Cite as: Alhamedi, Tawfiq. 2019. Research Program Description. University of California. November.


Tawfiq Alhamedi is a second-year PhD student in the University of California, Irivine's Department of Anthropology. His research is based in East Africa and the western Indian Ocean, engaging themes of belonging, citizenship, and memory along the Swahili coast. Crossing the boundaries of African and Middle East Studies frameworks, his dissertation project intends to employ an Indian Ocean lens to provide an ethnographic account of how Tanzanian communities of Hadhrami-descent (living in Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar island) engage, contest, and seek to rewrite state and local narratives of Arabness and community in East Africa. Beyond his dissertation project, he also is interested in Islam, ethnicity, and political and historical anthropologies of the western Indian Ocean.

Research Program Description

My research explores competing articulations of national identity, belonging, and community along the Swahili coast. Engaging both Hadhrami diasporic communities as well as Zanzibari nationalists at the margins of Tanzanian politics, my work aims to examine how these minoritized groups contest and negotiate history, heritage, and memory in light of contemporary geopolitical and neoliberal transformations in East Africa. 

Preliminary Research Questions

  • What do contemporary notions of Arabness, belonging, memory, and citizenship reveal about changing community relations to Swahili culture and the Tanzanian state? 
  • What do these dynamics suggest about rapidly shifting geopolitics along the Swahili coast? 
  • How are Arab, and particularly Hadhrami, identities articulated and expressed by Tanzanians of Hadhrami-descent in the contemporary moment? 
  • How do these narratives complicate the broader ways in which Arab and African identities are understood and conceptualized across the disciplines of Anthropology, Area Studies, and Islamic Studies?
  • How do marginal groups mobilize alternate readings of the past in order to re-articulate or create new group identities in the present?
  • How do reorganizations of political space (colonialism, nation-state) and local spatial imaginaries of belonging/identity clash?
  • How do religious traditions, ontologies, and epistemologies interrelate with/shape people’s understandings of the nation and history?

Tanganyika-Zanzibar Union: Alternate Imaginaries

This is a blog post written by a prominent Zanzibari journalist living in Germany, Mohammed Ghassani, wherein he explores the history of the Tanganyika-Zanzibar union and imagines an alternate past and vision of Tanzania's first prime minister, Julius Nyerere. The questions surrounding the union and the positionality of Zanzibar as semi-autonomous set of islands animates the broader themes of heritage, identity, nationhood and competing geographic imaginaries in Tanzania germane to my research space.

"Karibu Zanzibar" [Welcome to Zanzibar] sign upon entering the main island of Unguja from the Dar es Salaam ferry. In recent decades, Zanzibar has been more strictly securitized and managed in terms of movement to and from the mainland. These new infrastructures undergirding mobility index questions of Zanzibar's status as a multi-ethnic, majority-Muslim, semi-autonomus island of Tanzania, wherein contentions over increased self-rule in Zanzibar have challenged overarching projections of Tanzanian national identity, community, and belonging.

"The Hadhrami Diaspora: Islam and Indian Ocean Connectivity" - Interactive Map

I created this interactive map in 2016 to be used as textured visualization of Indian Ocean space in the 14th century, a time of noted Hadhrami religious and merchant-based migration throughout varied oceanic littorals. This mapping sets the stage for an exploration of broader histories of movement between southern Arabia and East Africa through primary source descriptions of numerous Indian Ocean port cities written by the famed 14th century Muslim world traveler, Ibn Battuta.