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The political economy of nation formation in modern Tanzania: explaining stability in the face of diversity

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Tanzania's success in nation formation and ethnic conflict prevention is a striking refutation of the prevalence of state failure across post-colonial Africa. However, the Tanzanian case has heretofore never been examined in comparative perspective. This article reviews the existing set of literature claiming to explain Tanzanian exceptionalism - focusing, in particular, on ethnic diversity, nation-building and ethnic conflict management policies, and the Swahili language - and finds it lacking. Instead, the author argues that Tanzania's low and equitable endowments of labour and capital have greatly aided her subsequent political stability and nation formation. In particular, he shows that such endowments have prevented the rise of large-scale inter-regional inequalities which have driven state failure elsewhere in Africa. He also examines the counterfactual case of Zanzibar, which adds further support to its argument. The article concludes that processes of demographic change and economic development have played much more a role in ethnic conflict prevention in Tanzania than has been previously recognised.
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Keywords: Tanzania; demography; ethnic conflict; nation-building; nationalism

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of International Development, London School of Economics, London, UK

Publication date: 01 April 2011

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