(Re)Remembering the Past, Foreseeing a Radiant Future in southern Tanzania

Authors: Stephanie Postar*, University of Oxford
Topics: Environment
Keywords: Nuclear, Africa, temporality
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: 8224, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Processed uranium can be seen as holding instantaneous, devastating power (e.g., mushroom clouds), while uranium in subsurface forms is more often thought to be capable of slow, persistent emission of low-level energy. In Tanzania, where the country’s first uranium mine is quiet as it completes its seventh year of delays, the relationship between pace, time, and the making of uranium as a resource is plural. Based on 15 months of ethnographic and archival fieldwork, this paper examines the history of Tanzanian uranium exploration through archival and oral histories. Geological archives illustrate the ways the sedimentation of the Karoo formation repeatedly became the site of mineral exploration in the twentieth century. Oral histories of people living in the area further contextualize Tanzania’s recent process of permitting uranium mining within a longer history of interest in this mineral. Financial claims made by neighbours of the mine, of the losses of ancestors evicted from the contemporary mining concession, depend on dispossessions of the past, but capitalize on visions of wealth to come. The political deployment of the past that I explore here complicates the ways in which this emerging nuclear space is navigated by marginalized small-scale farmers. The prolonged uncertainty of ongoing delays in the mining project uncomfortably links the histories and futures of this resource rich but economically marginal space. The multiple, shifting timescapes of uranium recounted here challenge us to theorize the ways colonial legacies encounter global commodities, suggesting temporalities of uranium beyond the shadow of the infinite lifespan of radioactivity.

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