From Empires to NGOs in the West African Sahel: An Introduction

Gregory Mann’s new book, From Empires to NGOs in the West African Sahel: The Road to Nongovernmentality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), is excerpted here, as a prelude to an interview with the author.*

Frantz Fanon was growing angry. It was 1960, and he was deep in Mali, a vast country, “fervent and brutal,” a place where there was “no need of great speeches.” The country had just gained independence from France weeks before, and its new president, Modibo Keita, “ever militant,” had assured him of his support. Everything was set. Fanon and his colleagues, Algerian revolutionaries seeking to open a southern front for the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN), had already avoided prying French eyes in Bamako and dodged what they took to be a kidnapping attempt in Monrovia. They were headed east and north, to Gao, Aguelhoc, Tessalit. So how to account for the road block, the intransigence?

At Mopti, a snag. On the way out of town: a gendarmes’ roadblock, and the sentries demand our passports. Difficult discussion because, in spite of the document from the Minister of the Interior [Madeira Keita], the gendarmes want to know our identities. Finally the commanding officer arrives, and I’m obliged to introduce myself. But it seems we’re faced with a man who’s after intelligence. He wants to know the nature of our mission and the roles of my companions.1

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About Gregory Mann

is a historian of francophone West Africa and professor of history at Columbia University. He recently published his second book, From Empires to NGOs in the West African Sahel: The Road to Nongovernmentality (Cambridge University Press, 2015). Drawing on research conducted primarily in Mali, the book analyzes the rise of novel forms of political rationality among governments and non-governmental organizations in the Sahel from 1946 to the late 1970s. Following his award-winning first book, Native Sons: West African Veterans and France in the 20th Century (Duke University Press, 2006), Mann’s writing on history and politics in West Africa has appeared in outlets ranging from Comparative Studies in Society and History to Foreign Policy and