Winner Africa Thesis Award 2019: Nsima Udo: 'Visualising the body: photographic clues and the cultural fluidity of Mbopo institution'

The winner of the Africa Thesis Award 2019 is Nsima Stanislaus Udo for his thesis Visualising the body: photographic clues and the cultural fluidity of Mbopo institution, 1914 – 2014. Nsima Udo, of Nigerian nationality, graduated for the MA in History at the University of the Western Cape, South Africa, cum laude. His is currently doing PhD research on festivals and performance in West Africa. The award consists of a prize of 500 euros, publication of his thesis in the ASCL’s African Studies Collection and an invitation to present his thesis at the Award Ceremony on 12 December, during the LeidenASA Annual Meeting.

The thesis unpacks the history of mbopo, a form of female initiation in Southern Nigeria. It argues for the importance of studying popular representations of the ritual and shows the changes of the institution over time, analysing its social meaning and how it has been aesthetically represented and valued differently over time. Through detailed analysis of documentary and visual sources, it shows how it emerges historically, is discredited in the 1990s as a form of female mutilation and is re-appreciated in recent reality TV shows. The jury commends his thesis for being very readable, its original use of visual analysis and how it links detailed insights into the ritual to wider societal transformations. 

The jury nominates Juul Marre Kwaks' (Leiden University) thesis Living with the Legacy of Displacement: An Exploration of Non-Return and the Long-Term Effects of Displacement on Social Life in Pabo, Northern Uganda as the second place, runner-up. The thesis makes a very substantive and original contribution to academic and societal debates on migration by providing intimate and sensitive accounts of the lived experiences of internally-displaced people in Uganda. 

The ASCL would like to thank the jury of the Africa Thesis Award 2019 for their careful reading of all theses and their well-thought-through final decision: Dr ir Yves Van Leynseele (chair, University of Amsterdam), Dr Akinyinka Akinyoade (African Studies Centre Leiden); Maral Noshad Sharifi (journalist NRC), Dr ir Lotje de Vries (Wageningen University) and Dr Astrid Van Weyenberg (Leiden University).