Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Derek Sheridan ─ Commodities, Intermediaries, and the “Imperialism” of Chinese Trade in Tanzania

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

4 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.

McKinney Conference Room

Derek Sheridan is a PhD candidate in anthropology at Brown University.

Are Chinese migrants welcome in Africa? Are they building, as some critics allege, an “empire,” or are they extending, as others claim, longstanding Afro-Asian connections? Studies of contemporary African-Chinese relations, particularly the experiences of Chinese migrants/expatriates, haunted by the specter of empire, have struggled to reconcile them with multiple contending historical analogies. The consequence has been a lack of attention to the specificities of particular local histories and how African and Chinese actors themselves locate these processes in their own political-economic geographies. In this presentation, based on ethnographic fieldwork in Tanzania among Chinese and Tanzanian wholesale traders in the Kariakoo market of Dar es Salaam, I provide a narrative which situates the presence of Chinese wholesale traders within a long durée East African history of groups which have risen and fallen in trade hierarchies on the Swahili coast. The expansion of Chinese capital and goods in Tanzania, I argue, has been the product of the distributed agency of multiple Tanzanian and Chinese actors, and should be distinguished from the expansion of a singular “Chinese empire.” The politics of Chinese presence turn less on whether they belong in Tanzania, but more on what position they should occupy in a moralized division of labor. The view from Kariakoo complicates narratives of empire versus non-empire, providing alternative ways to think about the negotiation of economic mutualities in south-south connections.

Development and Governance Seminar