Edited by John Cooper-Poole (UK) and Marion Doro (USA)
WAR IN PRE-COLONIAL EASTERN AFRICA. Richard Reid, (London: British Institute in Eastern Africa/Oxford: James Currey, 2007). Pp. xvi+256, ISBN 978-1-84701-604-1. £55.00 cloth. £16.95 paper.
This is an illuminating study that seeks to put African warfare in a more objective context than that which has prevailed since the colonial period and, to a significant degree, persists to this day. According to these dated, yet hardy, models, African warfare was usually ‘barbarous’ and had little to do with ‘civilized’ motives but everything to do with cattle-rustling and slave-raiding. ‘This was combat that lacked the soul, the aims and the complexity of ‘civilized war’ as Richard Reid puts it; ‘these were parochial and decidedly low-calibre struggles’. Furthermore, the nineteenth century European-promulgated stereotype – still with us today, as those familiar with reportage on African violence will know – portrayed these struggles as ‘irrational’ and ‘interminable’, suggesting that all Africans did was fight each other and, of course, providing one of the bedrock justifications of European rule and pax colonia. ‘The aim of this book, put simply, is to contribute to the growing refutation of these notions. The history of African warfare is perhaps the last bastion of the kind of distorted Eurocentric scholarship that characterized African studies before the 1960’s.
African warfare was neither simple nor crude, nor was it ‘unchanging’. In fact, it was a major force for social, political and economic change, sometimes associated with progress and innovation, if also with suffering. In this region, ‘statehood was often the institutionalization of violence’, in that states were built through war. When dealing with African warfare one immediately encounters terminological difficulties: what was ‘war’ as opposed to criminal activity or ‘raids’ more akin to hunting expeditions than wars? Some societies had militaristic internal structures and wars of expansion have been very important in African history. In some parts of Eastern Africa, war was inherited by rulers for whom great struggles were handed down from generation to generation. Conflict and struggle played an important role in popular memory, for example in the Ethiopian royal chronicles. War was cast as ‘righteous’, an essential function of resisting invaders. African societies often had a historical consciousness, and violence an heroic purpose. Chronicles of martial endeavour helped legitimize a state or dynasty, particularly important when European power encroached. Buganda matched Ethiopia in its ability to convince outsiders of its ‘traditional hegemony’. Mirambo of the Nyamwezi determined to historicize his violence, concerned ‘to establish a new order . . . [and] to recapture a lost unity, to reassemble a scattered people’.
A chapter on ‘tools and tactics’ considers the type and employment of weaponry across the region. Most fighting took place on foot with two notable exceptions – the use of horses in the Ethiopian region and Ganda use of war canoes on Lake Victoria. Reid concludes that the extent to which firearms marginalized indigenous weaponry has been exaggerated. Guns had a range of roles – psychological, cultural, political as well as tactical, though overall had little influence on tactics and battle order, and the ‘gun cult’ could actually impair the performance of armies in the field. African military formations made extensive use of intelligence, reconnaissance and spies. Reid considers the extent to which terrain influenced zones of expansion and the importance of controlling features such as flat-topped mountains. Many polities turned to guerrilla warfare, and ‘one of the most common strategies for the extension of political influence was involvement in neighbouring states’ civil wars and succession disputes’.
Another chapter addresses the organisation and function of African armies. Recruitment, organisation and the size of armies varied greatly across the region, as did levels of professionalism. Age-regiments were common, and in battle subordinate levels of command were particularly important. Military prowess was often embodied in the person of the leader, meaning that wars in Eastern Africa were often overtly political, with the capture or death of a ruler as a key objective. A great deal of time was spent by leaders in suppressing rebellion, or what was presented as rebellion.
In a chapter on cost and profit Reid seeks to interpret the economics of African violence, challenging the old idea that ‘war’ in Africa was little more than slave raiding. This implies that African wars before the intrusion of the outside world were petty affairs, ‘matters of mere cattle-rustling and women-stealing’. War was stimulated in a number of ways by new commercial links and the impact of Arab penetration. It could also be stimulated by the maritime horizon and the lure of the Red Sea and access to it. War also resulted from naked commercial ambitions and the desire to capture and utilise resources. In some regions, as to this day, insecurity created small-scale entrepreneurs of violence. Reid also offers an interesting perspective on what is commonly referred to today as ‘child soldiering’. Amongst some African peoples, he points out, ‘youth was a military condition, while the role of the elders was to “counterbalance the aggressive and military orientation of youth”’. Some rulers prefer youths as soldiers, and children were key targets for the slave trade. It is also clear that increased violence across the region was a key cause of urbanization as well as creating contemporary refugee crises. Urbanization was a result of heightened insecurity and influenced tactics and strategy, including the increased use of fortification and siege warfare.
Reid also highlights the fact that African societies had their own conflict prevention and conflict resolution mechanisms, too often a ‘special’ skill set reserved exclusively for the possession of Europeans. Resolution and avoidance of conflicts involved tributes and ‘surrender’, neither necessarily implying hegemony but allowing hostilities to be suspended, and diplomacy and gift-giving were constant features of inter-state relations.
In this complex and comprehensive study Richard Reid performs a remarkably valuable service to the scholarship of the region, and it is hoped that those who today have African violence and war as their professional quarry will read this book, as well as those interested in the recent history of Eastern Africa.
CHINA IN AFRICA. Chris Alden.. African Arguments. Zed Books. ISBN 9781 84277 8647. pp157. pb£12.95
This book addresses the engagement between all Africa and China but has relevance for Tanzania where, according to Alden, in 2006 there were some 20,000 Chinese residents with the Chinese government actively encouraging further emigration from China into Africa.
In the early 1960’s Mwalimu Julius Nyerere recognized the development potential of China’s example. Following this example he implemented his policy of Ujamaa, village collectivisation, which did not suit Tanzanian society and failed. Furthermore Tanzania witnessed the development of the TanZam rail link which gave employment, not to local people, but to imported Chinese labour, many of whom stayed on. A further example was the large Chinese Embassy which, when this reviewer was in Dar-es-Salaam in 1961, employed only Chinese workers.
The use of Chinese labour is explained as being due to the fact that Chinese workers are supposed to work harder than the African whose culture is inimical to hard work. The Chinese have become increasingly aware of the resentment caused among African trade unionists and other proletarians to the use of Chinese labour in preference to local labour and, in Tanzania particularly, they use local labour to work alongside Chinese labour on infrastructure projects. Alden quotes Humphrey Pole-Pole (head of Tanzania Social Forum) as giving expression to this disquiet when he said “First, Europe and America took over our big business. Now China is driving our small and medium business to bankruptcy. You don’t even contribute to employment because you bring in your own labour.”
This book favourably compares China’s development policy in Africa as having little or no conditionality unlike Western governments and NGO’s. However it makes clear that offers of status projects to leading politicians are made to facilitate the aim of securing contractual access to oil and minerals.
One thing the book shows clearly. China in Africa means China first. There is no mention in the book that China is involved in, or even interested in, African health, education or industrial training. It is good that the Tanzanian government seems aware of the old adage “Quidquid id est timeo Danaos et dona ferentes” (Angalie Wagiriki wanaozileta zawadi).
The book provides a useful overview of Chinese expansion into Africa but cannot foresee whether, post 2006, their influence and available capital will be beneficial to the much needed African development.
THE POLITICAL COST OF AIDS IN AFRICA: EVIDENCE FROM SIX COUNTRIES. Kondwani Chirambo (ed), Pretoria, Institute for Democracy in South Africa, 2008. P.408. ISBN 9781920118655. £34.95.
With an estimated 22.5 million people living with HIV and AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, there can be no doubt that the disease has profound political, social and economic implications for the region. This book focuses on the impact of HIV and AIDS on political systems and structures, arguing that whilst predictions of state-collapse are over-stated (failing to take into account the resilience of African systems), the disease is having a serious impact on political systems across the continent.
The section on Tanzania (one of seven countries studied) asserts that HIV and AIDS has imposed costs on the political system. However, this impact is varied (voter-participation, for example, does not appear to have been affected), and often hard to quantify (the loss of MPs and civil servants from HIV and AIDS does have financial costs, but perhaps more significantly it leads to a loss of experience and continuity). Whilst the Tanzania section does not present a picture of a system in crisis, it is clearly under stress as a result of HIV and AIDS.
Inevitably, some of the data is out of date (based on 2005 figures), but this does not affect the overall argument of the book. It is aimed at the specialist, rather than the generalist audience, and much of the evidence presented is suggestive, rather than conclusive. Nevertheless, this book is a valuable contribution to the study of how HIV and AIDS impacts upon politics in Africa.
PAN-AFRICANISM OR PRAGMATISM? LESSONS OF TANGANYIKA-ZANZIBAR UNION. Issa G. Shivji. Mkuki na Nyota, P.O.Box 4246, Dar es Salaam. www.Mkukinanyota.com. 2008. ISBN 978 9987 449 996. p313.
Issa Shivji’s sharp critique and sense of moral rectitude have graced Tanzanian studies for some years now. In this his latest book, he addresses the Tanganyika-Zanzibar union – delivering a detailed historical and legal analysis, book-ended by some prescient observations about the union as a pan-African project.
The central question driving his study is this: should the union be celebrated as the last surviving example of pan-Africanism in Africa? Or has it been a union of convenience, born of political pragmatism and economic necessity? In searching for answers, the author sheds light on a number of grievances still being heard today, and certainly arms the reader with the historical means to better understand why the terms of union are still a divisive political issue. Ultimately, he argues, ‘African Unity cannot be built on the foundation of narrow nationalisms’.
This is not an easy book for the casual reader. The central chapters are packed with legal explanation and historical footnotes, and as such I found myself overwhelmed at times with the attention to detail afforded by the author. Students and scholars of Zanzibari politics, however, should delight in this detail. Shivji has meticulously researched and interviewed, and the result is a dissection of union politics par excellence.
Interestingly, the author mentions that during its first ten years, the list of ‘union matters’ (i.e. outside of Zanzibar government jurisdiction) expanded from 11 to 16 items, to include ‘petroleum…hydrocarbons and natural gas’. At the time of writing, new discoveries of offshore natural gas are being announced – the sharing of revenue from these resources will be as true a test as any of remaining pan-African sentiment on the islands and the mainland.
ART IN EASTERN AFRICA. Editor: Marion Arnold. Mkuki wa Nyota. Dar-es-Salaam: 2008. H/b192 pp, colour photos. ISBN: 978-9-987-44913-2, price: £34.95; available from www.africanbookscollective.com. Paperback, school edition in East Africa, price Shs15,000 (£6.50).
In issue TA 90, a review of the East Africa Biennale EASTAFAB 2007 noted the platform for visual art in eastern Africa has expanded considerably due to initiatives like ‘Art in Tanzania’. That review about modern art, raised points that are germane to this one for a commissioned book with a wider remit: Art in Eastern Africa. The volume’s characteristics — joint authorship; synoptic format; East African-Africanist authors; inclusive concept of art — place it squarely within the ’00’s generation of scholarship: East African Contours: Reviewing Creativity and Visual Culture (2005) and the Swahili-English text Hazina: Traditions, Trade & Transitions in Eastern Africa (National Museums Kenya, 2006).
The genesis for Art in Eastern Africa is Tanzanian publisher Walter Bgoya’s commitment to visual art publications dating back to Art Handbook for Schools (TPH, 1975). Later, as director of Mkuki na Nyota Publishers, he envisioned a new series to promote “art appreciation”– how to see and how to know art, as I recall he spoke of an African version of John Berger’s classic Ways of Seeing. His first venture concerned continuities of traditions: From Ritual to Modern Art Tradition and Modernity in Tanzanian Sculpture (2001; TA review 73:2002).
A more ambitious venture Art in Eastern Africa involved four years of research between professionals in/from ten countries who identified with the project’s regional prospectus. On the book’s cover, this objective is expressed through beadwork: a Maasai ornamental collar and a new design showing Africa with the relevant countries in bold colours, symbolising the fusion of ethnicity, nation, region. A glance at the Chapter titles indicates several kinds of cultural interactions and a reduction in coverage to the East African Community and ancient Sudan. On closer reading of the Contents, five out of twelve authors were born in Tanzania, while a sixth had lived in Arusha. Their disciplines, usually multi-domain, are anthropology, archaeology, art history, design, ethnography, fine art, history, journalism, literature, museology. Over half of the book’s contents concern art in Tanzania. Seven chapters are located in regional settings, such as rock art in the Great Lakes (Ch 2), comparative aspects of Swahili art on the Indian Ocean coast (Chs 3, 4, 5), Tanzanian artists who were “Pioneer Makerere [Art School] Masters” (Ch 8) and brief references (Ch 12). In fact only one chapter, a case study of design development is specific to Tanzania (Ch 6).
I found two chapters to be exemplary essays: focused, illuminating, convincing, well-crafted. In “The Great Lakes: A Complexity of Cultural Wellsprings”, archaeology firebrand Prof Felix Chami describes and discusses the imagery he had analysed from rock art sites near Bukoba, concluding with a new hypothesis about the interpretation of non-figurative motifs. In ‘Swahili Aesthetics: Some Observations”, playwright-humanities scholar Dr Farouk Topan offers an elegant exposition about the synthesis that characterizes Swahili visual culture through examples of ‘fly wisk’ and ‘incense burner’, based upon his research in Zanzibar and Mombasa. He locates Swahili aesthetic values in an Islamic religious framework and raises points about the differences between core and national Swahili constituencies.
Two further, more than adequate chapters, are a general essay on “Swahili Culture and Art between Africa and the Indian Ocean” by museum mzee Prof Abdul Sheriff. He provides an informative and readable survey with many images photographed in situ. His focus is the distinctive domestic architecture of Lamu and Zanzibar, which is central to core Swahili identity. He does not use the opportunity to pursue Swahili responses to globalism, how these towns — and Kilwa – are managing tourism and their status as World Heritage Sites.
A different approach is taken by designer-journalist N L Merinyo in “Costume [traditional dress] design in Tanzania: an Historical Perspective and its Implications for Contemporary Design Practice”. He reports on a joint project (2001-03) with Ailinda Sawe to document ethnic traditions of dress and adornment for four pastoral communities in northern Tanzania. Their highly visual research serves as a resource for their fashion design studio Afrika Sanaa in Dar-es-Salaam. Samples of their drawings and photos trace the project’s trajectory. This study is captivating in its scope, advocacy, ‘quaint’ language and for personal reasons. My former school head Mrs Kasindi-Kamm had suggested the relevance of Afrika Sanaa, which reminded me that in the mid-1960’s Kasindi had introduced us/teachers to ‘kanga’ as fashion and also that Sawe was our graduate.
The emphasis upon Tanzania goes unexplained in the Introduction, which is disconnected from its Contents. Only 3/34 pages refer to the new knowledge in the whole book with no discussion of significant findings. There is a long literature for the region’s visual traditions which is accessible ‘virtually’ on websites and in good, local school books (in Nairobi). Regarding the ‘Select Bibliography’, check Margaret Nagawa (Ch 9) who laments the domination of modern African Art by Eurocentric and expatriate-West African author-curators. The book’s few maps have redundant information; for eastern Africa, compare Fig 0.1 p3 (? Chad) with a more useful physical map Fig 2.1, p52 yet lacking specific sites. Standard practice is to link the map and essay; in the least to provide relevant place and ethnic names. While harping on is unpleasant, Errata are numerous and should be corrected. These include misspellings for the renowned artist Elimo Njau (in two chapters) and the premier Gallery Watatu (x3). Serious omissions of acknowledgement are for Figure 3.1, p72 which is redrawn from Taj Ahmed’s fine ‘3-D sketch of a typical…’ in Ghaidan, ed. (1976) and for Ch 5, the author’s earlier publication of ‘… I am a Kanga …’ in Africa Now (1984). Ch 5 also states incorrect measurements for a standard kanga (p119). There is no Index and the pagination of the Contents is inaccurate. These flaws interfere with appreciating the outstanding efforts of the majority authors and designers who created this original, art book.
The NMK catalogue Hazina provides a clear framework for approaching eastern Africa’s visual culture while Art in Eastern Africa offers more detailed coverage of particular topics for teachers. Both are suitable for general readers and each opens many windows that show, “The way we see things is affected by what we know or what we believe” (J Berger: 1972:8).
Learning through a familiar language versus learning through a foreign language: a look into some secondary school classrooms in Tanzania. B Brocke-Utney. International Journal of Educational Development. 27, 5 (2007). 11 pages.
Skinning the goat and pulling the load: transactional sex among youth in Dar es Salaam. R K Maganja. AIDS Care. 19, 8 (2007) 8 pages.
Contemporary Catholic perspectives on Christian – Muslim Relations in sub-Saharan Africa: the case of Tanzania. L Magesa. Islam and Christian Muslim relations 18, 2. (2007) 9 pages.
An African Cuba? Britain and the Zanzibar revolution, 1964. I Speller. Journal of Human Imperial and Commonwealth History. 35, 2 (2007). 19 pages.
Wearing Ilkarash: narratives of image, identity and change among Maasai labour migrants in Tanzania. A May and F N O Ikayo. Development and Change. 38 -2007