UPD Seminar by Dr Matteo Rizzo (School of Oriental & African Studies) on “Taken for a Ride: Grounding Neoliberalism, Precarious Labour and Public Transport in an African Metropolis” (book launch)
Contributed by Jordana Ramalho
Dr Matteo Rizzo (School of Oriental and African Studies, London, UK) gave an impassioned and engaging presentation about his newly published book “Taken For A Ride: Grounding Neoliberalism, Precarious Labour, and Public Transport in an African Metropolis”. His book is a product of 15 years of fieldwork in Dar es Salaam, and in that, it offers a unique perspective that incorporates temporal as well as socio-spatial considerations into its appraisal of the political economy of public transportation in the Tanzanian capital. Dr Rizzo’s talk opened with a brief overview of post-colonial theories and conceptual frameworks applied to studies of African cities, including the contributions of Jennifer Robinson, Abdul Maliq Simone and Edgar Pieterse, each of whom advocate for the need to move beyond Eurocentric developmentalism and political economy narratives to describe and theorise cities in Africa and other parts of the global South. Dr Rizzo conversely argued that questions of political economy such as who owns what, who does what with what they own and how power is being (and has been) exercised by different actors, as well as how class feeds into these processes, remain crucial to understanding urban Africa, and how ‘generative powers’ of the ‘everyday’ feed into configurations of politics in the city.
Informed by this theoretical perspective, Taken For A Ride offers insights into the political economy of public transportation in urban Tanzania, using the experiences of daladala (privately run, low cost minibus) workers in the informal economy as an entry point for understanding the neoliberal processes and socio-political dynamics shaping this sector. The rest of the presentation was structured around the different chapters of the book, cleverly framed in his talk as ‘stops’, and their key arguments. This included a brief overview of the different actors involved in the daladala economy and the hierarchies that exist therein, with Dr Rizzo highlighting the problematic translation of terms used to classify employment relationships in the informal economy from English into Swahili, to the effect of rendering wage labourers statistically invisible by misleadingly capturing them as self-employed. He then proceeded to discuss the emergence of the Bus Rapid Transit System (BRT) and its implications for the numerous people involved in the wider daladala economy, as both workers and users. Within this examination, Dr Rizzo situated BRT within local Tanzanian politics and wider transnational neoliberal interests, highlighting the tensions in operation, and identifying the World Bank as a key player, whose influence and conditionalities are effectively facilitating a transfer of public transportation services from local to foreign hands, to the detriment of many in the city.
In drawing his presentation to a close, Dr Rizzo returned to some of his earlier theoretical reflections, reinforcing the different configurations of power in the city, including the agency and resistance of informal workers, as well as the practical and scholarly considerations exposed through his study.
Jordana Ramalho is a research student in the Department of Geography and Environment