One of the comments in a facebook group dedicated to opposing a new centre to house unaccompanied child refugees in the Kent coastal town of Whitstable reads: ‘Children rights and safety before political views’ (Group: ‘Opposed to the plans for Ladesfield’, accessed 21 October 2015). This argument is intended to call on a moral vision of the protection of children, which is set apart from tawdry political wrangling. The central idea is that children are unquestioningly deserving of protection and support, no matter what side of the political spectrum you are on.
Supporters of the proposed refugee centre organise a counter-demonstration in Whitstable
However, the comment seems to wilfully ignore the fact that the Ladesfield centre has been repurposed precisely to protect children. It will serve as a reception centre for refugee boys aged 16-18 for stays of up to two months before they can be moved into more permanent accommodation. The existence of the centre recognises that children (defined in international law as under-18s) are in need of specialised services and support.
Moral visions related to children are often fraught with these kinds of contradictions. Questions relating to belonging, identity, gender, and life-course are an uncomfortable part of discussions about human rights. These questions seem all the more intrusive when they are addressing the security and well-being of the seemingly most innocent and vulnerable members of society. But, an understanding of the trajectory of British imperial history can help us to unpack some of the categories and questions raised.
Firestone in Liberia
Christine Whyte recently presented some new research into the ways in which the Liberian government used forced labour to assert control and defend their sovereignty in the inland regions of Liberia from the 1870s through to the 1960s. This paper, presented at a panel at the African Studies Association Conference in San Diego alongside Benedetta Rossi, Elisabeth McMahon, Martin Klein and Carolyn Brown, demonstrated how the discourse of ‘development’ was deployed by Monrovia and the American Firestone Corporation to implement these systems of forced labour and justify their hold on the territory.
1961 stamp celebrating Sierra Leonean independence.
Christine Whyte has recently published an article in the International Journal of African Historical Studies on the post-slavery history of the Sierra Leone Protectorate. This article, ‘”Freedom but Nothing Else”: The Legacies of Slavery and Abolition in Post-Slavery Sierra Leone, 1928-1956‘ traces two particular resonances of post-slavery history in Sierra Leone, from the abolition of slavery in 1928 to the riots around decolonization in 1955–56. The first was the state-led efforts to engineer a transition to freedom for ex-slaves that would keep them engaged as willing workers. The second was the ways in which Sierra Leonean elites sought to control the labor of the ex-slave classes by relegating them to the position of a marginalized “youth.”
Christine Whyte has recently published a new article in National Identities, titled ‘Between empire and colony: American imperialism and Pan-African colonialism in Liberia, 1810–2003‘. This article uses the concept of ‘colonialism without colonies’ to analyse the relationship of the United States and Liberia, which are both republics that lay claim to independence from imperial and colonial systems.
Dr David Patrick (University of the Free State), ‘The Wrong Kind of Genocide? Anglo-American Press Coverage of Rwanda, 1994’
On Thursday 10 December 2015 Dr David Patrick (University of the Free State) will present a paper entitled ‘The Wrong Kind of Genocide? Anglo-American Press Coverage of Rwanda, 1994’. The presentation forms part of the Centre for the History of Colonialisms’ occasional seminar programme and will take place at 5pm in Woolf College, seminar room 6.