- Political Thought and the Public Sphere in Tanzania: Freedom, Democracy and Citizenship in the Era of Decolonization by Emma Hunter
Hunter's new book offers a fresh and complex perspective on Tanzanian history, revealing multiple and competing visions of political liberation from World War II through the late 1960s. By excavating multiple political visions from the decades preceding and following independence, Hunter decenters national independence as the defining event in Tanzanian politics. In this way, she takes up the challenge posed by Cooper, who has emphasized that citizenship in sovereign African nation-states was only one of many political possibilities imagined by Africans in the 1940s and 1950s, calling on historians to uncover alternative visions.1
Given the purview of this journal, it is worth stating from the outset that this book is rooted squarely within the discipline of history. Hunter relies on two kinds of historical source—documents from the Tanzanian National Archives and Swahili language newspapers. She mines these written sources exhaustively and effectively to uncover shifting political discourses authored by literate Tanzanians—a fairly conventional way to read archives. Moreover, she addresses the contributions of the book to an audience of Africanist historians, and most often to fellow historians of Tanzania. Interdisciplinary research methods are not where the strength of this book lies, nor, in fairness, are they within the author's purview.
The strength of the book is its close scrutiny of political discourse in Tanzania's late colonial public sphere. Using the Swahili language [End Page 521] press as her main source, Hunter shows heated contests about concepts such as freedom, citizenship, socialism, and democracy, teasing out their multiple and shifting meanings. Hunter analyzes how terms that were in global circulation in mid-century did not simply parachute into Tanzanian politics as fully formed or static concepts; rather, they took shape through long-term local struggles over land, chiefship, generational priorities, and debates about inequality. African political thinkers were engaged in debates simultaneously on the global stage and in their home villages, drawing on concepts from multiple political traditions as they crafted visions for how society, the state, and the economy should be organized.
Though national in scope, this book focuses on the Kilimanjaro district of Tanzania, a region made prosperous by its rich agriculture and particularly the cultivation of coffee by Chagga farmers. This regional approach makes Hunter's book a welcome addition to a literature about Tanzanian political history that rarely looks in any sustained way beyond the capital city of Dar es Salaam.2 Chapters 1 and 2 set the global stage by examining new ideas about progress, modernity, and democracy in the 1940s after World War II. The remaining six chapters proceed in loose chronological order, each structured as an analysis of contestations about a different political concept. For example, a chapter about notions of "freedom"—uhuru, in Kiswahili—challenges any simplistic reading of freedom as the mere absence of colonial rule. At different moments during the course of the twentieth century, various Tanzanians used the Kiswahili word uhuru in many ways, shaped by abolitionist discourse, the rebellion of women and youth against patriarchal social structures, transnational anti-communist discourse, and the anticolonialism of the Tanganyika African National Union. Moreover, many Tanzanians defined freedom as a positive quality of belonging in a political community, with all of the expectations and obligations that such an identity entailed. Hunter applies a similar analysis in other chapters, tracing the various resonances and connotations of terms like freedom, democracy, citizenship, and socialism within Tanzania's multiple public spheres.
1. Frederick Cooper, Africa Since 1940: The Past of the Present (New York, 2002).
2. A notable exception is Priya Lal's recent book, African Socialism in Postcolonial Tanzania: From the Village to the World (New York, 2015).