by Martin Walsh
MOBILIZING ZANZIBARI WOMEN: THE STRUGGLE FOR RESPECTABILITY AND SELF-RELIANCE IN COLONIAL EAST AFRICA. Corrie Decker. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2014. xiv + 254 pp. (hardback). ISBN 978-1-137-46529-0. £62.50.
Those familiar with Decker’s earlier publications will know the rich oral history she has accumulated through extensive research with women of various generations in Zanzibar. This book builds upon her previous work to present a thorough investigation into the development of women’s education and professionalisation in 1920s and 1930s Zanzibar and the emerging significance of women within the public sphere in the post-war and late colonial period.
Central to the argument is an exposition of the processes by which women, and female teachers and professionals in particular, shaped prevailing notions of heshima (respectability) in the early colonial period into what was by the post-war period ‘a symbol of the publicly active, self-reliant, middle-class professional women’ (p. 2). Women’s literacy was a key element in their manipulation of heshima. That many Zanzibaris describe the late colonial period as the time of maendeleo ya wanawake (women’s development) underscores the indispensability of women’s education and professionalisation to more general social and economic development the 1950s and 1960s. Decker uses the term ‘self-reliance’ to encapsulate the Swahili concepts of faida and nafuu (benefit or profit) and other factors to describe ‘the goals – economic and social, individual and communal – that professional women set out for themselves and their families’ (p. 13). Women’s mobility and action is contrasted throughout the book with the attempted ‘mobilization’ of women in male-authored discourses, including those by the colonial government, elite Arab figures and nationalists.
The decision by the colonial government to support women’s education in the late 1920s was related to the drive to improve standards of living. Although the colonial government sought ‘to produce “good wives and mothers” not professional women’ (p. 80), generations of educated women delayed marriage to continue to work as teachers or nurses. Decker demonstrates that this was far from a top-down movement – aspirant scholars and educated women reshaped notions of heshima to gain greater social and economic freedom. Furthermore they were essential mediators who established acceptable methods for disseminating colonial policies, such as those related to health, which were often seen as invasive interventions into the domestic sphere.
These insights into the domestic alongside the official make this a particularly engaging study, as Decker interweaves of archival records and oral history. Although these sources are used in tandem throughout, each chapter has a penultimate section focusing upon an individual whose experiences provide a personal perspective on key issues. As such we learn of the diverse outcomes of women who through education gained greater ‘self-reliance’ and also the ways in which they articulate these memories. These narratives elucidate how such women negotiated the public and private sphere – we cannot understand their professional experiences without also locating them in the domestic setting as daughters, sisters and mothers.
This book is vital reading for scholars of 20th century Zanzibar, and education and development in the global perspective. Decker’s final point clearly demonstrates the wider significance of this work. Evident in her interviews with men and women was the ‘refusal by women to see explicit political gains or losses as the only lens through which to understand their history. Instead they highlighted the continuities in women’s education and work between the colonial and postcolonial period as the message to take away from our conversations.’ (p. 161). Such fresh perspectives, which occur throughout the book, challenge the prevailing histories of colonial, revolutionary and post-colonial period in Zanzibar and as such the book makes a vibrant and important contribution to scholarship on East Africa and beyond.
Sarah Longair is currently a Leverhulme Research Fellow at the British Museum, where she has worked for 10 years. Her research explores British colonial history in East Africa and the Indian Ocean world through material and visual culture. Her monograph, Cracks in the Dome: Fractured Histories of Empire in the Zanzibar Museum, 1897–1964, will be released in August 2015. She has also published several book chapters, articles and edited volumes, including Curating Empire: Museums and the British Imperial Experience (2012), co-edited with John McAleer.
GROWING UP WITH TANZANIA: Memories, Musing and Maths. Karim F. Hirji. Mkuki Na Nyota, Dar es salaam, 2014. 302 pp. (paperback). ISBN 978-9987-08-223-0. Available from African Books Collective, £17.95.
Karim Hirji grew up during the dramatic years before and after independence. He is an Ismaili whose parents came from the Indian subcontinent and this memoir provides a rare view of how Indians made the future Tanzania their home. Hirji begins by depicting provincial life in Lindi during British colonial rule where many Asians of different communities were engaged in trade and commerce, and he reflects on the hierarchical relationship between the colonial rulers, the Indians and the Africans. The family moved to Dar es Salaam when he was in his teens in 1961. The Ismaili community were mainly living in Upanga where their Jama’at Khana (mosque) was located and he describes playing cricket and attending the Aga Khan Boys’ school. This is when Hirji fell in love with numbers, anticipating his later life as a professor of mathematics in the US. The memoir is sprinkled with mathematical concepts, presented in a thoughtful but fun way (readers who are not mathematically inclined can readily skip these pages: they are not essential to the story).
Hirji went to Dar Technical College for his secondary education and found himself in an environment where the majority of students were Africans. This had a transforming effect on his outlook, and he began to see himself as ‘a member of an emergent nation unified and guided by a noble leader’. During this period he attended a ‘nation-building’ camp at Kinondoni for a month, where the majority of students were again African. At that time not many Asians were exposed to the wider world because they tended to remain segregated within their own communities. His discovery of mathematics led him to move next to a boarding school at Kibaha to complete his schooling. Ujamaa was in full swing and all school leavers had to do national service prior to going to university. Hirji attended Ruvu camp for six months and during this period he reflected further on social and racial equality.
This was a challenging time for Asians in the country, and they did not always perceive the transition from colonial rule as positive. Hirji manages to capture how many of his friends reacted to these changes. Asians had come from India to Africa under the umbrella of British colonial power, and cultural separation from the local population was embedded in their mindset. Africanisation in the 1970s led to the mass exodus of many Asians because they felt insecure. The nationalisation of property after the Arusha Declaration led the Aga Khan to negotiate with the Canadian government to allow the Ismaili community to leave Tanzania and resettle in Canada. Hirji captures the early euphoria before nationalisation and reflects thoughtfully on its consequences. He notes that many of his family and friends (of Indian origin) are scattered all over the globe, including in the US, Canada and England. He himself spent 20 years in academia in the US, but does not reveal how this came about.
This memoir is very much a personal journey seen from the eyes of an Asian growing up in Tanganyika/Tanzania during a period of great change. It provides a rare glimpse of the Ismaili community and its cohesiveness. The Aga Khan has played a fundamental role in directing the life of its followers and there is no doubt that Hirji is very much a product of that community. There is much to recommend his account, particularly his musings on education and mathematics.
Shamshad Cockcroft grew up in Zanzibar and is a professor of Cell Physiology at University College London.
The Development State: Aid, Culture and Civil Society in Tanzania. Maia Green. James Currey, Woodbridge, 2014. xi + 227 pp. (paperback). ISBN 978-1-84701-108-4. £19.99.
Readers familiar with Tanzania will find much of interest and much to ponder in this book. Tanzanian development and development politics has a long, rich tradition from the socialist policies and experiments of the Nyerere years to the changes heralded by structural adjustment and beyond. Notwithstanding some excellent historical work, there have been very few book-length studies of development in Tanzania in recent years. For this reason Maia Green, a social anthropologist with considerable knowledge of contemporary Tanzania, is well placed to write a comprehensive study.
The Development State comprises an introduction, eight chapters (all but one previously published) and a conclusion. The introduction sets out her general approach, which focuses on the effects of neoliberal development on forms of governance. This donor-driven ‘discourse’ legitimises and supports a very specific agenda of trade liberalisation, macro-economic stability and fiscal discipline. It has important consequences for developing countries like Tanzania: aid relationships are framed in the language of partnership and local ownership, which in turn are underpinned by limited forms of donor support in the expectation that a state will empower its citizens to achieve development. This is a world away from the 1970s when the state was the political actor which defined and implemented development.
Green argues that Tanzanians have, for a variety of reasons, come to accept and pursue a neoliberal vision of development even though this has delivered very little for the majority of citizens. In Chapter 1 she defines ‘development states as those that are materially and ideologically sustained through development relations’ (p. 15). That Tanzania is such a state is reinforced by her view of the history of development from the British mandate to the present. Chapter 2 looks at the ‘participatory’ rhetoric which has dominated Tanzanian development from the 1990s, and argues that participatory planning is the form through which development is organised at all levels. Chapter 3 examines the ubiquitous planning workshops that rely on logical frameworks and participatory methods to identify and agree ‘manageable projects’. In the next chapter Green critiques notions of participation, which, she argues, is a tool ‘to enrol divergent interests’ into supporting a common enterprise.
While Green states that there is little evidence that participation delivers real benefits, she does not ask why Tanzanians fail to question this way of thinking and pursuing development. Subsequent chapters focus on civil society actors who claim to represent local ‘communities’ to ‘anticipate development’, obtain funding and become development agents. Green argues that this process creates inequalities because these people, who have tenuous links to communities, are in fact ‘privatising development’ even as they attempt to enrol local people into a project through workshops aimed at ‘capacity building’.
Chapter 7 provides a fascinating account of ‘anti-witchcraft services’ which, Green argues, are modelled on modern, neoliberal forms of governance and service delivery. Chapter 8 examines the cultural logic of neoliberal development for Tanzanians, by which she means the small urban-based middle class. This class is largely the product of policies which created and maintains the public sector; in Green’s view it is parasitic in that its access to education, modern housing, IT technology and modern forms of consumption are underpinned by exploitative arrangements with poor rural households. Green concludes, rather unsatisfactorily, that the state has prioritised forms of development which promote the capitalist transformation of the economy (which will benefit very few Tanzanians), while using participatory planning to reinforce the message that ordinary citizens are responsible for their own development.
This book is problematic for several reasons. The various chapters do not fit together to provide a coherent analysis of development, and despite the book’s claim to speak about the whole of Tanzania, Green’s research and analysis is largely focused on Morogoro region. While her insights are interesting, we learn very little about how ordinary Tanzanians participate in or experience development. Finally, the terms and language used by the author make the book difficult to read and her arguments hard to comprehend. Her focus on ‘discourse’ obscures an understanding of the complex social and political relations and networks that underpin development, the diversity of actors and institutions with an interest in development, and, critically, what two decades of pursuing neoliberal development policy has or has not delivered.
John R. Campbell
John R. Campbell taught sociology in the University of Dar es Salaam in 1980-84, following which he worked at the University of Wales, Swansea, where he was involved in development in Ethiopia, Botswana, and Kenya. In 2000 he joined the anthropology department in the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.