In this lecture Prof. Dr. Paul Basu reflected on the relationships between colonialism and conflict, and colonialism and the production of knowledge about conflict through the lens of two periods of conflict in the West African state of Sierra Leone. The first period concerns the so-called Hut Tax War and Mendi Uprising of 1898, which followed the declaration of the Sierra Leone hinterland as a British Protectorate. The second, one hundred years later, concerns the 1991-2002 Sierra Leonean civil war, which followed 30 years after Sierra Leone’s independence from British rule. Commissions were appointed in the aftermath of both periods of conflict to investigate the causes and events of the conflicts, and to make sense of the seemingly senseless violence.
Prof. Dr. Paul Basu explored these processes of meaning-making and the colonial and postcolonial hierarchies of value they reveal. What kinds of knowledge inform the work of these commissions and their reports? Whose voices and testimonies are attended to? What purpose do these narratives of conflict serve? What truths do they obscure?