International Relations Major, Journalism and Spanish Double Minor
Tom Courtright is pursuing an Honors project on the Tanzanian-Zambian
Railway Authority (TAZARA) and the impact of the Chinese on infrastructure
development and the domestic politics of Tanzania and Zambia. With support from a Richter Grant, he spent part of the summer traveling from the port and commercial capital of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to the end of the line at Kapiri Mposhi in central Zambia. He surveyed dozens of railway passengers and employees, local residents, and officials about their experiences of working for or with TAZARA and about the Chinese diaspora in Zambia.
Can you cite an example of how your in-classroom and/or out-of-the-classroom experiences at Knox have benefited you in the project?
Knox has always encouraged me to take initiative, both professors and the various scholarships -- as well, my experience last summer working for a Guatemalan medical NGO helped prepare me for moving around a country on my own. Carrying out an independent study on East African history with Zambia tacked onto the end was also quite helpful in gaining a basic framework.
How do you think this experience will benefit you in terms of your education, future career plans, personal development, etc.?
It has taught me a lot about interviewing people, gaining their trust, and listening to their experiences and opinions. Some of the most helpful and interesting people I met I hadn’t planned to formally interview, and our conversations were some of the most enlightening. Hopefully, it will also help in my Peace Corps application. As well, clearly, this month-long research trip has also provided some foundations for my Honors project, to be written over the next year.
What was the best part of your project?
Travelling along the route -- I’ve met some incredible people, and visited some interesting towns and landscapes. My last day in Tanzania I hiked a nearby hill with a German I’d met, who had, two years earlier, driven from his hometown to Nepal with a foldable foosball table and a friend -- the perspectives I encountered are irreplaceable. Getting to know the railway in the most real, physical sense was absolutely essential for my study -- politico-economic aspects of the railway exist not only in the weekly CIA debriefings and Zambian Foreign Ministry papers, but in the understandings and experiences of those that have worked for the railway for 30 years.
What inspired you to pursue the project?
I needed to return to Africa, and I wanted to challenge myself with a year-long project my senior year.
What did you learn?
I learned a whole lot about the Chinese in Zambia and the relationships between TAZARA employees and the railway, as well as the economic and social relationship between Chinese and Zambians. The experiences of several veterans of the southern Africa wars of independence and subsequent civil wars in Mozambique, Angola, and Rhodesia (Zambia and Zimbabwe) -- combined with combing through the Foreign Ministry files in the Zambian archives -- gave me a quite interesting trove of primary sources on the political environment of the day.