Citizen-peasants: Tanzanian modernity, international relations and the role of China

Darius A’Zami//International Relations//1sth of April 2015//3-4pm//Arts C133



Where, and when, is Tanzania? In conventional terms, economically it is in desperate need of modernisation – for many the epitome of ‘backwardness’ –in short, anything but modern. Politically meanwhile, affairs are comfortably but inexplicably modern, characterised by an embrace of nationalistic democratic politics and the rejection of religious, racial and ethnic politics. Indeed these latter qualities of Tanzanian politics have long inspired what Ali Mazrui diagnosed as ‘Tanzaphilia’ whilst the former provide ample material for ‘Afro-pessimism’. This puzzle increasingly attracts attention, recently from no less a figure than Francis Fukuyama (2014; cf Mamdani 2012). So is Tanzania modern, with all the analytical abilities that classical social theory supposedly confers on us? Or rather is it high time to reject modernity as a Eurocentric parlour game?

Integrating international relations into a historical sociology of Tanzania I seek a ‘third-way’. Emphasising the diversity of its international relations (alongside ‘the west’, was African liberation and relations with China from Mao to Xi) this re-reading explains the emergence of what I call “Citizen-peasants” that analytically and politically recombine the economic and political spheres, providing a much better basis for understanding Tanzania. This emphasises the need for recasting modernity as flexible (fissile,) and a reading that takes Tanzania seriously in theoretical and historical terms, rejecting the self-imposed limitations of narratives of ‘success’ and ‘failure’.


Darius A’Zami is a PhD Candidate in the Department of International Relations, University of Sussex.

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