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Mobilizing the Masses: Gender, Ethnicity, and Class in the Nationalist Movement in Guinea, 1939-1958 (Social History of Africa Series) Paperback – April 21, 2005

ISBN-13: 978-0325070308 ISBN-10: 032507030X

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Editorial Reviews


“Instead of the traditional top-down approach to nationalist anticolonial movements, this study adopts a "bottom-up" approach. Schmidt examines the role played by the Guinean branch of the Rassemblement Democratique (Democratique) Africain (RDA) in achieving independence from France, focusing on the ability of its Western-educated elites to form a broad-based ethnic, class, and gender alliance with grassroots groups (military veterans, trade unionists, peasants, and women) that had their own grievances against the French colonial state and its native collaborators (chiefs). Schmidt convincingly argues that these groups shaped the party's nationalist agenda and struggle....[a] timely contribution to the scholarship on African anticolonial nationalism. Recommended. Upper-level undergraduates and above.”–Choice

“Guinea's singular affront to France-preferring immediate independence to President Charles de Gaulle's offer of "Community"-is generally attributed to the audacity of Ahmed Sekou Toure, trade-union activist, national party leader, and Guinea's first president. Schmidt challenges this dominant perception with her remarkable study of Guinea's grassroots nationalist movement. She contends that although Sekou Toure and other African Democratic Rally (rda) leaders skillfully harnessed anticolonial sentiments among the masses to achieve early electoral success against rival parties, the masses were, in fact, responsible later for compelling the rda leadership into the radical demand of immediate independence. To support this contention, Schmidt culled an impressive array of existing literature in French and English, bringing to Anglophone audiences the insights of Guinean scholars in particular, hitherto largely hidden behind the language barrier.”–Journal of Interdisciplinary History

“This book makes a welcome contribution to studies of independence movements, gender roles and political participation, and Guinea's tumultuous and rich history. It also opens the door to more investigations on political participation and mobilization in Guinea.”–The Journal of African History

“Elizabeth Schmidt's latest book is a welcome addition to African historiography and in particular among works seeking to recast and question our historical interpretation of post-World War II African nationalism. This is a groundbreaking work both in its scope and methodology, as Schmidt combines careful archival work with nuanced use of oral histories. The result is a much needed synthesis of two previously opposing tropes: the political narrative of African nationalism as the confines of elite Western-educated men, and the social historian's understanding of non-elite participation in strikes, community politics, and regional and ethnic associations....The "masses" in Schmidt's work are far from undifferentiated or docile, and the resulting narrative offers numerable insights into the nature of African politics not only in the period of nationalist mobilization but for other periods as well, including the recent past.”–Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History

“Using a variety of archival and oral sources, the latter to very good discursive effect, Schmidt has written a highly readable, jargon-free, and well-organized account of Guinean African nationalism from below. In the often peculiar lexical universe of academic discourse, this is no mean achievement....[s]he has produced a model text, one of the best dissections of a nationalist movement anywhere in Africa. Hers is a foremost contribution to the literature as well as the interpretation of African nationalism.”–American Historical Review

“Using colonial archives, especially police reports, and oral interviews, Elizabeth Schmidt has written a brilliant study of the nationalist movement in Guinea that focuses not on a handful of leaders, but on the mass of followers. By looking at the way different groups of people articulated their grievances against the colonial state, she provides a richly textured study of the end of colonialism in Guinea. The success of Sekou Toure and his collaborators was thus not in creating opposition, but in riding the waves of popular feeling and pulling together disparate strands of discontent into a powerful national movement.”–Martin Klein Emeritus Professor University of Toronto

“[Schmidt] shows how the politics of independence [were] fired by the interests, grievances, and energies of women, male trade unionists and ex-soldiers after the Second World War. Their indigenous nationalism was not always united, but it carried great force, often to the alarm of the western-educated elites. By renewing the history of West African nationalism Schmidt has also given greater historical depth to the conflicts between 'ordinary Africans' and those who claim to speak for them.”–John Lonsdale Emeritus Professor University of Cambridge

“This book is a major revision of former traditional political histories, in favor of grassroots analyses. It is courageous from three perspectives: because it tackles a difficult subject that has not been addressed in English in forty years (since Ruth Schacter Morgenthau, 1964); because it recognizes (indirectly) the political genius of Sekou Toure in his early days; and, above all, thanks to a conjuction of original sources, it proposes a "politics from the bottom" analysis of the social forces of protest. Grassroots activists--veterans, trade unions and workers, mobilized rural dwellers and women--shaped the RDA as a popular national movement. Only later did ethnicity and violence generate the growing divisions of today.”–Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch Emeritus Professor University of Paris-7 Denis Diderot

About the Author

Elizabeth Schmidt is Professor of History at Loyola College in Maryland. She is the author of Decoding Corporate Camouflage: U.S. Business Support for Apartheid (Institute for Policy Studies, 1980) and Peasants, Traders, and Wives: Shona Women in the History of Zimbabwe, 1870-1939 (Heinemann, 1992).

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