Africans and war in Vietnam: global protest, liberation politics and transnational soldiers

This conference seeks to create a new research agenda about Africa’s entanglements with wars in Vietnam by convening hitherto siloed scholars of Africa, Vietnam and the United States. As one of the twentieth century’s defining geopolitical events, the French war followed by the American war in Vietnam shaped a generation and transformed Cold War statecraft, military struggles, protest movements and everyday political ideas across the world. Despite these global effects, Africans’ diverse engagements with the conflict have been written out of academic debates and popular histories, as is true of much “global” history from World War One to the scholarship on “The Sixties”. But Africans were not just a footnote in the history of Vietnam’s struggles against French rule and American intervention. From the over 180,000 African military combatants in French colonial armies to the continent’s iconic post-colonial leaders who attempted to mediate peace in Southeast Asia, Africans played a central role in the conflicts in Vietnam that grabbed the world’s attention. The war was not only shaped by Africans, it also shaped political and social change on the continent. It fired the imaginations of protestors, sparking street demonstrations and ideological debates about the meaning of decolonization and liberation and the direction of global political change; shaped the military strategies and thinking of anti-colonial armies from Algeria to South Africa; and inspired right-wing conservative forces – particularly among Southern African white minority regimes – to build new global constellations of Anti-Communist solidarity.

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