skip to content

University of Cambridge Centre for Gender Studies




Ola Osman

Gates Cambridge International Scholarship

Rethinking the Liberian Predicament in Anti-Black Terms

Supervisor: Dr Holly Porter (University of Cambridge Centre for Gender Studies) 


The transatlantic slave economy and “post-colonial armed rebel movements in Africa” have conventionally been regarded as distinct phenomena. This thesis maps the continuities between transatlantic slavery, its attendant racial logics, and their relation to the role ethnicity played in the Liberian civil war. The Liberian crisis has been generally explicated as a problem of ethnic antagonisms between varying social groups, imbuing it with an erroneous pretense of historical inevitability. The implicit suggestion here is that the provocation of the armed actors can be explained culturally or biologically—through reference to a supposed intrinsic racial inferiority. The country’s protracted civil conflict spanned 14 years (1989-2003), killing approximately 250 000 Liberians and displacing half of the population. The war has deep and complex roots in the transnational politics of racial formation that came to structure social relations and tensions among Liberians during the Back-to-Africa Movement in the 18th and 19th centuries. In a definitive way, the raison d’être for this monograph is to re-think those early encounters and relational dynamics, between Indigenous Liberians and expatriated formerly enslaved Africans and their descendants, in racial terms. My aim is to widen our lens to the various ways the political “afterlife of slavery” manifests in Liberia by way of elaborating the relationship between culture, labour, race and ethnonationalism.  

Academic Background: 

Oxford University 2019, MSt in Women’s Studies with Distinction (Clarendon Scholarship and Prince Sultan Scholarship) 

University of Western Ontario 2018, Honours Specialization in Women’s Studies


Osman, O. (2022) “Rethinking the Liberian Predicament in Anti-Black Terms”, Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities, 27(3-4), 34-48, DOI: 10.1080/0969725X.2022.2093933 

Lawson, Erica S, and Ola Osman. 2022. “Maternal Activism and the Politics of Memorialization in The Mothers of the Movement: A Black Feminist Reading.” In A. Crosby, M. de Alwis, and H. Evans eds. Remembering and Memorializing Violence: Transnational Feminist Dialogues. (forthcoming) 

Lawson, E., Anfaara, F. W., & Osman, O. (2021). Sustainable Development Goals and the internal logics of “gender equality” in the Liberian context. In A. Williams & I. Luginaah (Eds.), Geography, Health, and Sustainability: Gender Matters Globally (1st ed.), Routledge.

Lawson, Erica S, Florence W. Anfaara, Vaiba K. Flomo, Cerue K. Garlo, and Ola Osman. 2020. “The Intensification of Liberian Women’s Social Reproductive Labor in the Coronavirus Pandemic.” Feminist Studies, 46(3): 674-683.