Street art in Fort-de-France, Martinique. Photo by A. Joseph-Gabriel
Mural in Fort-de-France, Martinique. Photo by A. Joseph-Gabriel

My current research project grew out of a recurring image that has stayed with me for years. It is the image of my mother, on March 6, 1957 then barely a year old, strapped firmly to my grandmother’s back as they danced to highlife music on the old polo grounds, a whites-only space in the former Gold Coast, re-baptized Independence Square in present day Ghana. I have no soundtrack for this image, only the sentence drilled into memory from every social studies class taken in primary school: “Ghana was the first sub-Saharan African country to gain independence from colonial rule.” This image seemed to point to the active yet silent presence of women in Ghana’s independence narrative. Yet given the current economic and political realities of neocolonialism, it also sparked questions on what could have been. Notably, how could the process of decolonization and its subsequent emplotment have played out differently? In turning to the francophone experience I am looking for alternatives to the singular, triumphant narrative of decolonization as independence. The murky waters of departmentalization and the French Union provide one such alternative. I am also looking for the voices that have since fallen out of the narrative, the women who campaigned tirelessly and contributed to the discursive framing of liberation in Africa and the diaspora through their literary and cultural production, before dancing in the square on Independence Day. My initial question is simple: how did women contribute to the political and literary landscape of African and Antillean decolonization in the mid-twentieth century? It is a question I am still finding answers to.