Edited by John Cooper-Poole (UK) and Marion Doro (USA)
THE KARIMJEE JIVANJEE FAMILY : MERCHANT PRINCES OF EAST AFRICA 1800-2000. Gijsbert Oonk, Pallas Publications, Amsterdam University Press 2009. ISBN 978 90 8555 0273. Distributed in the UK by Africa Book Centre Ltd, Brighton [e-mail orders : firstname.lastname@example.org] £45
In many ways the modern economy of Tanzania was built by the Asian immigrants who arrived from the west coast of India over a period of four hundred years, albeit with a huge influx from the late 19th century. There are only a very limited number of accounts of this story, and even fewer which focus on the history of one successful extended family. Dr GijsbertGristant Oonk of Erasmus the University, of Rotterdam has told the story of the Karimjee Jivanjee family of Zanzibar and Tanzania , in an intriguing book (which a fascinating array of photographs from the mid nineteenth century onwards) published by Amsterdamhis University Press. .Oonk is a broader historian of Indian migration to Africa and so is able to place this remarkable saga in context.
Buddhaboy Noormuhamed of Mandvi, GujaratGujaratManvi, Gujurat sent his son Jivanjee to Zanzibar where he opened his first shop in 1818, initiating a series of businesses in Zanzibar and the mainland based on the export of commodities and the import of key industrial and consumer goods. These were extremely productive and profitable and are unique in having survived in various forms to this day. Critical forward looking decisions included the acquisition in the early twentieth century of agencies from all over the then industrialised world, an early investment in the sisal industry, followed by tea and coffee and then tea, the establishment of a motor car distribution business by 1927, and in a new tourist camp in the Serengeti in the late 1990s. The leading members of the family played business, political and charitable roles throughput the twentieth century and continue to do so.
There are some important special characteristics of this saga. First, the Karimjees emanate from the close knit GuajaratiGujurati speaking Bhora community, a Shiashia group with intense community supporting bonds – a critical factor when the founder’s younger brother lost a whole cargo en route from India in the 1860s. Second, by the early twentieth century, the leading family members were unusually internationalist in their perspective, travelling regularly to Europe and in the case of Sir Yusufali Karimjee to Japan where in the 1930s he married Katsuko Enomoto. Thirdly, whilst the majority of new initiatives have been successful, they have been entered more on the basis of intuition than detailed planning. For instance, the move into sisal was triggered by a walk shared by Sir Yusufali Karimjee and a Greek plantation owner in Dar es Salaam in 1921. Fourthly, neither the Zanzibar Revolution of 1964, nor the property nationalisations on the mainland in 1971 persuaded the family to abandon Tanzania. Although many members left at that time, three remained to husband the motor business and the agricultural estates. This placed the family in a strong position when the Tanzanian economy was liberalised in the late 1980s.
Alongside this commercial success several family members have contributed both to political progress and to major charitable projects. In the colonial politics of Zanzibar, Tayabali Karimjee and Yusufali Karimjee fought very effectively against commercial decisions which negatively affected the Indian community, particularly in relation to the cloves business. Later they werehe was the main donorsdonor to the Tanzania National Library and to the Faculty of Arts at the new University of Dar es salaam. In the 1950s, AbdulkarimAbdul Karim Karimjee played a significant part in early nationalist politics and organised the huge donation by the family of the Karimjee Hall [where Tanzania’s National Assembly met recurrently until the early 21st century], and a major donation to the University of Dar es Salaam in its earliest years. Tayabali Karimjee funded Zanzibar’s main hospital [ironically renamed the V.I. Lenin hospital for more than thirty years] which continues to be the main medical facility on the island.
In a conversation with this reviewer President Nyerere opined that the Karimjees would never leave Tanzania. This book explains just why that may be true, and at the same time will be a valuable resource to any student of Tanzanian economic and social history.
THE CRITICAL PHASE IN TANZANIA 1945-1968, by Cranford Pratt, Cambridge University Press, digitally printed version 2009 (originally published 1976), Cambridge ISBN 978-0-521-11072-3. £24.99.
When Tanzania is rife with accounts of corruption in high places, it is not surprising that there has been a revival of interest in the incorruptible first President, Julius Nyerere, especially amongst young political activists in Tanzania. One such described Nyerere’s legacy as “generating passionate public debate aimed at bringing positive social and economic change” (Chambi Chachage in Pambazuka 452, 2009). A newly founded Chair – the Mwalimu Nyerere Professorship of Pan-African Studies has been awarded to Issa Shivji, author of the critical account, Class Struggles in Tanzania in the 1970s. The Mwalimu Nyerere Foundation’s tenth anniversary of Nyerere’s death, held in Dar es Salaam last year, was an enormous success in attracting a large and lively audience and many young people.
Hence the publication of what seemed like a new study of crucial years in Nyerere’s life as President – those immediately preceding and following independence, seemed promising. Sadly Pratt’s book is a reprint from 1976 which seems to have been reproduced by Cambridge University Press as a “digitally printed version” (complete with American spellings and occasional errors) simply because it could be done. It is disconcerting to find the present tense being used to reflect on the potential of a leader dead for a decade. Whilst it is instructive to look at Pratt’s views of this period, this book demanded an introduction, framing the debate about the events of the time and their aftermath and explaining why it is pertinent to re-issue it now.
In view of the above it is unfair to point out that Pratt has not responded to later work, such as that of Susan Geiger on the emergence of TANU as a political party, or critical or more measured accounts such as those of Yeager or Coulson, and the vast output of reflection on Nyerere’s leadership, which continues. What is amazing is the sheer ferment of analysis and critique that did go on in the decade following Tanzania’s independence which is covered here. Pratt refers to work by Cliffe, Saul, Arrighi, Ngombale-Mwiru, Shivji, Rweyemamu and many others published in the early seventies, though he distances himself from what he calls ‘Marxian scholarship’.
Pratt is clearly a fan of Nyerere’s and sometimes eulogises his contribution. He also describes him throughout as a ‘socialist’ and sees Tanzania as heading in a socialist direction, though frequently having to qualify that label. At the heart of Nyerere’s conception of socialism was a deep commitment to equality and to a form of African communitarianism; he was no Marxist. What is exceptional about this book and makes it well-worth reading even now, is the spotlight it puts on the struggle between vision and reality in the struggle to establish a nation state. We talk glibly of independence, and yet Tanzania came to this momentous moment with hardly any personnel capable of running a country or delivering public services, still reliant on colonial civil servants, with minimal industrial development and the mass of the population dependent on subsistence agriculture. As Pratt shows, in the first few years the government’s hold on power was precarious, with very little capacity to enact change. At one point Nyerere had to be rescued by the British from a coup attempt by army discontents.
Expectations were also impossibly high, though Nyerere always had a groundswell of popular support from which he was able to pull off quite audacious political acts. One of these was his welcome to African liberation movements (especially the ANC) to locate themselves in Tanzania and his active advocacy of pan-Africanism. Another was his willingness to forgo foreign aid on matters of principle, despite Tanzania’s dependence, and to accept aid from China and East European socialist countries. He intervened in the revolutionary turmoil of the newly independent Zanzibar and manoeuvred a union of the two countries which has continued to cause difficulties. But he also took a constitutional stand on ensuring that racial minorities in Tanzania enjoyed equality with African citizens – a position that was understandably unpopular, given the privileged socioeconomic position which these minorities had enjoyed in the past. Conversely he inveighed from the beginning against class privilege, ‘parasitism’ and the danger of entrenched income and wealth differentials; as well as for self-reliance and open debate. He brought the party (the Tanganyikan African National Union, TANU) very centrally into the decision making and policy formulation process and shifted within a few years to espousing a one-party state, whilst establishing democratic safeguards and a functioning National Assembly. Pratt’s account of the process whereby democratic freedoms were defined as incorporating one-party rule but the exclusion of other organised political elements (the unions and the cooperative movement were soon incorporated into the state) is an instructive one. Pratt shows how this culminated in the promulgation of the Arusha Declaration of 1967 (only six tumultuous years after independence) in which a socialism of self-reliance and planned transformation of rural production was combined with a nationalisation of the commanding heights of Tanzania’s economy (a few foreign-owned banks and processing industries).
The focus of this book is on Nyerere, but Pratt is aware that, to adapt Marx, leaders ‘make history, but not under conditions of their own choosing’. Nyerere was a remarkable, even a unique leader, a man of vision and restless intelligence, an exceptional communicator with ordinary people, fired by an optimism of the will, constantly seeking to solve problems. This is well-illustrated here. But he was faced by a universe of enormous challenges and difficulties which could not be moved by one man alone or simply through exhortation. Nyerere could not have achieved what he did without popular and party support, or expedient alliances abroad, though there is no denying the effort and intelligence he put into manoeuvring and sustaining these relationships. Pratt’s focus on the leader leads him to be fairly vague about rural transformation or the problems entailing in transforming a dependent economy at the mercy of the world’s markets. And the book comes to an end just as the scene is set for the contradictions and dilemmas to test Nyerere’s vision of Tanzanian socialism to its limit.
“BIOFUELS, LAND ACCESS, AND RURAL LIVELIHOODS IN TANZANIA”, Emmanuele Sulle and Fred Nelson
International Institute for Environment & Development. ISBN 978 1 843 69 749 7.
In Africa, many non-food crops are grown on agricultural land, but rarely has there been the opposition that we see for biofuels. If you want to understand why biofuels in Africa is such a difficult area, why opinions run strong on both sides of the debate, this book offers a well-balanced perspective and is a good place to start. As the book makes clear, biofuels in Tanzania are complicated because land is complicated. Customary laws and state centralized land administration overlap, secondary rights of pastoralists and women often disappear as property rights are formalized or transferred. When the pace of change is slow institutions may adapt, but in Tanzania 4 million hectares of land have already been requested for biofuel investment (though in reality little has been granted yet), with individual requests as large as 400,000 hectares. This book covers much ground in just 64 pages of text, and so must by definition cover some areas in less detail than the reader might want. But into this small book the authors have packed rigorous research and useful and detailed information on the current state of investments in biofuels in Tanzania, the different modalities of biofuel production, and very detailed and nuanced chapters on land access and acquisition. As is the case for many agro-processing industries, the choice is often between large plantations which allow companies more control over quantity, quality, and price of inputs; and outgrower and contract farming which offer less control but more opportunities for rural communities. In Tanzania, added complications of possible permanent loss of village customary land rights, loss of access to forest resources and grazing lands, and loss of miombo woodlands, make the authors, with good reason, wary of large-scale transfers of land for biofuels. Although I prefer not to read private sector investments described as “projects”, or of villagers “giving” land to biofuel companies, such linguistic differences do not detract from an important book in a fast-moving and still under-documented area.
Elizabeth J. Z. Robinson