Heroes of the Road: Race, Gender and the Politics of Mobility in Twentieth Century Tanzania

Citation:

Grace, Joshua. 2013. “Heroes of the Road: Race, Gender and the Politics of Mobility in Twentieth Century Tanzania.” Africa 83 (3): 403–25. 

Author: Joshua Grace

Abstract:

ENGLISH ABSTRACT:
This article follows the careers of two African drivers in social environments that circumscribed their movement and access to technology. It begins with Vincent Njovu, whose memoir, The First Driver of Tanganyika, describes the driver's ability to navigate racial hierarchies of movement and technology, including the unlikely circumstances in which he fell in love with an ideal colonial machine. It then explores post-colonial cultures of gender and modernization by using the unpublished memoirs of Hawa Ramadhani, a woman who used automotive skills learned among nuns in the 1940s to become Tanzania's most respected driver. Paired together, the life histories of these drivers challenge historical narratives in which movement and technology (roads and motor vehicles, in particular) are used to discuss Africa's marginalization and decline. Instead, they show how transgressive practices of mobility can be used to challenge social and political orders and inspire new ways to think and act at uncertain historical junctures. Roads in these narratives are defined less by their danger than by their potential to turn unlikely individuals into heroes.
 
FRENCH ABSTRACT:
Cet article suite la carrière de deux chauffeurs africains dont les déplacements et l'accès à la technologie ont été délimités par l'environnement social. Il commence avec Vincent Njovu, dont les mémoires intitulées The First Driver of Tanganyika, décrit la capacité du chauffeur à composer avec les hiérarchies raciales du mouvement et de la technologie, y compris la situation improbable dans laquelle il est tombé amoureux d'une machine coloniale idéale. Il explore ensuite les cultures postcoloniales du genre et de la modernisation en se servant des mémoires non publiées de Hawa Ramadhani, la conductrice la plus respectée en Tanzanie qui a appris à conduire alors qu'elle était dans les ordres dans les années 1940. Ensemble, ces deux récits de vie remettent en question les récits historiques qui utilisent le mouvement et la technologie (routes et véhicules à moteur notamment) pour débattre de la marginalisation et du déclin de l'Afrique. Ils montrent au contraire comment les pratiques de mobilité transgressives peuvent servir à remettre en cause l'ordre social et politique et inspirer de nouvelles façons de penser et d'agir à des moments incertains de l'histoire. Dans ces récits, les routes se définissent moins par les dangers qu'elles représentent que par leur capacité à transformer des personnes en héros improbables.

 

Topics: Coloniality/Post-Coloniality, Gender, Race Regions: Africa, East Africa Countries: Tanzania

Year: 2013

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