- Taifa: Making Nation and Race in Urban Tanzania by J. R. D. Brennan
Brennan, one of a recent generation of historians of East Africa who focus on urban and political history, has produced in Tafia a study of the political culture of Dar es Salaam, the colonial capital and commercial hub of what was Tanganyika and is now mainland Tanzania. Brennan explains the “success” and limitations of the creation of Tanzanian nationalism during the late colonial and postcolonial era by shifting the focus [End Page 291] away from Julius Nyerere, the first president of Tanganyika and the architect of the union with Zanzibar. Nyerere’s articulation of Ujamaa— meaning literally “familyhood” but, in this case, African socialism—is often credited with fostering a relatively stable and harmonious society in a region where such a society is rare. Brennan, building on the work of a number of scholars—including Said, Geiger, and others—argues that the “intellectual labor” that created what would become Tanzanian nationalism was not Nyerere’s alone; it did not necessarily closely track Nyerere’s idealization of the nation as African family.1
Brennan contends that Africans in Dar es Salaam began to create what would become the Tanzanian nation in the 1920s after the British assumed control of German East Africa and renamed it Tanganyika. He seeks to demonstrate that race animated the intellectual foundation of nationalism, arguing that beginning in the interwar years but especially after World War II, literate Swahili speakers defined the nation in racial terms and even used the word taifa to mean race/nation. Nationalists in Dar es Salaam developed this definition not just in retaliation against the explicit and implicit racial justifications of colonial rule by the British but also in retaliation against the domination of commercial activity by immigrants from South Asia and, to a lesser extent, the Arabic-speaking Middle East. For Africans in Dar es Salaam, Wahindi (South Asians of any religion) more than Wazungu (Europeans) became the “other” against which Africans defined themselves.
Brennan mines the colonial archive; records from the Asian community; the many newspapers published in English and Swahili by both private publishers and the colonial government; and, in a limited way, oral sources to construct his argument. He gives an overview of the history of the Asian communities of Tanganyika and the ways in which they developed solidarity across communal divisions, becoming in East African English usage, “Asians.” He uses oral sources sparingly, since, in his view, later government discourse that emphasized the “nonracial” nature of Tanzanian society brought the general sense of taifa closer to what English speakers mean by “nation,” while de-emphasizing (but not totally eliminating) its racial connotations. This change, he posits, colors modern memories.
In the final section of the book, Brennan argues that Nyerere’s nationalist movement eventually managed to transform the liberation struggle from a racially defined one to one based on eliminating exploitation. As the Tanzanian government moved “left” during the 1960s, it adopted policies that expropriated Asian-owned properties and “Africanized” the civil service. Government rhetoric responded to the demands of urbanites for a restoration of honor, yet carefully, and at times [End Page 292] forcefully, controlled the discourse by emphasizing exploitation rather than race or community. In this rhetorical shift, government and everyday language framed the problem of exploitation through older discourses about the eradication of witchcraft. In short, Nyerere and the government bowed to the popular pressure for racial restitution but attempted to strip its actions of racial motivation.
How convincing is this argument? Brennan explicitly privileges Dar es Salaam as the site of this intellectual labor and Swahili as its language. Both attributions can be questioned. Certainly the task of mobilizing support for independence outside of Dar es Salaam had much to do with the emphasis on uniting the taifa despite the existence of numerous kabila, or tribes. Brennan’s insistence on the development of the term taifa to represent nation/race in contrast to kabila as “tribe” seems a particularly urban conceit. Outside of...