- Locality, Mobility, and “Nation”: Periurban Colonialism in Togo’s Eweland, 1900–1960
This book, apparently a revision of the author’s 2002 PhD dissertation, has a number of worthy goals, the most prominent one being to provide an alternative to past prevailing approaches to the history of nationalism in twentieth-century Africa. Benjamin Lawrance is especially critical of early studies that focused on the most well-known and well-documented individual leaders and their urban power bases. His own approach brings to the fore other social groups, such as women and/or people in rural communities, that (in his view) have been undervalued as actors in anticolonial struggles. Lawrance has chosen to focus on tensions and conflicts that took place at the village level during the interwar period, in order to uncover the “local” roots of subsequent political movements that addressed anticolonial sentiment and nationalist issues (pp. 2, 180–181).
After a general introduction that explains the book’s structure and conceptual framework, Lawrance constructs his argument over six numbered chapters. In chapter 1, he sketches out the historical context of Eweland and also proposes a “new descriptive framework” for analyzing the rise of African nationalist movements in colonial Togo. He calls this framework “periurban colonialism” (p. 18). The “periurban” framework is supposed to signal a deliberate spatial orientation and shift in the analytical focus, one that moves out from urban centers to take into account events and actions occurring in other locales. Chapters 2, 3, and 4 are case studies of so-called “periurban” conflicts; that is, each one centers on conflicts over colonial policies or struggles with colonial institutions that involved people other than or in addition to urban male elites. The case studies in chapters 5 and 6 deal with the rise of nationalist organizations and public discourses calling for reform that were shared by individuals in the “periurban zone.” There is a very brief epilogue that brings the text to 182 pages, followed by about sixty pages of endnotes.
Developing such an ambitious argument would be enough of a challenge, but Togo’s unusually complex colonial history compounds the difficulty. Colonized initially by Germany, Togo came under League of Nations supervision after World War I and was divided into French-and British-administered territories. Moreover, readers may well be confused by Lawrance’s shifting back and forth between “Togo” and “Eweland” as the unit of analysis. Ewe-speaking areas of southern [End Page 610] Togo extended westward into (British) Gold Coast and eastward into (French) Dahomey. Maps in the book do not make it clear to non-specialists how to distinguish between “Togoland” and “Eweland” as geographical entities. A central issue here—the shifting boundaries of political administrations and the dividing and redividing of a major language group—is avoided rather than directly confronted and clarified (p. 26). Instead, the author injects a conspicuous new analytical element (the “periurban zone” or “periurban colonialism”) that adds another layer of complexity and complicates his argument even more.
I am unable to determine how much or how well the author achieves his goals. It could be that he has the evidence to link his case studies of colonial struggle with the incipient nationalist organizations he describes in the second section of the book, but the argument is asserted here rather than explicitly demonstrated. Readers of this journal will be particularly frustrated, since Lawrance seems to have written with a very narrow group of specialists in mind, given the many shorthand and sometimes cryptic references to other scholars, their works, and historiographical debates that are left unexplained in the text. Lawrance deserves special praise for his truly prodigious archival research in Togo, Ghana, Bénin, England, France, Switzerland, and Germany, and the many oral interviews he conducted in Togo and neighboring Ghana and Bénin. It is all the more lamentable, though, that the book is so difficult to read. Terminology is inconsistent, and even though there are sections to each chapter, the text lacks the basic chronological...