Memorializing struggle: Dynamics of memory, space and power in post-liberation Africa (Sept 2016 - Sept 2019)

Lead G&S academic: Dr Jonathan Fisher

Academic partners: Stephanie Cawood (University of the Free State)

Funding: Newton Fund/British Academy


In post-liberation societies, memorialising and commemoration often occur at state-level on a grand scale to create new dominant memorial cultures. The key question to explore in this context is how the new ruling movements memorialize their liberation struggles to create memorial cultures that legitimise strategies and cultivate political support, especially in cases where it may be limited or faltering – or where alternative, competing memorialising narratives enjoy favour.

This is particularly relevant in polities where post-liberation movements have held power for long periods such as in Uganda and South Africa. The strategies employed by post-liberation movements to maintain legitimacy remain an important but underexplored area of scholarly focus and this project will make a contribution to this nascent literature through exploring memorialisation practices.

Substantial research has been undertaken into the memorialisation practices of post-liberation movements in Southern Africa. Comparable work has not, however, been carried-out on, or in, Eastern Africa – where five states are currently governed by such movements. This project therefore not only filled an important conceptual gap but also initiated a novel dialogue and exchange on the links and comparisons between movements and memorialisation in the two regions. In doing so, the project took seriously the narratival linkages which political elites in Eastern and Southern Africa themselves make.

Project aims

This project compared how liberation struggles have been memorialized in South Africa under the African National Congress (ANC) and Uganda under the National Resistance Movement (NRM). The aim was twofold: 1) to explore how these practices are used and contested within legitimization strategies of post-liberation regimes; 2) to build and develop a sustainable partnership between the institutions involved – the University of Birmingham, UK and the University of the Free State, South Africa.

The research focused on museums, monuments, spaces, discourses and ceremonies as sites of engagement and contestation among different memorial cultures. Visual and textual data was collected from archives, mass media, observation and interviews in order to analyse the relationship between memory, space and power. The project made an original contribution to the literature on post-liberation heritage in Africa.

More information

For further information about this project please contact: Dr Jonathan Fisher.