Gone to Ground

A History of Environment and Infrastructure in Dar es Salaam

Gone to Ground is the story of Dar es Salaam’s environment and infrastructure as told through the central tension between the city and the countryside, a recurrent theme that anchors the wide-ranging material in this book and maps it on to broader debates about cities and environmental histories in the Global South and in sub-Saharan Africa in particular. Brownell captures the ways in which the city’s inhabitants constantly brought the rural into the city, in terms of materials, practices, and ways of using the environment. The book brings an avowedly political Third World perspective to the long tradition of work on urban-rural connections in African Studies, insisting that we examine what these things look like on the ground, from a different place.
Claire Mercer, London School of Economics

Gone to Ground is an investigation into the material and political forces that transformed the cityscape of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in the 1970s and early 1980s. It is both the story of a particular city and the history of a global moment of massive urban transformation from the perspective of those at the center of this shift. Built around an archive of newspapers, oral history interviews, planning documents, and a broad compendium of development reports, Emily Brownell writes about how urbanites navigated the state’s anti-urban planning policies along with the city’s fracturing infrastructures and profound shortages of staple goods to shape Dar’s environment. They did so most frequently by “going to ground” in the urban periphery, orienting their lives to the city’s outskirts where they could plant small farms, find building materials, produce charcoal, and escape the state’s policing of urban space.
Taking seriously as historical subject the daily hurdles of families to find housing, food, transportation, and space in the city, these quotidian concerns are drawn into conversation with broader national and transnational anxieties about the oil crisis, resource shortages, infrastructure, and African socialism. In bringing these concerns together into the same frame, Gone to Ground considers how the material and political anxieties of the era were made manifest in debates about building materials, imported technologies, urban agriculture, energy use, and who defines living and laboring in the city.

about the author

Emily Brownell

Emily Brownell is a Lecturer in Environmental History at the University of Edinburgh. Her work focuses on environmental, technological, and planning histories in Africa.

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Emily Brownell