African Imaginations of Moral Economy: Notes on Indigenous Economic Concepts and Practices in Tanzania

by Tadasu Tsuruta


In response to economic influences emanating from abroad, African people have always created unique socioeconomic relationships and ideas. Examining four well-known Swahili words, utanichamaujamaa, and ujanja, this paper offers some tentative and exploratory comments on ‘indigenous’ moral-economic concepts in Tanzania. These terms convey not only notions about social relations but also relations, which one could consider economic, along with unique cultural connotations. Various things Westerners consider separate are impossible to disentangle in these concepts; joking and mutual aid, dance and politics, wit and cunning, all related to people’s subsistence economy. These phenomena cannot easily be put into pre-arranged Western categories nor should they be disregarded from a modernist perspective, because these concepts and practices reflect a rich tradition of self-help solutions in Africa, thereby serving as a source of imagination for alternative visions of economic development.

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Tadasu Tsuruta is currently a lecturer in School of Agriculture at Kinki University, Japan. He holds a Ph. D. in agricultural economics from Kyoto University, where he conducted dissertation research on socioeconomic changes of a rural community in Thailand. He is currently working on social history of urban Tanzania, focusing on its popular culture such as music and football.


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