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  • The Humanitarian Hangover: Displacement, Aid and Transformation in Western Tanzania
  • Tony Waters
Loren B. Landau. The Humanitarian Hangover: Displacement, Aid and Transformation in Western Tanzania. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press, 2008. ix + 182 pp. Maps. Tables. Figures. Endnotes. Bibliography. Index. $34.95. Paper

I picked up this book expecting to read about the problems of the many humanitarian agencies in the Kasulu District of Tanzania, where since 1994 the foreign presence has been massive and potentially transformational. However, I found an entirely different—and better—book, about how modern Tanzanians view Barundi refugees, international humanitarian agencies and—most centrally—their own government. Landau does this by drawing on a variety of archival and survey data, along with impressive interview transcripts from the Tanzanian villagers living in Kasulu and elsewhere in 1999–2000; little of the book is about the policy deliberations of the external agencies.

In 1994 “temporary” camps for hundreds of thousands of Barundi and Congolese refugees were established in Kasulu District by the international humanitarian regime—creating a large influx of foreign aid workers and bringing to this remote region more money, vehicles, food, and jobs than had ever been seen before. Landau’s book asks: what was the effect of their presence on the local population?

Armed with trickle-down theories of development economics, foreigners from the U.N., Red Cross, and other humanitarian agencies proclaimed loudly they had brought jobs and economic development to the region. However, Landau found that in fact such wealth did not trickle far beneath [End Page 204] the surface of Kasulu society. Local people benefiting from the aid effort were not the many subsistence farmers who lived in Kasulu before the influx, but a small number of Tanzanians (many from elsewhere in the country) who were employed by the aid effort, or who provided services to the operation. Presumably foreigners profited as well.

More surprising is Landau’s finding that the relationship of rural Tanzanians to their own government changed, as the UNHCR and the international agencies became seen as responsible for the failures of the weak Tanzanian administration—a situation particularly plausible in the context of the lopsided control of resources. The presence (and condition) of roads, schools, public health, policing, and other infrastructure in the “refugee affected areas” reflected on the wealthy UNHCR, not the cash-strapped government. Nevertheless, at election time the government claimed credit for any improvements brought by the international operation, while placing blame for failures on the outsiders—a very convenient assumption in a country with competitive elections.

Landau investigates this paradox particularly well in chapters about how the Tanzanian government dispensed justice in sometimes anomic circumstances, and how feelings of nationalism changed for Kasulu’s villagers. Simply put, as levels of violence and assault among the local population rose, the refugees were often blamed (often unfairly) by the local population. The Tanzanian police force—augmented with seemingly large amounts of UNHCR cash and vehicles—had little effect on the violence. A result was that vigilante-style lynching became more common. Yet the government was not blamed by local Tanzanian villagers for this failure; rather, the UNHCR and the refugees were. Ironically, this happened at the same time as identification with the Tanzanian nation-state intensified, as new social boundaries between Tanzania and Burundi were created and rigidified. Landau explores such questions about the state and national identity with a healthy dose of political theory (ranging from Plato to Goran Hyden); untutored readers may find this difficult at first blush, but it in fact helps make his case about the limitations of a weak state in the face of massive expenditures by disconnected wealthy foreigners.

The Humanitarian Hangover is a very good book about the modern Tanzanian state in general, and refugee assistance in western Tanzania in particular. My only complaint is that with greater length it could have been a really great book about the nature of refugees, citizenship, and the state in Africa. Perhaps unusually, I wished that the book were longer! Much of the rich interview data was collected in 1999–2000, and I found myself wishing for some follow-up to 2008. Is the aid effort still so disconnected from...


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