Commodifying Water in Coastal Tanzania: Natural Resource Management and Social Relations, 1926-1937

by Chau Johnson Kelly


Based on a close read of colonial archives from Dar es Salaam, this article examines how the commodification and regulation of water led to friction between residents and colonial officials in Mikindani, Tanzania shortly after Britain’s acquisition of the territory. Questions of failed development and technology transfer are juxtaposed against African desires for new relationships with material goods to examine how regulatory projects falter for lack of environmental knowledge, investment, and social awareness. Starting with a basic analysis of coastal practices surrounding water, the article delves into the colonial administrative debates over water delivery systems, fee schedules, and surveys as a means to show how colonial assumptions created obstacles for African consumers who wanted to benefit from this modern package of goods.

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Chau Johnsen Kelly is currently an Assistant Professor of History, University of North Florida, with a research focus on the on colonial development programs, urbanization, and the commodification of resources in Tanzania.