AFRICA’S URBAN PAST – CONFERENCE

ARUSHA – A TOWN OF STRANGERS
VUGHA – A HISTORICAL MISINTERBRETATATION
DAR ES SALAAM – THE PROBLEM OF THE ‘DETRIBALISED’ AFRICANS
ZANZIBAR – DYSFUNCTIONAL COLONIALISM

A conference (with almost 200 participants) entitled ‘Africa’s Urban Past’ at the London School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) from June 19 to 21 1966 was not without pungent expressions of opinion about various aspects of the Tanzanian (or Tanganyikan) experience of urban development.

Thomas Spear of the University of Wisconsin-Madison in his paper (TOWN AND COUNTRY: ARUSHA AND ITS HINTERLAND) described Arusha’s history in some detail: from its original establishment by the Maasai in the 1830’s’ through its function as the last stop for caravans in the 1860’s; the erection of the ‘boma’ by the Germans (‘it was meant to impress – it even had electricity’); and the British notion of Arusha as a ‘garden centre’ with its carefully segregated high, medium and low density residential areas; ‘the Europeans lived above and to windward of the Africans’; land was ‘seized from the African population for golf courses, tennis courts and other European social amenities’. Throughout it all the town remained resolutely divorced from its hinterland and was populated by ‘strangers’ – Colonial officers, European shop keepers, settlers, Indian merchants, Chagga, Pare, Somali and Swahili traders – relentlessly expanding at the Arusha farmers’ expense.

In what turned out to be a controversial paper (‘A HEAP OF HUTS? VUGHA AND THE NATURE OF THE KILINDI STATE) Justin Willis of the British Institute in Eastern Africa spoke about the ‘Shambaa Kingdom’, a pre-colonial polity in what is now north-eastern Tanzania. The residence of the hereditary rulers, from the Kilindi clan, was at Vugha, in the mountains of Western Usambaa; when first visited by European observers in the mid-nineteenth century, Vugha, with perhaps 3,000 inhabitants, represented an unusual concentration of population for the region. The object of Willis’ paper was to argue that the presence of such a settlement close to the normal residence of the ruler, led European observers to make certain assumptions about the Kilindi state which were mistaken. Burton had described it as a ‘heap of huts’. Kilindi had not been a centralised polity; Vugha was not the capital of the state; nor was it even a single settlement.

When Britain took over responsibility for Tanganyika from the Germans in 1919 they inherited in Dar es Salaam a situation of urban lawlessness amongst the 20,000 African population said Andrew Burton of SOAS in his paper CRIME AND COLONIAL ORDER IN DAR ES SALAAM, 1918-39. The behavioural constraints of the ‘tribal society’ no longer applied in the multi-ethnic urban environment and this lack of constraints resulted in the emergence of that bogeyman of colonial society, the ‘detribalised African’, he said. A prominent area in which colonial law clashed with African notions of legitimacy were the regulations controlling the production and consumption of alcohol. Liquor laws were rigidly enforced – they helped to reduce drunkenness and increased the reliability of the African worker. Prostitution was considered legitimate not only by the African population but also, effectively by the state; laws prohibiting it were not implemented.

The paper by William Bissell of the University of Chicago (CONSERVATION AND THE COLONIAL PAST: URBAN PLANNING, LAW AND POWER IN ZANZIBAR) consisted of a rather intemperate attack on the five urban planning documents produced there since 1919 which, the author said, had remained unimplemented. Whatever the political jurisdiction, officials had ‘repeatedly demonstrated an almost unshakable faith in the ability of a comprehensive town plan to solve all problems … the immense disparity between the bureaucratic resources, time and energy devoted to planning and its meagre results might seem astounding … but in the colonial milieu plan-making and inertia were not opposed activities, indeed they directly implied and depended upon each other.

The author went on to put the knife into colonialism – ‘parts of the plans which were actually built invariably related to the colonial economy – improvement of traffic networks and transport or port rehabilitation. At least until the revolution, pressing social needs like housing, which were often put forward as the raison d’etre of the plans, were continually postponed …… What Zanzibar reflects is the degree to-which legal contradiction, bureaucratic ineptness, official obfuscation. prolonged inaction and petty adherence to formality – all reinforced by a total lack of accountability – were powerful tools of colonial power…. The fact that this was unintentional makes it no less powerful’ – DRB.

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