“The History and Affairs of TANU”: Intellectual History, Nationalism, and the Postcolonial State in Tanzania

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Abstract: In 1967, a nationalist politician in north-western Tanzania set out to record the story of his life in politics in a text which is simply titled ‘Historia ya TANU’ or ‘The History of TANU’. In the process, he reflected not only on his own career, but on the very endeavour in which he had been engaged. The quest for self-government was in large part a search for a more just government, but what would constitute such a government, and how might it be constructed? Was an independent government necessarily more just than a colonial government, and if so, in what ways? Intriguing in its own right, this text also suggests a new approach to the early post-colonial period. If the recent historiography of nationalism has restored a sense of the intellectual vibrancy of the moment, the same is not true of recent historiography on the post-colonial state in Africa. This article explores this text in the context of similar autobiographical histories, and argues that the insights it offers into contemporary understandings of the post-colonial state suggest the potential for a more nuanced understanding of the meaning of independence.