Define and Rule: Mahmood Mamdani on Colonial Statecraft

DEFINE AND RULE: Native as Political Identity

A talk by Mahmood Mamdani

Monday, November 12, 2012 from 7 pm – 9 pm

Proshansky Auditorium, CUNY Graduate Center.

Free and open to the public.

UPDATE: Watch video or download the audio podcast from this event here

Define and Rule focuses on the turn in late nineteenth-century colonial statecraft when Britain abandoned the attempt to eradicate difference between conqueror and conquered and introduced a new idea of governance, as the definition and management of difference. Mahmood Mamdani explores how lines were drawn between settler and native as distinct political identities, and between natives according to tribe. Out of that colonial experience issued a modern language of pluralism and difference.

A mid-nineteenth-century crisis of empire attracted the attention of British intellectuals and led to a reconception of the colonial mission, and to reforms in India, British Malaya, and the Dutch East Indies. The new politics, inspired by Sir Henry Maine, established that natives were bound by geography and custom, rather than history and law, and made this the basis of administrative practice.

Maine’s theories were later translated into “native administration” in the African colonies. Mamdani takes the case of Sudan to demonstrate how colonial law established tribal identity as the basis for determining access to land and political power, and follows this law’s legacy to contemporary Darfur. He considers the intellectual and political dimensions of African movements toward decolonization by focusing on two key figures: the Nigerian historian Yusuf Bala Usman, who argued for an alternative to colonial historiography, and Tanzania’s first president, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, who realized that colonialism’s political logic was legal and administrative, not military, and could be dismantled through nonviolent reforms.

Mahmood Mamdani is professor and executive director of Makerere institute of Social Research at Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda, and the Herbert Lehman Professor of Government at Columbia University, New York. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1974 and specializes in the study of African history and politics. He has received numerous awards and recognitions, including being listed as one of the “Top 20 Public Intellectuals” by Foreign Policy (US) and Prospect (UK) magazine in 2008. Mamdani’s books include Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror (2009); Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War and the Roots of Terror (2004); and Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism (1996), which was awarded the Herskovitz Prize of the African Studies Association for the best book in English in African Studies published in 1996.


Ali Jimale Ahmed (Ph.D., UCLA) is Professor and Chair of the Department of Comparative Literature at Queens College of the City University of New York. He is also on the Comparative Literature faculty at the CUNY Graduate Center. His poetry and short stories have been translated into several languages. His books include The Invention of Somalia (1995), Daybreak Is Near: Literature, Clans, and the Nation-State in Somalia (1996), Fear Is a Cow (2002), Diaspora Blues (2005),  The Road Less Traveled: Reflections on the Literatures of the Horn of Africa (co-edited with the late Taddesse Adera) (2008),  and When Donkeys Give Birth to Calves: Totems, Wars, Horizons, Diasporas (2012).

Books will be available for sale. Signing to follow discussion.


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  1. Pingback: VIDEO+PODCAST: Mahmood Mamdani – DEFINE AND RULE: Native as Political Identity | The Center for Place, Culture and Politics

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