Academic journal article African Studies Review

Hunger, Healing, and Citizenship in Central Tanzania

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Hunger, Healing, and Citizenship in Central Tanzania

Article excerpt

Abstract:

This article draws on newspaper commentary, Nyaturu hunger lore, and ethnographic research to describe how central Tanzanian villagers accessed food aid from the state during the East African food crisis of 2006. Through leveraging their political support and their participation in national development agendas, rural inhabitants claimed their rights. Yet it was through these exchanges that the state converted food aid into political power. The article argues that the highly ritualized gift of food aid naturalizes a contemporary political and economic order in which, counterintuitively, it is rural farmers who go hungry.

Editors' note: The following article was the winner of the 2008 graduate student essay prize of the African Studies Association.

Kocc Barma said if you want to kill a proud man, supply all his everyday needs, in the long run, you will make him a slave, dakngaydon, dak.... If a country is always taking aid from another people, that country, from its children, from generation to generation, will be able to say only one word... thank you! thank you! thank you!

From Giielwaar, written and directed by Ousmane Sembene (transcribed in Fofana 2005)

Introduction

In late 2005 and early 2006 drought and hunger spread across East Africa. In the Singida region of central Tanzania, villagers faced skyrocketing food prices, dwindling stores of grain and access to cash, and delayed promises from the state for relief food - what the Nyaturu refer to as ufoni, or the "healing" of their hunger. For several months villagers struggled to lay claim to state resources. But as aid trickled down through national and district bureaucracies, Singidans' right to food threatened to be "eaten" by officials, diverted to other communities, or funneled too narrowly only to the very poorest citizens. Tensions came to a climax when young men of Langilanga village went on strike, announcing that until sufficient food aid for all had arrived they would refuse to participate in village development projects. The construction of teacher housing, the repair of school latrines that had collapsed in the previous year's rains, the digging of a deep-water well - all of these projects would come to an abrupt halt without village labor and resources.

In this article I draw on newspaper commentary, Nyaturu hunger lore, and ethnographic research conducted in Singida between 2004 and 2007 to describe how Singidan villagers accessed food aid by leveraging their political support and their participation in national development agendas and by invoking a Tanzanian idiom of political critique that centers on metaphors of food and feeding. My analysis places theories of food scarcity and distribution (Cliggett 2005; Lipton 1975; Sen 1981; Thompson 1971) in conversation with the literatures on food and politics (Appadurai 1981; Bayart 1993; Schatzberg 2001) and on exchange and gifts (Mauss 1990; Graeber 2001; Piot 1999; Strathern 1988) to explore three questions. First, how do flows of food and the exchange relationships that govern them generate relationships of reciprocity, authority, and patronage among rural villagers and the Tanzanian state? Second, how do villagers' protests against the terms of these exchanges both articulate and obscure a broader critique of the contemporary system of producing and distributing food? And finally, what is the state's return on a system that watches the cheap and discreet export of food from Singida in a hunger year only to later reimport it with great ceremony, cost, and delay? I argue that through these exchanges, the state converts food aid into political power. I go on to demonstrate how the highly ritualized gift of food aid naturalizes a contemporary political and economic order in which, counterintuitively, it is "rural food producers who most often go hungry" (Shipton 1990:361).

Hunger and Healing in Rural Singida

"Ufoni uaja!" "The healing has arrived! …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.