States-in-Waiting: A Counternarrative of Global Decolonization (forthcoming with Cambridge University Press)
In the decades following the Second World War and accelerating in the early 1960s, many states across the colonial world shook off imperial rule. The road to national independence for post-colonial states such as India, Ghana, and Algeria are well known and well told. In contrast, stories that highlight little-known regions, marginalized individuals, hidden (or lost) archives, and the personal connections that form the analytical tissue between them, produce a new history of decolonization—the narrative presented in States-in-Waiting. In my book, the ramifications of the claim for an independent Nagaland at the junction of China, Burma, and India unfolded far outside its region. I juxtapose the arrival of the Naga nationalist leader Angami Zapu Phizo to London in 1960 (the same year that 17 new states received international recognition) with the United Nations General Assembly’s declaration that national self-determination was an international norm, supported by both the US and the USSR.
20th century decolonization was a political moment when the global potential for national liberation seemed strongest, but the UN only recognized nationalist claims that arose from the dissolution of European empire. Therefore, when Phizo reached a western audience, his demand for independence became an uncomfortable problem for the only people who would listen, a network of advocates—African-American Civil Rights activists, anti-apartheid supporters, and Indian peace workers—who saw themselves as brokers of decolonization on the African continent and conduits for the politically voiceless. I show how the US State Department, foundations, corporations, and especially UN committees relied upon the information and expertise of advocates, who were some of the very few people with both access to elite politics and interest and knowledge of particular states-in-waiting. Yet advocacy was double-edged—by speaking for the allegedly voiceless, it could perpetuate some of the dependent, paternalist dynamics of empire.
States-in-Waiting intervenes in the history of 20th-century decolonization in two key ways: first, it focuses on the critical geopolitics of decolonization, the limits of national liberation and the state-centric international system. Certain groups—such as Nagas—who did not see their claims represented by their country’s dominant nationalisms, turned to transnational advocates to represent them in international politics. Second, these advocates often had substantial corporate and government connections and conflicting allegiances. Ultimately, those ties constrained the shape of the claims for which they spoke. My book weaves a story of these connections and constraints from Northeast India to New York City, from Dar es Salaam to Delhi, from London to Lusaka. Through personal narratives and networks it illuminates the untold histories of states in the making, States-in-Waiting.