Friday, January 24, 2014

Back from Ho

This week I have been in Ho, the capital of the Volta region of Ghana. It is the area of Ghana that used to be under German rule from 1884 to 1914 and east of the Volta River. The conference was on forced labor with a strong emphasis on colonial Africa. Portuguese Africa was especially well represented with three presentations on Angola and Mozambique. But, there was only one presentation on French ruled Africa and none on the Belgian Congo. My own presentation was part of a round table at the end dealing with areas outside of colonial Africa, in particular the USSR, India, Brazil, and South Africa after 1910. There were about 30 people at the conference. The other people taking part as presenters in the round table were Frederick Cooper, Philip BonnerSidney Chalhoub, and Prabhu Mohaparta. Forcing me to summarize my entire presentation which was based on a 17 page (almost 9,000 words) paper into five to seven minutes may have been a good thing in that there was no wasted wordage. I actually got the thematic similarities of various cases of forced labor down to five words or phrases. These five words and phrases were the state, political motivations vs. economic motivations, ethnicity and race, gender, and the role of war. Some of these themes such as the role of the state as a supplier of forced labor were explored by the presenters on colonial Africa. But, other themes like the role of war or political as opposed to economic motivations were largely ignored. Overall the academic portion of the conference went well. Regarding the non-academic portion I got to see Aksombo Dam, climb Mt. Gemi where a German priest placed an iron cross in November 1939, and eat grasscutter. Don't let the fact that grasscutter is a rodent put you off. The meat served in light soup with fufu was very tender and tasty. It reminded me of really good pork. The Volta is one of the great rivers of the world and it was good to get out of the Greater Accra area if only for a few days.

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