Edited by John Cooper-Poole
BODIES, POLITICS AND AFRICAN HEALING: THE MATTER OF MALADIES IN TANZANIA, Stacey A. Langwick. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, November 2010. 304 pp. ISBN 9780253222459 £16.99
Langwick’s rich ethnographic analysis of ‘traditional’ healing in South-Eastern Tanzania depicts a terrain of “ontological politics” where post-colonial contestations over the “matter” of healing reveal clefts of power as healers and oth¬ers engage in struggles to determine objects of therapy and sites of expertise. Theoretically influenced by anthropological and historical studies of African medicine, Science and Technology Studies, and critical post-colonial scholarship, Langwick’s account renders ‘traditional’ medicine a distinctly ‘modern’ category. Langwick draws a picture of ‘traditional’ medicine which is (in)formed as much by Tanzania’s colonial and postcolonial history, as by its relationships to ‘biomedicine’ and ‘witchcraft’, and through meetings between patients, healers and nonhuman actors such as mashetani and majini, who “climb upon the heads” of healers and engage them in relationships of therapy.
The first part of the book deals with the way in which the boundaries around the category ‘traditional medicine’ emerged and stabilised through the colonial and post-colonial periods. The second part focuses in detail upon the practices of healers who have been labelled as ‘traditional’ within the categorisation set out in the first section. The focus here is on the healing techniques of con¬trasting types of healers; including the predominately male faraki healers who use a range of techniques glossed locally as “medicine of the book”, and the predominately female healers whose “medicine of the bush” produces a healing potentiality located primarily in the power of the healer and her relations with nonhumans, rather than in the material properties of particular herbs. In the third section, Langwick looks in more detail at the intersections, gaps and frictions created through the juxtapositions of different forms of healing by focusing upon the ways in which the divergent therapeutic practices employed in this region bring objects of therapeutic intervention into being.
Although the blurb on the back cover describes the book as an examination of “African healing and its relationship to medical science”, Langwick’s analysis points towards the denial such a bifurcation in simple, unproblematic terms. ‘Traditional’ medicine as described by Langwick is a category partly defined by global connections, meetings and translations, for example in the movements of young medical students from Tanzania to China, and back, and in the jour¬neys of Chinese entrepreneurs to Tanzania. Later, she describes how normative understandings of ‘African communities’ and ‘traditional midwifery’ underpin¬ning WHO recommendations and ensuing interventions of the Tanzanian state were central to the configuration of an interpellation within which some women positioned themselves in a new hybrid role, the “Traditional Birth Attendant”. This category, Langwick maintains, did not exist prior to the development of these international interventions. These global connections undermine an easy alliance between the categories local/African/traditional which can be positioned against a globalised biomedicine.
The intimate and detailed descriptions of healing practices in this book form valuable ethnographic artefacts in and of themselves. However, it is in her analysis of the intersections between divergent therapeutic practices and the enactment of therapeutic objects that Langwick makes her most important contributions. Although the reader is left with the sense that Langwick’s research relationships to her ‘biomedical’ informants lacked the depth and intensity of those she formed with ‘traditional’ healers, she nevertheless presents a well-argued account of biomedicine as much more than a mere foil to ‘traditional’ medicine. For example, we see how biomedicine, too, “matters” through its locatedness when Langwick describes nurses who recommend ‘traditional’ healing to patients for whom biomedical treatments do not appear effective, or when ‘traditional’ healers “close” the body as a precursor to biomedical treatment for malaria. In her attempt to move beyond pluralism as a way of understanding African healing, Langwick resituates relationships between symptoms, diagnosis and treatment by reconfiguring these as entities which emerge through therapeutic practice. Langwick shows how this emergence creates a politics of therapeutic knowledge where practices do not fall easily into fixed categories, but are employed across existing matrices of power in ongoing attempts to delineate ways of knowing and intervening upon the world.
TANZANIA IN TRANSITION: FROM NYERERE TO MKAPA. Kjell Havnevik and Aida Isinika (eds), pub Mkuki wa Nyota, Dar es Salaam, 2010
Between Nyerere, the first President and founding father of Tanzania, and Mkapa, its first President under multiparty democracy, there was a major shift in policy, from socialism as political rhetoric and socioeconomic reconfiguration, to the embrace of neoliberalism and the International Financial Institutions (IFIs). This shift began before Mkapa took office and continued after he handed over to Kikwete in 2010, so he cannot be associated with this phase in Tanzania’s ‘transition’ as the title of this book implies. Nor do the editors want to claim neoliberalism itself as a progressive ‘transformational outcome’ of ‘transition’. Rather they reach for a broader definition of ‘transition’ which includes ‘genuine participation of citizens’ and the ‘creation of space for human agency’. They are equivocal as to whether any such ‘transition’ has taken place, and do not identify Mkapa as its champion. The title thus sets up an incoherent subject, and operates more as a research question than as a statement.
The articles that follow focus on various aspects of Tanzania’s changing political economy – its reliance on foreign aid, corruption, agrarian transformations and the implementation of multi-party democracy. Disappointingly, it has no analysis of Tanzania’s attempts to industrialise. In a rather uneven collection, and marred by poor editing, it contains some very useful overviews of development in the political economy as well as delivering a strong dose of realism about Tanzania’s limited progress towards limiting poverty or extending political participation. It is very useful to be reminded of the contradiction between Tanzania’s socialist call for ‘self-reliance’ and its heavy and continuing dependence on foreign aid, amounting at times to half the budget of the state. Simensen’s telling account illustrates the extent to which ‘socialism’ was funded by external backers, especially from Scandinavia, who in a period of economic collapse in the late 1970s were then able to put pressure on Tanzania to accept IMF terms of neoliberal economic reform as the condition for con¬tinuing aid.
Bryceson, Skarstein and other authors look at the checkered career of agrarian socialism as the cornerstone of Nyerere’s policies. On the one hand, agrarian livelihoods are still foundational and ‘agriculture provides a vital subsistence fallback for the poor and a common cultural frame of reference’. But collective production long ago fell by the way-side and the buffeting of world markets and withdrawal of state subsidies have forced peasants to look for non-agricultural incomes and wage labour to supplement farming. And land has become a commodity, albeit largely outside the formal system of registration. Additionally, gold mining (with its ‘exploitative labour practices’, in Bryceson’s terms) now contributes more to exports than Tanzania’s traditional cash crops. Bryceson offers some rich ethnography drawn from two villages, whilst Skarstein, in an excellent and informative piece, concludes that economic liberalisation has had a negative impact on food grain production and productivity and that real returns to peasant producers have declined. Deriding the promise of economic liberalisation, he calls for the reinstatement of an ‘accountable and determined developmental state’ willing to intervene in the agricultural sector. Isinika and Mutabazi’s chapter on land conflicts brings a welcome gender dimension, showing that women have begun to assert rights allocated to them both under customary law (which retains a strong place in Tanzanian legal system) and statutory law (which has extended additional rights to women over time). Sadly, many women are unaware of their rights at the same time as population growth has rendered land scarcity and resultant conflicts more common. A few more detailed case histories of court proceedings would have added more depth to these conclusions. A bleak picture is painted of the forestry sector by Monela and Abdallah, with degradation of the forest reserves and limited success of sustainable management initiatives. However commercial and especially illegal logging barely figured in this account, which was unexpected – as well as a bid for yet more donor aid to make forestry successful. Wangwe’s chapter, though heavy on the acronyms, concludes with a significant point: that deepening aid dependence is not sustainable for Tanzania and that ‘an exit strategy should be part of the dialogue between development partners and government’. How this might be achieved is left vague, however, given the ‘rent-seeking’ tendencies of corrupt state officials. Cooksey provides a schematic account of grand and petty corruption which shows that this tendency has not been stemmed by Mkapa’s claim to end corruption. Several authors note the lack of judicial proceedings brought against perpetrators. Finally, in a careful and comprehensive account, Ewald looks at the interaction between economic policies and the democratisation process, noting the limited level of political participation belied by a rhetoric of citizenship. ‘Poverty’ is still pervasive, despite a plethora of poverty eradication strategies and initiatives. It is worth noting that relative poverty is integral to capitalist development (which requires exploitation of the many to extract a surplus for the few) – and Ewald notes the political questions raised: ‘how long can the majority of the people endure a situation of little economic progress and poverty?’ They endure because the majority are still content with small advances in their conditions of life and unwilling to vote out the party – the Chama cha Mapinduzi – which has at least delivered peace and stability to Tanzania, resting on Nyerere’s inspirational legacy. No other party has been able effectively to challenge CCM, which is of course in a position to muzzle or interrupt challenging voices.
This book is a useful antidote to uncritical claims that Tanzania, with its currently high growth rates and adherence to programmes of structural reform sponsored by the IFIs, has become a model for other developing countries to emulate. It sets out candidly the gap between this model and the kind of society that Nyerere had in mind – independent, relatively egalitarian and non-exploitative, but it also allows for analysis of the very real barriers that lay in the way of achieving such a ‘transformational outcome’.
This review also appears in the Review of African Political Economy
TALES OF ABUNWAS AND OTHER STORIES. Suzi Barned-Lewis. ISBN 9789987080434. Available from African Books Collective. £15.95.
Reviewed by the pupils aged 7-11 at Taliesin Junior School, Shotton, Deeside. The Headmistress read the story of ‘How the turtle got his shell’ to the school this morning. All the children enjoyed this story and especially liked discussing the message behind the story. A number of the children related this story to other proverbs they knew. On discussing the book with other members of staff they commented that a number of the stories were exciting and entertaining but some were over complicated and would be suited for the older child. The stories vary in length and some were a little too long to hold the concentration of some of the younger children. The pictures were fantastic, bright, colourful and stimulating for some art work.
AFRICA’S ODIOUS DEBTS, by Leonce Ndikumana and James K Boyce. Zed Books, London and New York, 2011. xiv + 135 pages. Paperback £12.99, hardback £60.00.
Tanzania has few mentions in the text of this academic book which is, on balance, good as the publication deals primarily with the negatives of the continent as regards debt, outflow of funds by capital flight, round-tripping or money laundering, and downright fraud. The book is essentially a study of 33 African countries for which basic figures are available, by two professors of economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, the first-named in the summary above hailing from Burundi.
Some tables put Tanzania in a good light. Though external debt of US$5.9bn is 29% of GDP, compared with Kenya’s 22% and Uganda’s 17%, the authors’ estimate of capital flight from Tanzania is put at $6.7bn as of 2008, compared with $7.1bn from Kenya, $13.9bn from Uganda and monumental levels of $71.5bn from Angola and $296bn from Nigeria! Tanzania’s infant mortality is less than the continent’s average, even though public health expenditure per capita is likewise less than average. Success in reducing deaths from malaria by some 50% in Tanzania, and some other countries, is an indicator of properly invested funds.
Published in Zed Books’ African Arguments series, the book’s thrust, however, is at linking debt, and hence the cost of servicing that debt, with capital flight in all its definitions, and in drawing attention principally to the huge levels of odious debt. This term, first coined in 1927, has some protection in international law but the authors maintain that more could be done, to the betterment of populations. Not the easiest book to read, given its academic and painstaking approach, but some countries suffering under high debt servicing costs could at least consider the options laid out.
BETWEEN SOCIAL SKILLS AND MARKETABLE SKILLS: THE POLITICS OF ISLAMIC EDUCATION IN 20TH CENTURY ZANZIBAR. Roman Loimeier. Leiden: Brill, 2009 (xxxi + 643 pp.). ISBN 9789004175426. 199Euro, US$ 295.
This is an enormously useful, scholarly and at times engrossing book that synthesises a great deal of hard-to-access published sources, such as locally-published biographies of Zanzibari scholars, with findings from British and Zanzibari archives. As the length of the tome indicates, it is very clearly in the continental tradition, in the sense that it intersperses its arguments with long narrative passages, including summary biographies of a number of scholars.
Nevertheless, some important points emerge quite clearly. There is, firstly, Zanzibar’s pre-colonial legacy as a maritime location of ‘peripheral’ (in Michael Lambeck’s phrase) Islam: a place where Islamic education was valued greatly and at the same time perceived as a scarce good in need of fostering and protection. This view conditioned a great deal of concern among scholars about any attempt to legislate on education. Still, to varying extents all branches of Islamic scholarship, rational as well as revealed, from Quran recitation to legal interpretation, were being taught. Next, there is the ambivalent influence of colonial policy on Islamic education in Zanzibar. British officials felt that they did not really know what they were dealing with and were sceptical of the value of established educational methods. They sought to ‘modernise’, but to do so with the approval of the Sultan and the scholarly establishment.
This was not made easier by the fact that the networks of scholars in Zanzibar were quite diverse, with ‘Alawi, Qadi ri, Salafi, Ibadhi and Shi’i scholars from a number of ethnic backgrounds. In effect, officials had no choice but to, in some sense, choose sides by cooperating with certain individuals, without being quite aware what the sides they chose stood for to the minds of Zanzibaris. Moreover, they did not control the way Zanzibaris perceived British officials and their policy. As is documented also for other parts of colonial Africa (most prominently in Louis Brenner’s study on Mali), forms of schooling that escaped community control were viewed with a great deal of concern, as potentially failing to instil essential moral values. Ultimately, the Islamic schooling provided was more limited and less carefully thought through than either the British or the Zanzibaris involved would have wanted, if in different ways. Although Loimeier carefully sets out the political context of late colonialism, he does not always explicate the political and increasingly racialised subtexts of different interest groups’ stances on education and community politics. To complete the picture, his book would profit from being read alongside Jonathon Glassman’s War of words, war of stones.
That this era of colonial schooling is today sometimes remembered with nostalgia is indicative of a further point: the massive impact of the 1964 revolution and its aftermath. Here, in particular, Loimeier documents processes which so far were accessible only through oral sources and guesswork. What becomes clear is that the marginalisation of religious education during the first couple of decades after the revolution was not merely an effect of the move into exile of numbers of scholars and a general attenuation of religious life, but the object of explicit government policy. Although this policy is no longer in place, it has not been possible to restore the status quo ante; textbooks have been simplified and content has changed. Nor would Zanzibaris necessarily want a previous state restored: one of the ramifications of the marginalisation of Islamic education in the early years of the revolution has been a raised interest in scholarship that positions itself explicitly as purist and fresh from the Arab centres of Islam.
BIOFUELS, LAND GRABBING AND FOOD SECURITY IN AFRICA. Ed. Prosper Matondi, Kjell Havnevik and Atakilte Beyene. Zed Books in association with Nordic Africa Institute. 2011. ISBN 978 84813 878 0. p/b. pp230
All too often the debate over large scale foreign direct investment in agriculture in African countries tends to focus on what is increasingly referred to as “land grabbing”. So when a book title sandwiches “land grabbing” between biofuels and fuel security I am not surprised but perhaps somewhat frustrated that this pejorative term is now being used as a “useful and generic concept which (the editors) define to include exploration, negotiations, acquisitions or leasing, settlement and exploitation of the land resource, specifically to obtain energy and food security through export to investors’ countries and other markets”. The title notwithstanding, this is an important book that brings to the “land grabbing” and biofuels debate detailed case studies from many countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
Chapter 6 provides interesting insights into what really goes on when a foreign company attempts to invest in large-scale land acquisitions. In painstaking detail the authors explore how the compulsory environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) was undertaken when SEKAB, a Swedish company was looking to invest in biofuel production in Tanzania. The chapter focuses on the process of anticipating the environmental consequences of the planned biofuel investments, and in doing so it provides an account of why large-scale land acquisitions and the requisite demands on water for irrigation are so tricky in many sub-Saharan African countries. A key issue in Tanzania and elsewhere is conflicting demand over natural resources that provide multiple “ecosystem services”, combined with complicated overlapping land institutions. The authors focus both on the many imperfections of the process of undertaking the ESIA, and the flaws of the proposed investment, which appeared to involve converting important miombo forests, over-exploiting water resources, and dispossessing smallholder farmers. Given that SEKAB is a Swedish municipal company, we are left wondering about their side of the story. From SEKAB’s perspective why did their intended investment in Tanzania go so wrong? Can large-scale foreign investments in biofuels, or agricultural crops in general, ever work in Tanzania, and if so, what lessons have been learnt from the SEKAB experience? These questions remain unanswered.