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September 30 , 2008

Power in Colonial Africa: Conflict and Discourse in Lesotho, 1870-1960


Even in its heyday European rule of Africa had limits. Whether through complacency or denial, many colonial officials ignored the signs of African dissent. Displays of opposition by Africans, too indirect to counter or quash, percolated throughout the colonial era and kept alive a spirit of sovereignty that would find full expression only decades later. In Power in Colonial Africa: Conflict and Discourse in Lesotho, 1870–1960, Elizabeth A. Eldredge analyzes a panoply of archival and oral resources, visual signs and symbols, and public and private actions to show how power may be exercised not only by rulers but also by the ruled. The BaSotho—best known for their consolidation of a kingdom from the 1820s to 1850s through primarily peaceful means, and for bringing colonial forces to a standstill in the Gun War of 1880–1881—struggled to maintain sovereignty over their internal affairs during their years under the colonial rule of the Cape Colony (now part of South Africa) and Britain from 1868 to 1966. Eldredge explores instances of BaSotho resistance, resilience, and resourcefulness in forms of expression both verbal and non-verbal. Skillfully navigating episodes of conflict, the BaSotho matched wits with the British in diplomatic brinksmanship, negotiation, compromise, circumvention, and persuasion, revealing the capacity of a subordinate population to influence the course of events as it selectively absorbs, employs, and subverts elements of the colonial culture.
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