Indian Ocean Trade and Emerging Pathways of Mobility in Neoliberal Zanzibar

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Akbar Keshodkar


Indian Ocean trade historically directed ‘routes’ for merchants and traders to frame their ‘roots’ in Zanzibar. It facilitated access to different forms of social capital for imagining new trajectories of hope and constructing more meaningful futures. However, colonial rule and subsequent policies of the socialist revolutionary government severely restricted the mobility of Zanzibaris and their engagement in Indian Ocean trade, initiating a new era of uncertainty. As free-market policies have revived since the mid-1980s under a renewed framework of neoliberalism, this article examines how Zanzibaris, increasingly finding themselves in conditions of involuntary immobility, are trying to participate today in mercantile activities that brought prosperity in the past in hopes of securing a brighter future. The article explores how the efforts of Zanzibari merchants and traders to engage in trans- national Indian Ocean trade provides, for these limited groups of individuals, access to envisioning different pathways of socioeconomic mobility in the neoliberal era. The article contends that engagement in Indian Ocean trade, through support from transnational and diasporic networks, facilitates access to new routes of mobility to situate one’s roots in Zanzibar, while the situation for the majority of Zanzibaris continues to deteriorate under neoliberalism today.

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