Peter Vale

PhD Candidate


I am a historian of global political economy with a focus on international development, pan-Africanism, and the nation-state in 20th century Africa. My dissertation, “Companies and the Making of the Colonial and Post-Colonial State in Central Africa, 1899-1985,”  explores the role of global capital and African political intellectuals in colonial and post-colonial state formation. In the early 20th century, while the British, French, and German empires were consolidating control over their claimed territories in Africa, international investment was flowing into the mining and shipping corridor between Belgian Congo and Portuguese Angola. Drawing on company archives, Congolese community newspapers in French and Swahili, and writings on pan-African governance, I examine the tensions that arose from colonial and post-colonial reliance on companies for administration. My research shows how markets and finance developed their own governing logics that operated outside of the purview of state administration and public accountability.

I suggest that private corporations, more than the imperial and post-colonial nation-states that existed alongside them, shaped the emergence of modern sovereignty in Africa. Filling in for weak colonial administrations, companies regulated human migration, financed power stations, controlled water distribution, and funded medical services. Following independence, Congolese and Angolan governments faced popular political pressure to dismantle colonial institutions and demonstrate their nationalist bona-fides. However, the dependence on foreign capital for revenue and services lingered in the post-colonial period. Its presence complicated the nascent ideologies of economic independence, self-sufficiency, and nationalism. Tracing how colonial and post-colonial governments navigated these dilemmas over economic security, my work historicizes the privatized, hollowed-out political economies of Central Africa.

My second project, a trans-national history of African airline companies, examines how nationalized airlines marketed themselves to the middle and upper classes of African and African diaspora communities. By facilitating travel throughout the continent and the world, nationalized airlines helped political and economic elites produce a novel pan-Africanism that emphasized interconnectivity, trans-national cooperation, and mobility. For most Africans on the continent, however, material and social alienation precluded participation in this newfangled pan-African identity. This project will speak to questions of economic sovereignty, the environmental and social costs of air travel, and what it means to be “African” and afford air travel in a globalizing world.

I am also interested in collaborating with fellow scholars on a variety of topics, including the history of vaccination programs, the G-77, and West African film, particularly the works of Djibril Diop Mambéty. You can reach out to me at or @pcvale on social media.

Research Interests

  • Political Economy
  • Pan-Africanism
  • African Diaspora
  • Intellectual History
  • History of Technology
  • Postcolonialism
  • Nationalism
  • Mineral and Oil Resources