 1920, they had disappeared off the map. We have exemplary studies of the politics and social struggles around slave emancipation on the Swahili coast, but very little information on the aftermath of slavery in mainland areas further away from the sea. Yet better-studied comparative cases in West Africa and the New World show that typically, slavery has a long afterlife. In East Africa, it is clear that colonial administrators and missionaries preferred to keep quiet about continuing marginalization and exploitation, as it would have undermined the narrative of colonialism as a force against slavery, thus for good. What remains unknown is the role of ex-slaves themselves in establishing this blanket of silence, and how it helped or harmed them. Moreover, the gender and family dynamics of emergence from slavery, ex-slaves’ migration routes, their negotiations for access to productive resources and status, all remain to be established. The ERC project pursued these questions through five place-specific case studies in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and the Eastern Congo.

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