The Journal of African History

Research Article

POSSIBILITY AND CONSTRAINT: AFRICAN INDEPENDENCE IN HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE*

FREDERICK COOPERa1

a1 New York University

ABSTRACT

On the fiftieth anniversary of an ambiguous event – the referendum giving French Africans the choice of immediate independence or a new status within a ‘French Community’ – this article points to the alternative forms of political action which opened up at certain moments in African history and how, at other moments, some of those alternatives closed down. It assesses concepts, issues and arguments used in writing the history of Africa, now that the recent African past – spanning the last years of colonial rule and the years of independence – is becoming a focus of historical inquiry.

Key Words:

  • African modernities;
  • agency;
  • colonialism;
  • decolonization;
  • development;
  • historiography

Footnotes

* An earlier version of this paper was presented to the Africana Center seminar at Johns Hopkins University. I am grateful to members of the seminar and to Andreas Eckert for comments.