PhD defense Sebastiaan Soeters (ASC)

Sebastiaan at the University of Leiden, surrounded by his ‘paranimfen’ Lotje de Vries (left) and Mr Soeters, father of the candidate (right)On the 8th of May, 2012, Sebastiaan Soeters successfully defended his PhD. Sebastiaan’s PhD, a study of urban formation during the colonial period, deals broadly with the question, how do colonial cities form, and how has the unique formation of colonial cities shaped the structure of local, urban authority? Tamale, the regional capital of Northern Ghana, a city of around half a million inhabitants today, is taken as the main focus of the study. The PhD, entitled, “Tamale 1907-1957: Between Colonial Trade and Colonial Chieftainship”, also inserts urban Tamale into the rich historiography of the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast. Indeed, the thesis notes that Tamale’s history is largely notable for its complete absence. The study finds that not only was the introduction of motorised transportation to the Northern Territories in 1920 essential to Tamale’s formation as colonial urban centre, so too was labour in order to operationalise such transportation. In the case of Tamale, this labour came in the form of ex-servicemen. As a result, Tamale’s major demographic growth spurts occurred following the two world wars, between 1920 and 1930 and after 1945. These were also the periods of large out-migration in the Northern Territories more generally. Furthermore, the study argues that the introduction of indirect rule to Tamale in the early 1930s, coupled with periods of profound demographic and economic transformation, had a dramatic effect on the constitution of authority in Tamale’s ‘artificial’ urban landscape. The impact of colonial rule on chieftainship in Tamale is as clear today as it was in 1930s.