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John Aerni-Flessner - Michigan State University. East Lansing, MI, US

John Aerni-Flessner

Assistant Professor of African History | Michigan State University


John Aerni-Flessner is a historian of 20th century Africa, specializing in the history of Lesotho and the history of the Lansing area.



John Aerni-Flessner Publication



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Aerni-Flessner is a historian of 20th century African history, specializing in the history of Lesotho. His research focuses on how people grappled with the idea of independence in mid-20th century Africa, and how they came to terms with their changing relations to the state during the decolonization process. He studies big ideas like nationalism, slavery, sport/leisure and development. Aerni-Flessner's first book examines the relationship between development and independence in Lesotho. It also looks at transnational aid flows and how resistance to apartheid manifested in states surrounding South Africa.

Industry Expertise (1)


Areas of Expertise (7)

Urban Renewal in Lansing


Development History


Southern African History

Borders in Africa

Malcolm X in Lansing

Education (3)

Washington University in St. Louis: Ph.D., African and World History

Washington University in St. Louis: M.A.

Grinnell College: B.A., History

News (4)

Mayor Schor Announces "Paving the Way" Research and Documentation Project

Lansing  online


Mayor Andy Schor today announced that the City of Lansing has been awarded a $39,400 grant from the National Parks Service to tell the story of the impact of the construction of I-496 on Lansing’s vibrant African American community. The community was centered on Main Street (now Malcolm X Street) and St. Joseph Street between Washington Avenue and Clare Street, prior to being displaced due the project.

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Malcolm X's daughter Ilyasah Shabazz to speak at MSU Thursday

Lansing State Journal  online


Ilyasah Shabazz, daughter of civil rights leader Malcolm X, will speak at Michigan State University's Erickson Kiva, the same venue where her father delivered a speech to 700 students on Jan. 23, 1963.

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Daughter of Malcolm X to Speak at MSU

MSU Today  online


The Michigan Humanities Council and the Historical Society of Greater Lansing, along with Michigan State University’s Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives, MSU Office of Cultural & Academic Transitions and MSU Student Affairs and Services are sponsoring an appearance by Ilyasah Shabazz, the daughter of Malcolm X.

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The memory of Malcolm X lives on in Lansing

wlns.com  online


He was a controversial figure in the Civil Rights Movement after he was introduced to the world stage by Elijah Muhammad who appointed him to stand in as the national spokesman for the Nation of Islam.

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Journal Articles (4)

Passports, Citizenship, Residency and Asylum: The Meanings of Decolonisation in Lesotho

The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History

John Aerni-Flessner

2018 In late colonial Basutoland and early independence Lesotho, the issue of who could access citizenship rights and passports became increasingly important. Political refugees fleeing apartheid South Africa took up passports on offer in the territory to further their political work. Basotho residents also took up passports in increasing numbers as a way of safeguarding their economic, social and political rights on both sides of the border. The lure of a Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies (CUKC) passport drew refugees to Basutoland in the early 1960s, but it was South Africa’s decision to leave the Commonwealth in 1961 that spurred many in Lesotho to formalise their imperial citizenship as well, even as independence for Lesotho became increasingly likely. The stories of those taking up papers illuminate how citizenship became a space for contestation between individuals and governments. The stories also show how the concept of the transfer of power does not accurately reflect the ways in which the sovereignty of newly independent African states, apartheid South Africa and the United Kingdom were all limited by a series of decisions made in the late colonial period. Tracing these stories helps us better understand the limitations of the term ‘decolonisation’ for reflecting the understandings and complications of citizenship in 1960s and 1970s southern Africa.

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BUY THIS BOOK Hardcover $55.00 eBook (PDF) $54.99 eBook (EPUB) $54.99 For Professors: Free Exam Copies Dreams for Lesotho

Notre Dame Press

John Aerni-Flessner

2018 In Dreams for Lesotho: Independence, Foreign Assistance, and Development, John Aerni-Flessner studies the post-independence emergence of Lesotho as an example of the uneven ways in which people experienced development at the end of colonialism in Africa. The book posits that development became the language through which Basotho (the people of Lesotho) conceived of the dream of independence, both before and after the 1966 transfer of power.

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Development, Politics, and the Centralization of State Power in Lesotho, 1960–75

The Journal of African History

John Aerni-Flessner

2014 The rhetoric of development served as a language for Sotho politicians from 1960–70 to debate the meanings of political participation. The relative paucity of aid in this period gave outsized importance to small projects run in rural villages, and stood in stark contrast to the period from the mid-1970s onwards when aid became an ‘anti-politics machine’ that worked to undermine national sovereignty. Examination of the democratic period in Lesotho from 1966–70 helps explain the process by which newly independent states gave up some of their recently won sovereignty, and how a turn to authoritarianism helped contribute to this process.

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'If We Govern Ourselves, Whose Son is to Govern Us?': Youth, Independence and the 1960s in Lesotho

Washington University Open Scholarship

John Aerni-Flessner

2011 Young people in Lesotho worked actively to bring about their own conceptions of the nation in late colonial and early independence Lesotho. These youth drew on a wide range of local, national and international ideas to push for institutional change that would benefit themselves as individuals, and the nation as a whole. Tapping into larger global debates about development, the Cold War and the role of youth in societies, young Basotho actively participated in and wanted a say in the changes coming with independence. This work rethinks African nationalism, seeing a wider range of people willing and able to identify with a national ideal than previous works that focus mainly on political parties have found. It also complicates the question of international boundaries, with many young South Africans crossing the border into Lesotho, and young Basotho going the other way into South Africa. These transient lives call into question the premise of a state-based national identity as the primary identification for a large group of people.

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