Accepted paper:

Of grief, greed, and God: collective and individual mourning and political contention after Zanzibar's ferry disaster


Nadine Beckmann (University of Roehampton)

Paper short abstract:

This paper analyses the reactions of individuals, families, and the state to the sinking of a passenger ferry in Zanzibar in September 2011, focusing on tensions between a shared overall rhetoric of fate and hushed discourses of political contention circling around greed and corruption.

Paper long abstract:

In September 2011, an old, overloaded passenger-cum-cargo ferry sank on its journey to Pemba, reportedly killing about 3000 people. Juxtaposing a woman's search for her 12-year-old sister and narratives of survivors and the bereaved, with the government and wider society's response , this paper analyses how individuals, families, and the Zanzibari society at large mourned for the dead and simultaneously discussed questions of responsibility. While this event was clearly man-made, a shared rhetoric of fate cast the disaster in terms of an 'accident' in discussions of those who mourned the loss of family members and in the government's portrayal of the event. Simultaneously, in hushed conversations among ordinary people, tropes of greed, corruption and witchcraft were evoked, and bitterness about moral decline, deep mutual mistrust, and the lack of humanity among the rich and powerful was expressed. Expectations that the government would instigate a thorough investigation and draw the necessary consequences were disappointed when less than ten months later another ferry sank, again killing hundreds. This has shattered whatever residue of trust in the government there had been. The paper addresses the tensions between the de-politicising force of a fatalist discourse and the solace provided by couching the events in terms of God's will; unable to tackle the real causes and address their grievances through open political contention, I argue that the rhetoric of fate and trust in God is a strategy to cope with the suffering, and provides a sense of security in a world that is increasingly uncertain.

panel G20
Trust in super-diversity