Academic journal article Africa

Africa's `Last Wilderness' Reordering Space for Political and Economic in Colonial Tanzania

Academic journal article Africa

Africa's `Last Wilderness' Reordering Space for Political and Economic in Colonial Tanzania

Article excerpt


Focusing on south-eastern Tanzania, this article explores the colonial state's spatial strategies for economic and political control of its citizenry and their concurrence with strategies to control and conserve nature. Analysing British colonial archival documents, it demonstrates that Africa's most famous wilderness, the Selous Game Reserve, is a product of colonisers' economic and political control schemes, not a vestigial pre-modern landscape. The analysis reveals that the control of nature was inseparable from the state's efforts to control African subjects (mostly Ngindo peasants) and ultimately to create a new kind of person: `civilised', productive and surveillable. Control schemes had significant ecological consequences, specifically increasing elephant (Loxondata africana) populations and the creation of vast tracts of tsetse fly-infested bush. The result, sometimes unintended, but more often orchestrated, was the displacement of African land use and settlement and a new geography of society and nature. The article concludes that colonial efforts to reorder south-eastern Tanzania were fundamental to the process of modern nation-state building, a process that was propelled by a particular way of thinking about social order in visual terms.


This article explores how British colonial conservation and development plans in Tanzania (then Tanganiyika) required a fundamental and geographically extensive spatial reorganisation of wildlife populations, land uses, and

African settlements. The colonial state planned and initiated these relocations against a background of evolving development strategies between 1919 and 1961, the period of formal British rule. Central to this process was the spatial segregation of human and wildlife populations that required the displacement and relocation of both. The motivations behind the plans to reorder the Tanzanian landscape were encompassed by the `civilising' mission of British colonialism, which in turn was embedded in ideologies of racial and cultural superiority and faith in Western scientific achievements and mastery over Nature. Collectively these plans for `improving' Tanzania constitute what James Scott recently identified as the modern state's `project of internal colonization, often glossed ... as a "civilizing mission"' (Scott, 1998: 82). In this process, the `builders of the modern nation-state ... strive to shape a people and landscape that will fit their techniques of observation' (Scott, 1998: 82). In the following pages I seek to demonstrate two things. First, that relocations of wildlife and people for conservation and economic development in Tanzania were fundamental to the construction of this region of Africa as a modern nation state; second, that as a consequence of these relocations, the colonial state created the largest area of `wilderness' on the African continent.


Before I present my analysis, I need to explore further the colonisation project--specifically state builders' need to reorder landscape and society to fit a particular practice of observation. As his title, Seeing like a State, reveals, Scott's (1998) concern is with the centrality of the visual in modern statecraft, a concern that is echoed in Henri Lefebvre's (1991) theorisation of space. The history of modern space, Lefebvre tells us, is one of `a growing ascendancy of the abstract and the visual' (1991: 128). What he means is that under capitalism the state has produced its own space, abstract space, wherein space is visualised in formal, quantitative terms in a way that erases both natural and historical distinctions. (1) Within this space, `lived experience is crushed by what is "conceived of" [by state planners]' (Lefebvre, 1991: 51). What is `conceived of' is, above all, a type of visual ordering that replaces what appears to the outside observer as the `disorder' of unplanned, daily life. …

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