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.
Emily Brownell’s Gone to Ground offers a major contribution to the academic literature on Africa’s recent urban history. It marks an important conceptual advance in this field by both theorizing and demonstrating how Dar es Salaam’s population repurposed the material environment of the city and its surroundings in ways that transcend familiar analytical categories. This was done through popular acts of domestication and transformation of an ostensibly universal urban infrastructure that were refitted to local means and practices. Brownell makes a persuasive case that the 1970s and 1980s period was the most decisive in shaping what the city of Dar es Salaam has become today, and does so by rejecting still-dominant normative frames of urban ‘failure’ that typify 1970s-era Africa. She shows instead how urban space and livelihood strategies were reshaped by inventive and unpredictable connection-making between African residents and their built environment.