This week I finished reading Adom Getachew’s new book: ”Worldmaking after Empire: The Rise and Fall of Self-determination” (2019) – and what a thought-grabbing and important book. With great diligence Getachew guided me through the history of – as the title reveals – the rise of self-determination in the 1960s to the beginning of its fall and a return to a hierarchical world order in the 1970s, which, as Getachew argues, coincided with the United States’ gradual abandonment of the United Nations and other multilateral institutions.
According to Getachew, the passing of the UN Resolution 1514 on the right to self-determination in 1960 “marked a radical rupture in the history of modern international society” (p. 14), as it showed how postcolonial states in the UN were able to use this forum in order to challenge the hierarchical international order of the time. With this book Getachew redirects our attention to the anticolonial nationalists of the decolonisation era and recast them as worldmakers – worldmakers concerned with the international perspective rather than the national. A central point in her book is to underline the agency of anticolonial nationalists by highlighting their active contesting and confronting of the legacies of imperial hierarchies and their demand for a radical reconstruction of the international order. Getachew, thus, emphasises that decolonisation was a project and attempt by anticolonialists (such as Nnamdi Azikiwe, W.E.B. Du Bois, George Padmore, Kwame Knrumah, Eric Williams, Micheal Manley, and Julius Nyerere) to reorder the world with the intention of creating a domination-free and egalitarian international order. By staging anticolonial nationalists as key actors Getachew argues against the standard view of decolonisation solely as a moment of nation-building. Instead she maintains “anticolonial nationalism as a site of conceptual and political innovation” (p. 75).
The work of Getachew is refreshing as well as inspiring and provides an important focal point and stepping-stone for my research project as I delve deeper into the exploration of African intellectual history in the context of Ghana – geographically – and global economic inequality – conceptually. By foregrounding African, African American, and Caribbean anticolonial intellectuals and drawing on their political thoughts, Getachew brings forth a story of how these anticolonial intellectuals have shaped the intellectual history of global inequality. She traces transnational connections within the anticolonial nationalism of the decolonisation era. Likewise, the aim of my project as well as the overall research project, which aims at writing an intellectual history of global economic inequality (1960-2015), is to trace transnational connections and geographical differences/similarities in intellectual conceptualisations of global economic inequality. Moreover, we also aim at foregrounding intellectuals from different corners of the world in order to show how they (through their conceptualisations) have formed the intellectual history of the modern world.
I can definitely recommend Getachew’s book for people who are interested in learning more about the history of decolonisation. With her main argument being that anticolonial nationalists were indeed worldmakers trying to contest the hierarchical international, postwar order of the decolonisation era, Getachew recasts the history of decolonisation in a new light and, hence, offers a new perspective on current debates about today’s international order.