- Notes from the Field
I read Heather Hoag's "Transplanting the TVA?" with keen interest and appreciation. It is ironic and telling that the program for the Rufiji basin should be a paragon of the approach taken by the FAO and other international development agencies to development in the 1960s and 1970s (the later Mahaweli project in Sri Lanka, Hoag notes, was "practically identical" to the Rufiji project, despite numerous differences between the basins). It is ironic because, after all, this model project could not be constructed, for political and financial reasons. It is telling, in that it suggests that one of the problems with the idea of "river valley development" through the construction of large dams is the incompatibility between the technocratic logic informing this approach to the management of nature and economy, and the political realities that create the context in which such projects function.
My own work on an earlier attempt to "transplant" TVA, in the form of the Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC), one of the initial development ventures of postindependence India, furnishes another instance of a river valley project adopted with great hopes, widely discussed elsewhere as a kind of blueprint for social transformation, but ultimately frustrated. The DVC was partly realized, and the institution continues to exist, but it ultimately [End Page 267] lost most of its functions to rival bureaucracies and became the object of much public criticism.
As in the case of the DVC, significant debate concerning the Rufiji project featured, not outright opposition, but contestation between different political actors concerning which needs the project would serve and how they would be served. At the Rufiji project, the debate was between those who wanted to develop the river for power (especially foreign development consultants and Tanzanian national leaders) and those who wanted to highlight agricultural development in the lower basin (some Tanzanian government officials and university researchers, and—less audibly—many actual residents of the valley). Like Hoag, I too have found it simplistic to view postcolonial river valley development as a simple process of "copying" TVA or other projects. She is right to point to the selective appropriation of development models by differently situated actors.
Indeed, in the case of the Damodar project, I have found that the entire process of building "India's TVA" was marked by a process of selective and varied appropriation and "editing" of that agency's experience, on the part of both American and Indian engineers, planners, politicians, and cultivators. The technocratic assumptions that informed this approach to development were repeatedly belied by the inevitability of politics. DVC garnered enough support to go forward, but only at the expense of political accommodations that undermined the project's long-term sustainability and financial viability. The Rufiji project more clearly "outstripped the financial resources and political will" necessary for its commencement, says Hoag. But she also notes that it has been placed back into Tanzania's development plans. I wonder how the different agendas of donors, aid agencies, national leaders, bureaucrats, and local residents from different occupational, class, and gender backgrounds, will affect the evolution of the program if it goes forward. Fully coherent schemes that meet their construction schedules, budgets, and performance targets are close to impossible on the scale imagined by the planners at Stiegler's Gorge, because it is impossible (not to mention undesirable) to suppress human political behavior.
Daniel Klingensmith is an associate professor of History at Maryville College. He is the author of One Valley and a Thousand: Nations, Dams and Development, forthcoming from Oxford University Press, New Delhi, which addresses the emulation of the Tennessee Valley Authority in postcolonial India. He is currently researching the circulation of environmentalist ideas between colonial India, the rest of the British Empire, and the United States. He can be reached at <email@example.com>.