Tom Neumark: Leapfrogging the Grid: Off-grid Solar, Self-reliance and the Market in Tanzania
Published in Social Anthropology/Anthropologie sociale, 2022.
Around a third of Tanzanians light their homes with solar electricity. Foreign companies are building on the popularity and availability of solar to ‘leapfrog’ the classic state led mains electricity grid infrastructure by attempting to create new off-grid infrastructural pathways. Central to such ambitions is the fostering of individual ownership of these off-grid infrastructures that builds on the idea of self-reliant energy long known to Tanzanians. Yet, such individual ownership, enacted through the hire-purchase device, is precarious, leading to an infrastructure that not only grows but contracts. As it does so, off -grid infrastructures illuminate the dependencies and tensions, including temporal ones, of other techno-social grids. These grids include both emerging digital financial infrastructures and other forms of kinship-based social organisation and property relations.