Conference Program

85th Annual Meeting of the Society for Military History

 Landscapes of War and Peace

April 5 - 8, 2018, Louisville, Kentucky

Title: War and Society in West Africa
Abstract: At the 2017 Society for Military History (SMH) conference held in Jacksonville, Florida, a number of scholars of West African history came together to discuss issues related to the history of warfare in that region. The panel was very well attended and stimulated useful and vigorous comments, discussion and debate. We propose continuing this dialogue at SMH 2018 in Louisville, Kentucky with another panel on "War and Society in West Africa." This panel will also build upon the growing academic interest in African military history which has led to the recent launching and first publication of the Journal of African Military History (JAMH) by Brill Publishers in the Netherlands. Given the now protracted Islamist insurgencies in Mali and Nigeria which have spilled over to neighboring countries, it remains helpful and relevant to learn more about the historical context of warfare and military structures in West Africa. Looking at early twentieth century Liberia, Brian Shellum will explore why the Americo-Liberian regime requested United States military officers to lead its expansionist forces which were resisted by indigenous communities. Roy Doron, a co-editor of JAMH, will discuss how the experience of the Nigerian Civil War (1967-70) influenced Nigerian activist Ken Saro-Wiwa to redefine the concept of genocide in the 1990s. Tim Stapleton will explain how British colonial authorities in Nigeria, during the early and middle twentieth century, shifted military recruiting from the majority and predominantly Muslim Hausa of the northern region to traditionalist minorities from the Middle Belt and parts of the north who later became popularly associated with the post-colonial Nigerian military. Charles Thomas, co-editor of JAMH, will chair the panel and offer commentary on the papers.
Tim Stapleton, University of Calgary
Participant's Paper Title: Middle Belt and Northern Minorities in Britain's Nigeria Regiment (c.1900-1960)
Participant's Paper Abstract: It is well known that while British colonial authorities saw the predominantly Muslim Hausa majority of northern Nigeria as a martial race, the Nigeria Regiment ultimately became dominated by men from minority ethnic groups located in the Middle Belt and parts of the north. However, why, when and how this process took place has never been discussed in any detail. This paper will explore how the decline in enlistment among the majority Hausa of the north and Yoruba of the southwest together with security concerns related to having too many Muslims in the Nigeria Regiment prompted British officers to look to other communities as sources of military manpower. During the first decade of the twentieth century British officers began experiments with recruiting soldiers from traditionalist and very recently conquered groups such as the Tiv of the Benue Valley and the Dakarkari of the northwest who were seen as primitive and warlike. The enlistment of these men, which increased but remained somewhat limited up to 1939, was informed by the impact of the colonial capitalist economy in their homelands. The outbreak of the Second World War, which saw the British impose conscription in West Africa, resulted in the massive recruitment of these minorities into the expanding colonial military. After 1945, with the British re-emphasis on military recruiting in the north and the Benue, groups such as the Tiv and Dakarkari continued to enlist in large numbers and became popularly associated with the Nigerian military. At the same time, ex-servicemen began to play a major role in the development of a political movement based on Middle Belt identity which led to violent protest.
Roy Doron, Winston-Salem State University
Participant's Paper Title: Redefining Genocide: Ken Saro-Wiwa, Environmentalism and the Nigerian Civil War
Participant's Paper Abstract: On 10 November 1995, the Nigerian Military Government hanged Ken Saro-Wiwa, who had led a years-long struggle for economic and environmental rights against oil exploitation in the Niger Delta, especially in his Ogoni homeland. In confronting Shell, their subsidiaries and the Nigerian Military, led by the brutal dictator Sani Abacha, Saro-Wiwa became a leader in the burgeoning movement for environmental rights and his movement became a global cause célèbre. Saro-Wiwa was so successful in his protests for several reasons; first, he mobilized the majority of the Ogoni into a mass protest movement. However, more powerfully, he accused Shell and the Nigerian government of conducting a genocide against his people. The forcefulness of his argument helped change the nature of genocide discourse from one demanding intent, to one that focused on the results of an offender's actions. Saro-Wiwa himself used the lessons he learned as a civilian administrator on the Nigerian side of the Nigerian Civil War. Though he detested the idea of secessionist Biafra, he saw firsthand how their accusations of genocide reverberated around the world. However, his agitation shifted the language of genocide to include environmental and other concerns that, while not directly aimed at the destruction of a group, created "conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part." This paper discusses Saro-Wiwa's wartime experiences along with the development of Nigeria's oil economy and shows how the gifted author and playwright set himself on a collision course that cost him his life, and altered the discourse of genocide in the process.
Charles Thomas, Air Command and Staff College
Brian Shellum, Independent Scholar
Participant's Paper Title: The Americo-Liberian and Indigenous View: African American Officers in Liberia, 1910-1942
Participant's Paper Abstract: Between 1910 and 1942, the United States dispatched seventeen African American military officers to the West African country of Liberia to reorganize, train, and lead its constabulary forces. This American military assistance program and the accompanying U.S. economic and political support enabled the beleaguered Americo-Liberian regime in Monrovia to avoid territorial partition by colonial Britain and France, defeat a series of serious indigenous rebellions, and eventually harness the economic potential of its resource-rich interior. Against all odds, African American officers created a Frontier Force led by a nascent Liberian officer corps that guaranteed the survival and continued independence of Liberia. In my 2017 Jacksonville panel paper I spoke about U.S. policy goals and the experiences of the seventeen African American officers. In my 2018 Louisville panel paper, I will focus on the Americo-Liberian and indigenous points of view. What did the Americo-Liberian regime in Monrovia hope to get out of the American military assistance? What were their goals and how well did they achieve them? And what were the experiences of the indigenous groups who resisted the regime in Monrovia and fought against the American-led Liberian Frontier Force?

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