Saturday, May 20, 2017

Daniel Brückenhaus's "Policing Transnational Protest"

Daniel Brückenhaus is Assistant Professor of History at Beloit College. He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Policing Transnational Protest: Liberal Imperialism and the Surveillance of Anticolonialists in Europe, 1905-1945, and reported the following:
Page 99 tells the story of how, in 1919 and 1920, French officials decided to send secret agents into Germany, to observe the political activities of Cameroonian immigrants living there. The French were especially worried about one of these Cameroonians, Martin Dibobe. As an informant had told them, Dibobe had agreed to a deal with the German government to carry out an anti-French campaign in his African home country. A former German colony, most of Cameroon had just been given to France as a League of Nations mandate after the German defeat in World War I.

This story brings together several main themes of my book. First, it shows the high level of pro-colonial surveillance in Europe during the first half of the twentieth century. Second, it illustrates the fact that much of this surveillance was carried out across inner-European borders, often as a result of anti-colonial activists moving from one European country to the next.

Third, the events described on page 99 also illuminate the importance of French fears of Germans (and communists) secretly steering the growing anti-colonial movements directed against the Western empires. However, as becomes clear in the book, French officials severely under-estimated the agency of activists such as Dibobe. It was true that Dibobe had been in touch with the German government. However, it was in fact him who had initiated contact with the German authorities; and in return for his offer of carrying out pro-German propaganda he had made wide-ranging demands. These included the promise of reforms in Cameroon if it were to return to German rule, which would have given Africans a status much more equal to that of Europeans living in the colony, including them being accepted as Germans. Far from mere German puppets, Dibobe and other African activists therefore negotiated their national allegiances in independent and strategic ways.

Over time, the Cameroonians, disappointed with the German authorities’ unwillingness to acknowledge them as Germans, increasingly turned to a more radical, left-wing form of anti-colonialism. As described in later chapters of the book, they sometimes cooperated with organizations such as the League Against Imperialism, founded in 1927, which had its headquarters in Berlin. In the German capital, they worked together with local Indian and Egyptian activists in developing an inherently cosmopolitan vision of fighting colonialism on a global scale, and thus helped lay the foundations for the world-wide wave of decolonization after 1945.
Learn more about Policing Transnational Protest at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue