Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

"The History and Affairs of TANU": Intellectual History, Nationalism, and the Postcolonial State in Tanzania*

Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

"The History and Affairs of TANU": Intellectual History, Nationalism, and the Postcolonial State in Tanzania*

Article excerpt

Colonial Africa's intellectual history once attracted little attention. In so far as Africa was understood to have an intellectual history, it was conceived as one that arrived late and (almost) fully formed from Europe and America.1 Yet in recent years our understanding of colonial Africa's intellectual history has been transformed, as historians have begun to tease out the ways in which political thinking was not simply borrowed from elsewhere, but rather was developed in dialogue with older modes and patterns of thinking. In East Africa as elsewhere "local intellectuals"- school teachers, clerks and local politiciansput pen to paper to reflect on a world in flux, to write about the past and to imagine a better future.2 These men, and occasionally women, considered Africa's place in the modern world, and reflected on what "modernity" should mean in an African context.3

When in the late 1940s and 1950s, aspirant national politicians sought to create new constituencies, they had to operate in this intellectual framework, and to offer their own narratives of past, present and future. They were not "inventing politics," creating political and politicized subjects where none had previously existed, but rather they engaged with existing ideas which had themselves been formed through dialogue.4 John Lonsdale has argued that "[nationalism in Kenya, the imagination of community -as distinct from anticolonial resistance to 'the second colonial occupation'- was chiefly a response to gender conflict and class formation," and that it demanded political imagination, the ability to provide a compelling vision of the past and the future which responded to social conflict with a politics of hope and a re-articulation of bonds of community.5 It was this power of imagination, not mere talents of organization and mobilization, that was needed if authority were to be established, and it had to engage with local struggles.6

In Tanzania, Julius Nyerere was faced with similar challenges. While the intrusive policies of the "second colonial occupation" might mobilize dissent, they produced conflict within societies as well as against the colonial state. Shambaa resistance to the anti-erosion policies of the 1950s was incorporated into ongoing arguments over legitimate authority. The existence of long-standing political debates and divisions had two implications for those who sought to offer national leadership. First, when Nyerere sought to articulate a compelling message he had to understand and incorporate local discourses into the discourses that he constructed. But second, nationalist politics meant taking sides in local struggles, rather than simply uniting the people behind a leader, and thus ensured that argument would continue into the postcolonial state. As Steven Feierman has shown, the "peasant intellectuals" of the Usambara mountains had long debated the proper location of authority and the domain of legitimate power.7

If intellectual histories of the late colonial period tell a story of vibrant debate and argument, we know less about the ways in which Tanzanians thought about and reflected on the early postcolonial state. In contrast to the intellectual histories of the colonial period that have appeared in recent years, the historiography of the postcolonial period has tended to focus on statecraft and high politics and has neglected intellectual history.8 This is true not only of East Africa, but also of the continent more widely. In a recent article exploring the autobiography of a Guiñean teacher in the decades following Guinea's independence, Jay Straker regretted the fact that "the new wave of autobiographically oriented historiography" had "tended to gravitate towards colonial rather than postcolonial subjects and narratives" and called for more attention to the making of postcolonial subjectivities.9

This focus on the state, rather than on African thinking about the state, has perhaps helped to encourage a trend within the historiography towards a stress on continuity between the late colonial state and the early postcolonial state. …

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