Charles Didier Gondola

senior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2011/2012
discipline History
Professor of African History and Africana Studies at Indiana University - Purdue University

Research project

Tropical Cowboys: Youth, Popular Culture and Masculinity in Colonial Kinshasa


In the 1950s, a certain idea of the (American) “West” swept across Kinshasa’s African townships like wild fire. It influenced youth socialization, the construction of masculinities, the emergence of popular cultures, and even political developments in Congo.


During the tumultuous decade of Congo’s decolonization, several bands of youth, which called themselves Bills (as in Buffalo Bill, their eponymous hero), formed in most townships in Kinshasa, especially in the far-flung fringes of the sprawling capital. They had one thing in common, their fascination with the cowboy movie genre, which had become the main staples in makeshift movie parlors across Kinshasa’s townships. Classic scenes of Indian attacks, turf battles among frontiersmen, ribald repartees, bawdy jokes, rambunctious female characters who nonetheless fall prey to lewd men, stories of betrayal and bravados, villains and heroes battling it out in the lawless frontier; those were some of the scenes that brewed indiscipline in the minds of those young viewers and prompted them to reenact in the tropics the hustle and bustle of the American West.


One of my main objectives with this project is to demonstrate that the study of popular cultures can illuminate how systemic social changes take place, how mass cultures are invested with a political capital, and how they can ultimately be co-opted by the state to help maintain the political and social status quo. My project is also rooted on the theoretical assumptions that masculinity is a social, normative, and multifarious construct that has enabled societies to create and police the boundaries between different gendered and generational spaces.



Charles Didier Gondola is Professor of African History and Africana Studies at Indiana University - Purdue University, Indianapolis. He holds a PhD in African History from the University of Paris 7 - Denis Diderot. He is also the co-editor (with Charles Tshimanga and Peter Bloom) of Frenchness and the African Diaspora: Identity and Uprising in Contemporary France (Indiana University Press 2009). During academic year 2008-09, he was selected as a Department of State Fulbright scholar and carried out both research and teaching activities at the Université de Kinshasa. His current project, for which he obtained a Eurias fellowship from the Nantes Institute for Advanced Study, explores youth power, Western movies, and masculinities in Colonial Kinshasa. 

Selected publications


Frenchness and the African Disapora: Identity and Uprising in contemporary France, with P.J. Bloom and C. Tshimanga (eds), Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Indianapolis: , 2010.


Africanisme : La crise d’une illusion, L’Harmattan, Paris, 2007.


'Métamorphoses et représentations urbaines de Kinshasa à travers le discours musical des années 1950-1960', Le Mouvement Social, La Découverte, Paris, 2003.


The History of CongoGreenwood Press, Westport / Connecticut / London, 2002.


Villes miroirs : migrations et identités urbaines à Brazzaville et Kinshasa, 1930-1970, L’Harmattan, Paris, 1997.


senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2011/2012
discipline Philosophy
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2013/2014
discipline History
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2012/2013
discipline Anthropology