These were the words with which the Great War in Africa Conference finished in Lisbon on 15 July 2014. The quote was given in response to my paper entitled When two bulls clash, the grass suffers: the impact of World War 1 on Africa. This was my first attempt to look at the war in Africa from the perspective of Africa rather than from a Euro-centric position. It also seemed to be fitting for the last paper of the conference as it touched on many of the themes covered over the two days. (Hopefully the papers will be published in due course).
A week later, I was presenting my second paper on bulls clashing, this time at the British Residence in Dar es Salaam at an event hosted by the British, German and Belgian ambassadors and attended by a wide range of people, all sitting outside as there were too many for indoors. Personally, this was a great honour and a huge responsibility as I was starting off a programme of commemorative events in Tanzania.
Here, as with the Lisbon conference, the elephants came together through challenge and question leading to greater understanding. And it re-affirmed my belief that through an open, honest approach, as well as keeping true to the documentary evidence, a study of the past and war can be reconciliatory. My thanks to all for the challenging questions and suggestions, and I hope the discussions have inspired others to investigate areas of specific interest to them such as the role of the women followers of the German schutztruppe, whether there are East African Arab and Indian accounts of the war in East Africa and the role of the ‘Boy’.
A significant outcome of both events was the expressed need, and affirmation, for more historical literature to be translated into other languages to enable a more rounded understanding of the wars in Africa.
In related vein, the South African Sunday Times should be running an editorial on the Great War in South Africa on 3 August 2014 and the Economist too will be having a World War 1 feature early in the month. I haven’t seen the draft article for the Economist but if my discussion with the journalist is anything to go by, both pieces will feature the ‘invisible workforce’ of the African armies of the Great War. Africa too should feature in the Guardian film documentary which is due out soon (it’s not on the trailer).