The African Car: Technology, Mobility, and Development in Tanzania, 1870-2015


ACLS Fellowship Program




“The African Car” tells the story of Tanzanians who built personal and collective lives around the motor vehicle and its accompanying infrastructure—including roads, repair garages, and oil refineries—beginning in the 1870s. Drawing on archival sources, oral histories, and the author’s apprenticeship in a garage, it argues that histories and theories of development are incomplete because they have ignored Africans’ technical competence and creativity in using, repairing, and remaking one of the twentieth century’s most important machines. The project thus replaces long held assumptions about African technological dysfunction and misuse with evidence of mechanical expertise and innovation by Tanzanian motorists who turned automobiles into an everyday African technology. The project also questions the merits of automobile-based development both before and after the OPEC oil crisis. Though cars, roads, and oil played critical roles in most theories of modernization, their costs made motor vehicles problematic technologies of development for Tanzania.