Taifa — 2012

Making Nation and Race in Urban Tanzania

By James R. Brennan

TAIFA is James Brennan's compelling meditation on Tanganyikan nationalism seen through the lens of relations between diasporic Indians and indigenous Africans in colonial and early postcolonial Dar es Salaam. Brennan is regarded as one of the most careful researchers of his generation of Tanzania scholars and his book has been long anticipated. It does not disappoint.…TAIFA combines methodologies drawn from social, political, and intellectual history in a manner that is as enriching as it is rare.…A deeply thoughtful and well-argued account of the ways in which race and nation were articulated [in] one of the continent's frequently-cited cases. TAIFA's appeal will not be confined to Tanzania specialists…”

Andrew Ivaska — Journal of African History

Taifa is the first urban history to tackle nationalist politics in towns, an achievement made possible by Brennan's grounding in two separate sets of secondary literature which gives his work a breadth that is rare in today's monographs.”

Luise White, author of The Comforts of Home: Prostitution in Colonial Nairobi

“With Taifa, James Brennan establishes himself as not just a major historian of Tanzania, but as an innovative scholar of urban history, racial relations, and colonialism…. The extraordinary range and depth of his research is reflected in every sentence; the book is densely packed with information and insight about colonial and early postcolonial Tanzania. Taifa is a ‘must read’ for all scholars of Tanzania, including anyone interested in contemporary political debates about ‘indigenous’ Africans that rely on the very racial logics and legacies that Brennan so deftly explains and explores.”

International Journal of African Historical Studies

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Taifa is a story of African intellectual agency, but it is also an account of how nation and race emerged out of the legal, social, and economic histories in one major city, Dar es Salaam. Nation and race—both translatable as taifa in Swahili—were not simply universal ideas brought to Africa by European colonizers, as previous studies assume. They were instead categories crafted by local African thinkers to make sense of deep inequalities, particularly those between local Africans and Indian immigrants. Taifa shows how nation and race became the key political categories to guide colonial and postcolonial life in this African city.

Using deeply researched archival and oral evidence, Taifa transforms our understanding of urban history and shows how concerns about access to credit and housing became intertwined with changing conceptions of nation and nationhood. Taifa gives equal attention to both Indians and Africans; in doing so, it demonstrates the significance of political and economic connections between coastal East Africa and India during the era of British colonialism, and illustrates how the project of racial nationalism largely severed these connections by the 1970s.


James R. Brennan is an assistant professor in history at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. He is the author of numerous book chapters and journal articles.

  • Winner of the 2013 Bethwell A. Ogot Book Prize for best book on East African Studies (sponsored by the African Studies Association)
Cover of 'Taifa'

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