Energy Trajectories and Solar Energy Imaginaries of the Maasai
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Energy Trajectories and Solar Energy Imaginaries of the Maasai


Solar energy development in Tanzania is steeped in discourses of Western technological transfer whereby the devices themselves are lauded as central innovating agents—the “doers”—that are solutions to local poverty. The trend intensifies in Maasai spaces, where a long history of marginalization in development projects has shaped the narratives of energy change around the practices and perspectives of pastoralists. In this paper, drawing from ethnographic work on Tanzania’s solar energy landscape, including 50 unstructured interviews with Maasai herders, city-dwellers of Arusha, Tanzania, and representatives from foreign solar energy firms, I show how the Maasai reconfigure incoming solar energy devices through locally generated knowledges, philosophies, and technologies in calculated efforts to chart their own futures. Using a sociotechnical imaginaries approach, I analyze interviews, historical literature and other relevant documents to underscore how Maasai pastoralists are central innovating agents in a shifting sociotechnical landscape who engineer and inscribe their own meanings onto solar power. The Maasai repurpose solar energy technologies as tools of negotiation between modern development initiatives prioritized by the national government and foreign solar companies and their own desires to remain anchored to elastic ancestral traditions grounded in the special relationship between herders and livestock. By discussing how solar energy is used and imagined in Maasai communities and combining that analysis with a history of top-down energy imaginaries in Tanzania, I hope to provide new platforms for (re-)imagining solar energy, pastoralism, and Maasai participation in technological futures.

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