The Haven of Peace Purged: Tackling the Undesirable and Unproductive Poor in Dar Es Salaam, ca.1950S-1980S*

Article excerpt

One of the outstanding features of Africa's recent past has been its transformation from an overwhelmingly rural continent to one that has become increasingly urbanized.1 This has had diverse sociocultural, economic, and political consequences. Social and economic differentiation, in particular, has had a significant impact on the organization and administration of urban Africa.2 In the postcolonial period tidy-minded elite cultures emerged that supported and shaped the modernizing and developmental ideals of municipal governments.3 The manner in which these ideals were frequently out of touch with social realities was ignored or concealed, as was the fact that the adoption of such policies often resulted in the marginalization of large sections of the urban populations.4 A key aspect of the problem was the growth of an informal sector, towards which urban Africa's administrators and emergent elites formed a distinct antipathy. Early theoretical literature on the informal sector tended to be economistic in its focus.5 Here I seek to explore the socioculturel and ideological place of the informal sector in a rapidly expanding African urban center.6 Informal sector activity in Dar es Salaam posed a challenge to a municipal order that administrators and an urban "middle class" were anxious to impose. Rather, participation in the informal sector represented what de Certeau celebrates as the "proliferating illegitimacy" of everyday urban life, in which the tidy developmental vision of planners and administrators unraveled.7 Moreover, by implicitly contesting official policy, such activity represented a form of "noncompliance."8 In response, the state resorted to campaigns targeting the urban poor. However, these haphazard purges merely represented pyrrhic victories in an ongoing struggle over the legitimate occupation and utilization of urban space.

In contrast to the contemporary city, in which the informal is in the ascendant (from unlicensed trade to unplanned suburbs), Dar es Salaam's "parallel" economy in the 1960s and 1970s was small. Aided by a healthier formal sector (at least up to the late-1970s), and by TANU's ideological strength as nationalist and socialist vanguard, the postcolonial state achieved some success in its suppression, and the developmental ideal of a modern, planned city whose working population was restricted to those engaged in waged employment, was sustained into the 1980s. However, the official view of the city- informed not only by modernization theory, but also well entrenched historical discourses on the negative consequences of urbanization in African and earlier Western society9represented a simplification. Tt attempted to restrict a complex and unpredictable social organism to the role of planned capital in a developmental state.10 This official view may have had some ideological success in delegitimizing the urban presence of the un- and under-employed. However, the ultimate goal of an "orderly" metropolis proved unsustainable in the face of a demographic revolution that resulted in the unprecedented growth of an informally employed, housed and serviced urban population. Moreover, by the mid-1980s, with increasing numbers of Dar es Salaam's formally employed residents engaging in secondary economic activities to supplement shrinking salaries, the political necessity of a more liberal approach towards the informal sector was clear.11

Rapid Urbanization in Dar es Salaam

In the mid-1950s the British colonial administration in Dar es Salaam experienced diverse pressures. The most overt was that represented by a burgeoning nationalist movement whose growing support in the capital was evidenced by the large crowds attending TANU rallies. However, perhaps the most pressing-certainly the longest standing-concern of colonial administrators was not that represented by the political aspirations drawing the masses to the rallies, but their simple presence in Dar es Salaam in the first place. …

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