Project A02, Past Futures

Project Summary

The Kilombero Valley of southern Tanzania has long been recognised as a richly fertile area with high development potential. Future visions of development programs have been a prominent feature in the political economy of the Kilombero valley region of south-central Tanzania since the 1890s, although their character, extent, and aims have varied enormously over that time. 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’. ‘Past Futures’ will consider these histories, and trace the form and character of past development interventions – whether only envisaged, or fully realised. Past, present and future are linked through community experience of these development interventions – both in their presence and their absence. To know what future the rural communities of Kilombero imagine for themselves today, we must understand how their historical experience of past development has shaped and directed expectations.

Research Region: Kilombero valley region, south-central Tanzania

Research Overview

This project has tested the methodology of combining oral histories and archival sources to investigate past ‘future-making’ in the Kilombero valley. Our hypotheses were that this would show connections between past development interventions and current programmes and projects in the valley, and that it would allow us to assess both the ‘response’ of local populations to development and the changing character of the aspirations and goals of the developers who planned and designed the interventions. In all aspects the methodology has proven robust, giving us a remarkable quantity of good quality data with which to work, the archival elements of the project revealing a far greater depth of data than we had thought likely.

We have worked toward linking our findings to wider discussions about the implementation and impact of past development interventions, looking at specific issues such as disease control (through sleeping sickness settlements, Jackson a), migration (through rural resettlement of poor urban populations, Jackson b), and the evolution of modernization theory in Africa rural development in the 1950s and 1960s (a very grand form of state-led ‘future-making’) (Anderson, Chuhila & Jackson).

To understand how notions of ‘future-making’ may been represented in past development initiatives, the project has three key objectives:

1. To establish a chronology and analysis of rural development initiatives throughout the Kilombero valley region from the early twentieth century to the present.

2. To assess the relationship between internal social dynamics and external interventions. How far is rural development 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?

3.To assess the place of rural development in sustaining and improving livelihoods. Have the benefits of development allowed people to make better futures? Who have been the beneficiaries of rural development interventions?


Firstly, oral histories collected amongst local communities have formed a key element of the data for the project. This is principally organised through the gathering of life histories. Key places have been selected to enable Kilombero residents today to speak to the rich archival data and primary historical source material that has been collected.

This project draws upon an unusually wide and rich range of archive sources. Material is drawn from sources not limited to: the Tanzanian National Archives in Dar-es-Salaam and Dodoma; the National Archives of the UK; German Federal Archives (Das Bundesarchiv); Collections held at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge; Bibliothèque nationale de France; Penn State University, USA; Wageningen University, Netherlands; and private collections.

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


Key Findings

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?


Jackson, JM 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, doi:10.1017/S0021853722000202.

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

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

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

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