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Katie Valliere Streit

Tanzanian men and women have embraced, adapted, and innovated various transportation technologies over the centuries as part of their survival and wealth accumulation strategies. During the precolonial era, dhows and porterage caravans helped to draw mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar into ever-widening trade networks with Central-East Africa, the western Indian Ocean, and the capitalist world economy during the 19th century. The onset of colonialism brought attempts by German and British administrations to replace these “traditional” forms of mobility with “modern” railways, steamships, and motor vehicles. Europeans expected to use these tools to conquer and subordinate African populations according to the demands of the colonial economy. Europeans also perceived these technologies as material manifestations of their alleged intellectual and moral superiority. Colonial administrations, however, continually lacked the necessary resources to construct and maintain new transportation infrastructure amid challenging climates and terrain. Dhows and porters successfully competed with railways, motor vehicles, and steamships throughout the colonial era and remained integral components of the colonial economy. As new transportation systems gradually became integrated into Tanzania’s physical and socioeconomic landscape, ordinary Tanzanians utilized the technologies of mobility to pursue their self-interests. Throughout the process of building transportation infrastructure and using automobiles, dhows, railways, and airplanes, ordinary Tanzanians created identities that challenged discriminatory racial and gender social orders constructed by colonial governments and the Tanzanian nation-state.

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In the open marketplaces found in cities and villages throughout Africa, women traders usually predominate. This gives women considerable weight as economic actors, because these marketplace systems are the primary distributive networks in most parts of Africa. A large proportion of Africa’s consumer goods and foodstuffs move through their intricate chains of intermediaries, which can include market retailers, neighborhood shops, street vendors, wholesalers, and travelers who collect goods from farms, factories, and ports. Although the vast majority of women traders live at or below the poverty line, some have risen to powerful positions that earn them the sobriquet of queen. Different regions of Africa show distinctive patterns of trading practices and of men and women’s participation in specific trading roles, reflecting specific gendered histories of precolonial trade, colonial interventions, and waves of national policy. These variations arise not from some primordial isolation, but from traders’ varied positioning within longstanding trade relations that have linked Africans since ancient times between regions, across the Sahara Desert and over adjoining oceans. Women’s trading roles are more highly developed in western Africa than in eastern, northern, and southern Africa, where precolonial trading patterns were more radically disrupted by conquest, land appropriation, and apartheid. Ideologies and arenas of practice such as Islam, Christianity, modernization, socialism, structural adjustment, and globalization likewise shape the constraints and opportunities facing women traders in any given situation. Because these influences operate around the globe, though not uniformly, they to some extent create parallel or convergent trends in widely separated nations. Deepening economic pressures today push even more women and men into trading to support their families and sustain the hope of prosperity. Market women struggle individually and collectively to keep their communities going under difficult circumstances that make formal economic channels function poorly. Their determined efforts give African economies more resilience as they respond to the challenges of war, political instability, and climate change.

Article

Established using a conventional Islamic model of government, the new Muslim state in Sokoto, known as the Sokoto Caliphate (1804–1903), possessed eventually very large numbers of men, women, and children, taken captive (usually when children) in jihad from mainly non-Muslim communities, to serve as slaves. These slaves worked on farms or within households, they might be concubines and bear children for their owners; or they might be sold as children for export to North Africa in payment for the luxury imports the new elite wanted. Slaves were, under Islamic law, deemed “minors” or “half-persons,” and so had rights that differed from those of the free Muslim. By the end of the 19th century there were more slaves on the local markets than could be sold; exports of captives to North Africa had already dropped. For some captives enslaved as children, however, the career as a slave led eventually to high political positions, even to owning many slaves of their own. But slaves’ property, even their children, ultimately belonged to the slave’s owner. Revolts by male slaves were very rare, but escape was commonplace. Concubines, if they ever became pregnant by their owner, could not be sold again. The abolition of slavery c.1903 was slow to become a reality for many individual slaves, whether men or women.

Article

Egypt’s trade in the Ottoman period with the Sudanic kingdoms to its south waxed and waned according to political conditions at either end of its trade routes. During the 16th and 17th centuries, powerful kingdoms developed in the area of Sinnar (near modern-day Khartoum) and to the west in the area of Darfur. The trade route connecting western Sudan to Egypt, known as the Forty Days Road, was ancient, probably dating to the Pharaonic period, but it experienced a remarkable revival in the 17th century when the Keira sultans of Darfur consolidated their rule in western Sudan and engaged in trade with Egypt in order to obtain luxury goods. In the following two centuries, trade between Egypt, Sinnar, and Darfur flourished, the pattern being that Egyptian, Syrian, and European-made goods were exchanged primarily for Sudanic exports of slaves, ivory, ostrich feathers, and livestock. Sudanese merchants, known as jallaba, came to Egypt and Egyptians settled in the Sudan as a result of these developments. Asyut was the town in Upper Egypt chiefly benefiting from the revival of the caravan trade, but the primary trade destination was Cairo, whence most merchants went. In 1820, the Egyptians invaded the Sudan and trade between the two countries fell under a different set of rules and regulations. Initially monopolized by the government, items in the trade began to be sold by individual traders, and after 1839, when the Muhammad Ali, ruler of Egypt, was forced to withdraw from lands his army had conquered in Arabia and the Levant, European free enterprise soon became a major economic force in the Nile Valley. For a brief period, between 1845 and 1860, Egyptian middlemen, working closely with jallaba, profited richly from the Sudan trade, the city of Asyut prospered, but eventually they fell victim to European economic domination.