This dissertation in African History is a micro-history of two towns along the southern coast of Tanzania. It deals with the primary problem of how development programs and agendas changed between 1910 and 1960 in southeastern Tanganyika. My dissertation seeks to understand how a region, once linked to the Indian Ocean trade system, was transformed under colonial rule. To understand these changes fully, I focus on the two towns of Mikindani and Mtwara because they were connected by shifting colonial development agendas. These transformations allow for two further considerations; the first confronts how the region's environmental conditions affected the type of development that occurred. Sandy soils, irregular rainfall, and a complex disease burden made it difficult for peasant farmers to extract sufficient economic crops to meet annual tax payments to the colonial regime. Second, my work seeks to question how a cosmopolitan society negotiated these shifting dynamics. This approach opens up useful debates about the nature of colonial intermediaries in Tanganyika, where complex social and material exchanges occurred between trading societies across the Indian Ocean.
By expanding the categories of analysis to include the coast's diverse social and cultural bearings my dissertation contributes to the existing body of literature on development, environment, and intermediaries. Most histories focused on how African subjects resisted the colonial powers with little discussion of how intermediaries played a part as both a buffer and a group who had their own complaints against colonial authority. This dissertation will expose how a space, once thriving, incorporated into complex trade networks, and cosmopolitan in its social composition, experienced development. And how development policies, with their limited knowledge base about African societies, undermined local economies and social conditions.
Mikindani's cosmopolitan social character and regional importance belied its small size; such complexity requires greater study to understand how this community changed. Colonial rule effectively undermined the town's trade connections by diverting economic activities to the interior. These processes were unleashed during the interwar years; however, the lack of a clear development agenda, compounded by the limited reach of the colonial state proved that the programs to eventually emerge were negotiated through multiple challenges. Even as the imperial state began to envision ever more invasive mechanisms to intervene in community life, town dwellers and hinterland communities resisted the full application of colonial agronomic measures. This dissertation considers the changing nature of British colonial development, from a pastiche to a development culture that went so far as to build a new town to ensure that its imagined goals were achieved.
My work shows how failed development was a by-product of colonial rule itself, not because of recalcitrant African peasants or urban intermediaries. By studying Mtwara, this dissertation complicates the narrow history of the failed Groundnut Scheme to show how failure ripples through communities. Within this broad debate of why development projects fail, there is one final question: how was development culture expressed through the commodification process. As the landscape at Mtwara was altered to develop a port city, economic processes opened up new forms of social expression and material consumption. Through a spatial and material analysis we can ponder how these changes affected the multi-faceted communities who lived and traded in this area. How did changes in the landscape help or hinter communal consumption of a new commodity, development?