Challenging Authorities: Ethnographies of Legitimacy and Power in Eastern and Southern Africa
When the notion of ‘alternative facts’ and the alleged dawning of a ‘postfactual’ world entered public discourse, social anthropologists found themselves in unexpectedly familiar territory. In theirempirical experience, fact—knowledge accepted as true—derives its salience from social mechanisms of legitimization, thereby demonstrating a deep interconnection with power and authority. In thisperspective, fact is a continually contested and volatile social category.
Due to the specific histories of their colonial and post-independence experience, African societies offer a particularly broad array of insights into social processes of juxtaposition, opposition, and even outright competition between different postulated authorities. The contributions to the present volume explore the variety of ways in which authority is contested in Southern and Eastern Africa, investigating localized discourses on which institution, what kind of knowledge, or whose expertise is accepted as authoritative, thus highlighting the specificities and pluralities in ‘modern’ societies. This edited volume engages with larger theoretical questions regarding power and authority in the context of (post)colonial states (neo)traditional authority, claiming space, conflict and (in)justice, and contestations of knowledge. It offers in-depth critical analyses of ethnographic data that put contemporary African phenomena on equal footing with current controversies in North America, Europe, and other global settings.
The chapter studies popular cultural memory and official (state-promoted) representations of the history of the Arab slave trade in East Africa and the Indian Ocean in the context of nation-building in the United Republic of Tanzania. The chapter is based on field evidence on different aspects of nation-building in Tanzania collected by the authors since the early 2000s and especially during the field seasons of 2018 and 2019 completely devoted to the study of the memory and representations of the Arab slave trade. In these years, fieldwork was done in the localities related to the slave trade and on the (re)production of the memory of it, such as in Bagamoyo (and the adjacent Kaole village), Zanzibar (the city and Nungwi village), Tanga, Pangani, and Dar es Salaam. Besides doing structured and non-structured interviews in English and Swahili, fieldwork included analysis of museum expositions, public memorials, and school history textbooks. One of the conclusions that can be drawn from the study is that association of Arabs with the exploitation of Africans in the past is present in the minds of many African Tanzanians, but the Tanzanian government tries, generally successfully, to smooth over this negative attitude and promote the Arabs’ inclusion in the nation by African Tanzanians by corrupting historical facts and manipulating historical memory. However, there is an important dualism in the perception of the Tanzanian Arabs by the African Tanzanian majority: The Arabs are recognized by them as co-citizens in the formal, political, or legal sense but not as people who belong to the cultural community of ‘Tanzanians’. For African Tanzanians, the latter is based on Swahili culture to which the Arabs, in their view, do not belong.