Project A02, Past Futures

Project Summary

Rural development programmes have been a prominent feature in the political economy of the region of the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA) since the 1950s, although their character, extent, and aims have varied enormously. Through their policies for development, colonial and then post-colonial governments in this region sought to redefine patterns of land use, dictate the functioning of local social ecologies, and drive local thinking about future-making. The region has also been subject to ambitious political schemes to possess or redefine its sovereignty – involving secessionism, empire-building and radical schemes of ‘future-making’. Past Futures will consider what impact the history of past political and economic development interventions now has upon the reception of and engagement with current initiatives in the KAZA region, which now binds five countries together in a shared scheme for land management and conservation development. Past, present, and future are linked through community experience of these past interventions: to know what future the rural communities of KAZA imagine for themselves today, we must understand how their historical experience of past development has shaped their expectations. The project will draw upon case studies from Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe, covering the period from 1945 to the present.

Research Region: KAZA TFCA

Key Questions

In order to tell the turbulent story of KAZA, and to understand how notions of ‘future-making’ may have been represented in past development initiatives, the project seeks to answer the following questions by looking at both the economic history of development and the political history of ‘future-making’:

1) In how far is development in KAZA defined by local demands, or shaped by external supply? To what extent have local communities here got the development they wanted? And to what extent have they appropriated this development?
2) Have the benefits of development allowed people to make better futures? Who have been the beneficiaries of rural development interventions, and of the exercises in political ‘future-making’ in KAZA?


Taking up findings from fieldwork recently completed within A04 Future Conservation, we anticipate there may be significant discrepancies between official records of past events in KAZA and the collective memory of local communities. It will be especially important to ensure a balance between the collection of oral histories, and the scrutiny of archives. Firstly, oral histories collected amongst local communities will form a key element of the data for our project. Key settlements will be selected through Namibia’s Zambezi Region, and across the borders into Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana, there targeting migrant communities with connections to KAZA, as well as those most prominently involved in resource extraction.

Secondly, the project will draw upon an unusually wide and rich range of archive sources. The consulted archives include the Namibian Archive in Windhoek, the South African National Archives and archive of the South African National Defence Force in Pretoria, national archives in Harare (Zimbabwe), Lusaka (Zambia) and Gaberone (Botswana), as well as archive collections held in Lisbon, London and Germany.

Key Findings from Phase I

The Kilombero valley region has been the stage for a far greater number of development visions than we had previously realised. Most of these were state- or capital-led and many either ultimately unrealized or unsuccessful. This project traces these successive waves of investigations, plans, and trials – indeed, acts of ‘future making’ – to better understand how the valley was viewed and understood by those who sought to impose development from above, and how this was met by those whose roots had long been planted in the valley soil. The project argues that the valley’s ecology was often misunderstood, and its capacity for large-scale agricultural production was frequently overestimated. The result is that we can trace the same assumptions, the same challenges, and the same mistakes across an entire century. The project concludes by assessing how this history has shaped the valley of today; and, while some projects can be said to be ‘successful’, what scope is there for history to repeat itself in the future?

Key Project Milestones

  • May 2018

    Launch of the project (Nairobi)
  • August 2018 & April - June 2019

    Field data collection
  • May 2019

    Presentation, University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
  • June 2019

    Presentation at ECAS conference, Edinburgh
  • July – October 2019

    Field data collection
  • 2020

    Data analysis and publication preparation
  • November 2020

    Presentation, Global History Africa@Warwick webinar
  • January 2021

    Presentation, CRC Jour fixe
  • August 2021

    Thesis submission
  • 2021-2022

  • 2022

    Launch of second phase
  • September 2022

    Presentation at CRC TRR 228 second phase launch in Windhoek, Namibia
  • October 2022

    'Bringing Research Home' dissemination grant by the British Institute in Eastern Africa (Nairobi) awarded to Dr. Jonathan Jackson (A02) to return to the sites of his research and present findings from phase 1.0 to the communities with whom he worked.


Jackson, J.M. 2022. 'Coercion and Dissent: Sleeping Sickness ‘Concentrations’ and the Politics of Colonial Authority in Ulanga, Tanganyika', The Journal of African History, pp. 1-18. Full text

Jackson, J.M. 2021. 'Off to Sugar Valley: The Kilombero Settlement Scheme and Nyerere’s People, 1959-69’ '. Journal of Eastern African Studies. DOI

Jackson, J.M. 2021. 'Coercion and Dissent: Sleeping Sickness "Concentrations" and the Politics of Colonial Authority in Ulanga, Tanganyika', The Journal of African History, forthcoming.

Chuhila, M.J. 2019. 'Agrarian change and rural transformation in Tanzania: Ismani 1940 – 2010.' UTAFITI: Journal of African Perspectives, Volume 14, Number 1, PP 1-23. Link

Chuhila, M.J. 2019. 'African Environmental History: East African Progress, 1970s to the present ' Tanzania Zamani, Volume 11, Number 1, PP 1-29.

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