I teach in the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities (RCAH), an undergraduate-only college within Michigan State University (MSU). I am a Core Faculty member of the MSU African Studies Center and a Research Fellow in the Department of History at the University of the Free State (South Africa).

My current book project is a history of the negotiations for the Lesotho Highlands Water Project that took place between 1966 and 1986. It puts them in the context of the regional struggle against apartheid, the Cold War, and the internal politics of both Lesotho and South Africa. I argue that understanding this history is key to understanding contemporary dissatisfaction among citizens of both countries with their respective governments. The long shadow of apartheid continues to haunt the water resources of southern Africa. It will (hopefully) be published sometime in 2025.

My research has primarily focused on the history of the southern African country of Lesotho. I have written about the history of development, independence, nationalism, decolonization, and the history of the border between Lesotho and South Africa. My first book, entitled Dreams for Lesotho: Independence, Foreign Assistance, and Development came out in 2018 from the University of Notre Dame Press. It is also available in Lesotho and South Africa as it was republished in 2020 by the Morija Museum and Archives (http://www.morija.co.ls/museum/).

I also research and create digital projects on local history in the Lansing, MI area with my students. The links to my sites on Malcolm X in Lansing and Urban Renewal in Lansing are below.

I also write for media and popular publications on politics, economy, and development in Lesotho and southern Africa in general. Links to my author pages for South Africa’s Mail and Guardian and The Daily Maverick are below as well.


MA and PhD Washington University in St. Louis (African and World History)

BA Grinnell College (IA)


Other Publications


Dreams for Lesotho: Independence, Foreign Assistance, and Development University of Notre Dame Press, 2018 (re-published and made available in southern Africa by Morija Museum and Archives, Lesotho, 2020).

Articles (See CORE for copies of all articles):

[In Progress–revise and resubmit] Lesotho and the QwaQwa Ski Resort, 1975-1982: Border Disputes, National Sovereignty, and Deadly Foreign Policy in the Apartheid Era

[In Progress–revise and resubmit] Basotho and the Bantustans: Long-Term Impacts of Historical Borders on Borderlands Communities in QwaQwa and Lesotho

2022 A Transnational History of Stock Theft on the Lesotho-South Africa Border, Nineteenth Century to 1994 South African Historical Journal

2021  Bargaining with Land: Borders, Bantustans, and Sovereignty in 1970s and 1980s Southern Africa (co-authored with Chitja Twala), Journal of Southern African Studies 47: 6, 993-1009.

2021: Digitally Documenting Urban Renewal in Lansing, 1930s-1960s (co-authored with Claire Marks-Wilt) Michigan Historical Review

2018: Passports, Citizenship, Residency and Asylum: The Meanings of Decolonisation in Lesotho Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History

2017: Introduction: Localizing the History of Development in Africa International Journal of African Historical Studies 50:1 (2017): 1-9

2017: Self-Help Development Projects and Conceptions of Independence in Lesotho, 1950s-1970s International Journal of African Historical Studies 50:1 (2017):11-33

2015: Homemakers, Communists, and Refugees: Smuggling Anti-Apartheid Refugees in Rural Lesotho in the 1960s and 1970s Wagadu: A Journal of Transnational Women’s and Gender Studies 13 (2015): 183-209

2014: Development, Politics, and the Centralization of State Power in Lesotho, 1960-75 Journal of African History 55:3 (2014): 401-421

Blog Posts


    Malcolm X in Lansing: http://projects.leadr.msu.edu/malcolmxinlansing/


    Urban Renewal in Lansing: http://projects.leadr.msu.edu/malcolmxinlansing/


    Public Writing (Author Pages–Political Commentary on Lesotho):


    Africasacountry.com: https://africasacountry.com/author/john-aerni-flessner

    The Mail and Guardian (South Africa): https://mg.co.za/author/john-aerni-flessner/

    Daily Maverick (South Africa): https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/author/johnaerniflessner/

    Lansing City Pulse: The History of the Bethlehem Temple and Why Getting Its History Right Matters:

    Running Writing:

    RunnersWorld/RunningTimes (6-part series on Comrades Marathon, written in 2009 and coverage of IAAF Mountain Running Championships, 2009): https://www.runnersworld.com/author/211418/john-aerni-flessner/

    Podium Runner: https://www.podiumrunner.com/culture/the-clock-knows-you/


    African Studies Association (ASA)

    Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora (ASWAD)

    African Borderlands Research Network (ABORNE)

    Association of Concerned Scholars of Africa

    Friends of Lesotho (FOL)

    The Africa Network

    Historical Society of Greater Lansing

    John Aerni-Flessner

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