Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2021
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Michigan State University
Cameroonian Citizen Diplomats and the PRC: Producing Knowledge, Navigating Friendship 1954-1977

From 1954 to 1977, more than two dozen delegations of Cameroonian anti-colonial activists, women, youth, trade unionists, and novelists traveled to the People’s Republic of China (PRC). My dissertation examines how this diverse array of Cameroonian delegates – whom I theorize as “citizen diplomats” – helped mediate Chinese knowledge production on Africa and contributed to Maoist theories of imperialism. My research corrects uncritical depictions of the Africa-PRC relationship as perpetually dominated by the PRC, by foregrounding the experiences of these citizen diplomats and exploring how they wielded “friendship” as a diplomatic category with both strategic and affective power. I engage with scholarship on African intellectual history by tracing African contributions to global knowledge production; with research on PRC foreign relations by examining how PRC state officials learned from Africans; and with the history of the global Cold War by identifying the opportunities that Cameroonians harnessed in the Cold War environment. I employ a transregional methodology in order to locate the processes that facilitated African contributions to global ideas. My plan is to conduct twelve months of fieldwork: eight months in Cameroon, and two months each in France and Taiwan. In Cameroon I will draw on oral histories with former citizen diplomats; their writings, memorabilia, and ephemera; and archival materials concerning the sending and hosting of delegations with the PRC. In France I will consult documents declassified in 2018 that relate to France’s monitoring of Cameroon-PRC contacts in the colonial and postcolonial periods. Archives from Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs that pertain to the period from 1960-1971 when Taiwan maintained an embassy in Yaoundé will help place Cameroon-PRC relations in broader Cold War-context. Throughout, I will read my findings alongside published and unpublished sources from the PRC on Africa and global imperialism that I obtained during pre-dissertation research in Beijing.