Taming Exotic Beauties

Swedish Hydro Power Constructions in Tanzania in the Era of Development Assistance, 1960s - 1990s

Document identifier: oai:DiVA.org:ltu-76719
Keyword: Humanities and the Arts, History and Archaeology, History of Technology, Humaniora och konst, Historia och arkeologi, Teknikhistoria, History, Historia
Publication year: 2007
Relevant Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):
SDG 11 Sustainable cities and communitiesSDG 7 Affordable and clean energySDG 16 Peace, justice and strong institutions
The SDG label(s) above have been assigned by OSDG.ai


This study analyses the history of a large hydroelectric scheme – the Great Ruaha power project in Tanzania. The objective is to establish why and how this specific scheme came about, and as part of this to identify the key actors involved in the decision-making process, including the ideological contexts within which they acted. Although the Tanzanian actors and the World Bank (IBRD) are discussed, main focus is on the Swedish actors on project level.Kidatu, the first phase of the Great Ruaha power project (constructed between1970-1975), became the first large-scale hydropower station in Tanzania. As such, it paved the way for Tanzanian entrance into the Big Dam Era and significant changes within the Tanzanian landscape. As well as the dry river bed at Kidatu, and the small reservoir that precedes it, the Great Ruaha power project also involved the creation of a huge artificial lake, the Mtera reservoir. The Kidatu hydropower station was the first large undertaking within Swedish bilateral aid, and implied the takeover of control of hydropower construction in Tanzania by Swedish enterprises, replacing the enterprises of the former colonial power. A hydropower plant is a complex technoscientific artefact. The construction of a hydropower plant is preceded by a large number of technological choices, scientific prestudies and estimations of costs and revenues. A hydropower plant is also a complex social creation, and is as such filled with social actors engaged in conflicts, compromises and power structures. The decision to construct Kidatu hydropower station was a result of negotiations and activities within what is called “development assistance”. This brings in yet another dimension, the political one, involving export and import of technology, foreign capital, and foreign influence in decision-making processes, as well as ideas about how to bring development and progress to a people supposed to be living in “poverty and misery”. The study is divided into three main parts. The first part analyses the context of Swedish development assistance in the support to the construction of hydropower plants. This part discusses Swedish state-supported hydropower exploitation of indigenous people’s territory within Sweden’s borders in the 20th century and the background of Swedish development assistance, from the 1950s to the early 1960s. The second part analyses the event of Swedish development assistance entering Tanzania and the Great Ruaha power project, with the main focus being on the period 1965 – 1970. The third part is an analysis of the technoscientific basis for the decisions taken to implement the Great Ruaha hydropower scheme. Main focus is on the period 1969-1974, discussed against the backdrop of precolonial and colonial studies. While focus is on the 1960s and 1970s, in both part two and three events in the 1980s and 1990s are discussed. The study shows that although Sweden was not a colonial power in Tanzania, colonial imagery, and relations to the colonial era, as well as Sweden’s background of internal colonialisation, exerted an influence on the decision-making process and the actors involved in the Great Ruaha power project.The study is mainly based on archival sources, complemented with oral sources from Tanzania and Sweden. Recognizing the complexity of large-scale hydropower and the attempts to control watercourses that large scale hydropower necessitates, in the specific context of decolonisation and development assistance that the decision-making process behind the Great Ruaha hydropower scheme reveals, the analysis of the actors involved is based on feminist and postcolonial perspectives.


May-Britt Öhman

Luleå tekniska universitet; Samhällsvetenskap; Royal Institute of Technology, KTH; History
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