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Africana Treasures in the Library of Congress: African Political Ephemera

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(The following is a post by Angel Batiste, Area Specialist, African Section, African and Middle Eastern Division.)

A hidden treasure in the Africana Collections of the Library of Congress is a vast repository of well over 35,000 items of an ephemeral nature relating to ‘post’ independence era political developments in the 54 nations of sub-Saharan Africa. Ephemera is generally defined as literature of a fleeting or fugitive nature, produced outside of official or normal commercial channels, encompassing both political concerns and a wide variety of currently topical social, economic and ideological issues. The term “fugitive, grey or street literature” frequently applies to many materials included under the category of ephemera.

Odumegwu Ojukwu, leader of breakaway sovereign state, the Republic of Biafra, from 1967 to 1970.
Leading figures of African nationalism — Nnamdi Azikwe, first president of Nigeria and Kwame Nkrumah, first Prime Minister of Ghana.

Popularly known as ‘The African Section Pamphlet Collection,” this unique body of materials provides evidence of people, places, key events and ideas that helped shape transformations in Africa’s political development experiences as independent sovereign nation-states. The steadily growing collection of political ephemera dates from the year 1960, referred to as “the year of Africa,” up to the present day. Materials are issued by a wide range of political and civil society organizations, including African political parties, trade unions, human rights organizations; and also, varied pressure and advocacy groups such as women’s organizations, youth groups and religious groups. In addition, there is a sizable amount of materials produced by African governmental bodies, intergovernmental and humanitarian relief organizations, and international research centers.

As a whole, the Africana political ephemera collection discloses much on the Cold War dichotomy between the capitalist United States and communist Soviet Union and its impact in shaping the political paths of the new postcolonial African states. Holdings found in the collection include political manifestos and policy statements, speeches by prominent figures, printed resolutions, pamphlets, leaflets, and photographs. Most importantly, the political ephemera chronicles Africa’s post-Cold War decades of self-rule and the shifting political paradigms of African leaders taking direct control of their political institutions, economies and natural resources.

“Founded in 1915 by Afrikaner nationalists, the policies of the white minority National Party included the program known as ‘apartheid,’ South Africa’s former legal system of political, economic and social separation of the races.” African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress.
“One of Africa’s foremost anti-colonial leaders, Amílcar Lopes da Costa Cabral (1924–1973), led the nationalist movement and war of independence in Guinea-Bissau.” African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress.

Ephemera materials on the phenomenon of military coups and regimes in the independent African states figures prominently in the collection. Political ephemera documenting African conflicts such as the African nationalist insurgency against Portuguese colonial rule in Guinea and the civil wars in countries like Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi are also quite substantial.

Political accounts of the evolution of democracy and electoral development in the independent African states are reflected in diverse holdings of national election campaign ephemera from several African countries. In addition to leaflets, flyers, and political programs, holdings include historic political campaign buttons, bumper stickers and even commemorative textiles and T-shirts.

An important highlight of the collection of Africana political ephemera are holdings of major policy manifestos and speeches from early African nationalist postcolonial political parties and opposition groups. This includes items produced by political parties as varied as the Democratic Party of Guinea, the Convention People’s Party of Ghana, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front and the South African Communist Party.

“FRELIMO, by name of Mozambique Liberation Front, is a political and military movement that initiated Mozambican independence from Portugal and then formed the governing party of newly independent Mozambique in 1975.” African and Middle Eastern Division.
“Despite wide international protests, internationally renowned writer, civil rights activist and leader of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Ken Saro-Wiwa, was hanged with other eight Ogoni rights activists in Port Harcourt, Nigeria in 1995.” African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress.

Political ephemera materials from “white” nationalist political parties of the Southern Africa region like the Rhodesia Front (now Zimbabwe), the Afrikaner Resistance Movement and the National Party of South Africa are also well represented. There are also ephemeral materials relating to campaign movements by varied pressure and advocacy groups, including student organizations, religious groups, trade unions, human rights activists, and women’s organizations.

Of special note in the Africana political ephemera collection are important speeches and writings by influential African independence statesman, including notables such as Haile Selassie (Ethiopia), Jomo Kenyatta (Kenya), Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana), Julius Nyerere (Tanzania), Ahmed Sekou Toure (Guinea), Amilcar Cabral (Guinea-Bissau), Nelson Mandela (South Africa) and many others.

Also, holdings include the political writings of a number of well-known veteran political activists such as Ken Sara-Wiwa (Nigeria), Stephen Biko (South Africa) and Patrice Lumumba (Democratic Republic of the Congo).

Another major focus of the political ephemera holdings are items documenting the political legacy of the African nationalist liberation movements of Lusophone and Southern Africa. They include a significant number of documents on and by the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO), Popular Movement of the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), African Independence Party (PAIGC), South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO), Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU), Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) and the African National Congress (ANC). Importantly, many of these ephemera documents were often distributed illegally by ‘exiled’ political groups and were designated ‘undesirable’ or banned publications.

Political ephemera materials from the unprecedented international anti-apartheid political struggle and divestment movements, Southern Africa’s decolonization movements, as well as, ephemera items relating to South Africa’s landmark 1994 national elections are also found in the political ephemera collection.

During the era of economic disinvestment campaigns (1977-1989), anti-apartheid groups and regional committees advocated for the eradication of the apartheid regime in South Africa and in support of liberation movements in southern Africa more broadly.
South Africa’s first multiracial democratic elections were held in 1994. Nelson Mandela was elected as South Africa’s First Black President.

Equally important in the political ephemera collection are a wealth of documents produced by new African political organizations and national and international civil society groups that shed light on the impacts of the contemporary “globalization” era in the African countries. Political themes cover issues ranging from human rights, women’s rights, gay rights to democracy and governance processes.

Additional items in the collection include materials from the United States Department of State, the Agency for International Development, and other U.S. agencies relating to US foreign policy concerns toward post-independence Africa. Notable holdings also include ephemera materials on United States presidential visits to sub-Saharan Africa, including President Jimmy Carter’s first state visit by a sitting U.S president to Sub-Saharan Africa in 1978, President Clinton’s 1998 visit and President Barack Obama’s 2015 final visit to Africa as President.

Complementing the printed political ephemera documents are more than 800 posters relating to Africa’s post-independence era political landscape addressing numerous political and social issues and challenges facing Africa at local, national, continental, and global levels. Political themes include issues of governance and development, government corruption, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, gender inequality, education and literacy, and environmental problems affecting African countries.

2008 Presidential Campaign of Barack Hussein Obama II, 44th President of the United States, the first African American to hold the office.

For Africanist scholars and researchers, the Library’s collection of Africana political ephemera is a unique and important resource for researching a broad spectrum of post-independence political development issues related to sub-Saharan Africa. The collection provides invaluable access to rare, hard-to-find primary source documents of this significant era of African political life that is rarely visible in archival collections or mainstream publications. The Africana Political Ephemera collection complements several unique microfilmed African political ephemera collections held by the Library: “Immanuel Wallerstein collection of political ephemera of the liberation movements of Lusophone Africa and Anglophone Southern Africa (1958-1975);” the Karis-Gerhart Collection of South African Political Materials; “Rhodesia and Nyasaland political ephemera, 1956-1963” [microform] 23945 (D); “William and Berta Bascom Yoruba collection;” and the “Twentieth century political ephemera from the Institute of Commonwealth Studies,” University of London. Phase I, Africa [microform] Microfiche 2000/9.

Please note that actual political ephemera items are accessible to researchers only by visiting the African and Middle Eastern Division reading room, LJ-220, second floor, Thomas Jefferson Building. All of the Africana ephemera collections available in microfilm format must be requested in person in the Microform reading Microform Reading Room located in the Microform and Electronic Resources Center (MERC) across from the Main Reading Room, first floor, Jefferson building.

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