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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Negotiating reforms at home: Natural resources and the politics of energy access in urban Tanzania


Household access to resources in urban areas is increasingly contested as a political arena under the rubric of globalization. These debates focus on the coming together of urban population growth, increasing inequality, and economic restructuring - processes that cut through arenas of households, communities, national policies, and international regimes. Sector reforms including privatizations of urban resource services and infrastructures such as water, transportation, and energy all figure prominently in these debates and have important stakes for household and community access. This paper is part of a broader dissertation research project focused on unraveling the historical, resource, and discursive processes producing conditions of urban energy in Dar es Salaam. It presents a preliminary set of arguments suggesting that reforms may be contributing to dynamics that may increase and sustain urban charcoal use, and consequently increase pressure on forestry resources. The relationship between formal and informal resource economies, community-level resource strategies, and differentiated intra-household dynamics around labor, gender, and power all play central roles in this discussion. This paper arrives at its main argument through three parts. First, it introduces the specific policies connected with reforms and their historical origins in a paradigm shift from treating energy as a public service to a commodity good. Second, it lays out a framework for conceptualizing dynamics of household energy access, where reform policies may rework access conditions in important ways. Third, it elaborates the main hypothesis of this paper by showing how charcoal is now the cheapest cooking fuel as a result of changing fuel pricing policies and elaborates a set of dynamics around consumer goods that may serve to further differentiate types of energy priorities and direct resources away from spaces of kitchens. The paper concludes with a short discussion of the policy implications and next steps in the broader research project.

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