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Tanzania under Mwalimu Nyerere: Reflections on an African Statesman

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Godfrey Mwakikagile, Tanzania under Mwalimu Nyerere: Reflections on an African Statesman
ISBN-10: 0-9802534-9-7
ISBN-13: 978-0-9802534-9-8
 
 

Acknowledegments

MUCH OF THIS WORK is derived from my life and experience in Tanganyika, later Tanzania. But a significant portion of it can be attributed to the secondary sources I have cited to complement my analysis.

The people of Tanganyika, and Tanzania after Tanganyika united with Zanzibar, deserve special thanks for inspiring and sustaining this work. It is because of them that I wrote the book. Without them, there would have been no Nyerere as a leader. He led them, but they made his leadership possible.

I must also express my deep gratitude to three individuals who knew and worked with President Nyerere when they were professors at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

They are Cranford Pratt, who was the first principal of the University College, Dar es Salaam, from 1961 to 1965. He assumed the post the same year Tanganyika won independence from Britain on 9 December 1961.

He wrote extensively about Tanzania. He also wrote a moving tribute to Mwalimu Nyerere, but one not entirely sentimental. It is an objective appraisal, by a scholar, of Mwalimu's policies and leadership. And I am grateful to him for citing portions of his work to support my arguments.

I am equally grateful to Professor John Saul who, in spite of his ideological affinity with Nyerere as a socialist, assessed Nyerere's work objectively enough without compromising scholarship.

He argued that Tanzania did not achieve economic development because it was not socialist enough. I have benefited from his insights although I don't share his position on that, forcefully articulated in his paper, “Julius Nyerere: The Theory and Practice of (Un)democratic Socialism in Africa.”

I am also grateful to Professor Gerry Helleiner whose analysis is reproduced in this work.

All three scholars, who are Canadian, wrote their essays on Nyerere's legacy after Nyerere died. And they continued to be some of the leading authorities on Tanzania in the West where they continued to teach in their home country, Canada.

The rest of the sources I have cited to document my work have been extremely useful and must be equally acknowledged for their contribution to the successful completion of this study whose merits are beyond the scope of my assessment.

 

Introduction

 

MANY PEOPLE have written about former President Julius Nyerere since his death. He has been universally acclaimed by his admirers and critics for his personal integrity and selfless devotion, and has been equally condemned for his "disastrous" economic policies.

I hope to strike a medium between the two. As a Tanzanian myself, it may be difficult to make an objective appraisal of his successes and failures. But that is what I have attempted to do in this book. Whether I have succeeded or not, is not for me to say. It is for the readers to decide.

Mwalimu, as he was and still is affectionately called, died when I was out of the country. His death was a shock to me and I am sure to many others in and outside Tanzania because of the type of leader he was. I saw him for the first time in the late 1950s when he was campaigning for independence and he left an indelible mark on me. I was under ten years old then, but I never forgot the day I first saw him, as I explain in the book.

As a mere mortal among mortals, he made mistakes like the rest of us. And he admitted his mistakes unlike most leaders. I discuss this in my book.

He was also unique among leaders in many fundamental respects, a subject I also address in this work.

But my focus is not just on what type of leader he was, but on what kind of policies he pursued especially in the domestic arena which was also his main theatre of operation; although none of this diminished his stature as one of the giants among leaders in history.

In spite of his lofty status, he remained what he was: of humble origin and a peasant at heart, at home with the masses in the villages in the rural areas unlike most leaders. His formidable intellect was equally acknowledged by friends and foes alike.

Why a leader of such high moral integrity and extraordinary intelligence could pursue "wrong" economic policies has baffled his critics, although the answer is very simple. They have never asked why he did what he did and under what circumstances. Professor Ali Mazrui described Nyerere as the most intellectual of the East African presidents, and one of the two most intellectual presidents Africa has ever produced; the other one being Leopold Sedar Senghor.

An admirer of Nyerere as an intellectual, and also his critic, Mazrui has attempted to explain why Nyerere pursued some of the policies he did; so have others.

It is a subject I also address in this work, complemented by appraisals from some of the people who understood his policies more than most of his critics did, in order to put everything in its proper perspective for a full understanding of Mwalimu.

Those amongst us who admired him, or disagreed with him, would be better advised to look at what he did without preconceived notions, remembering that Mwalimu was a mere mortal with frailties like the rest of us who admitted his mistakes but who also did his best.

I have also done my best to show how life was in Tanganyika, later Tanzania, under Mwalimu in a country where I was born and brought up.

I am also fully aware that I may not have done justice to a leader who was not only one of the giants in the history of Africa but in the history of mankind.

 

Chapter Three:


Tanzania in the Seventies and Eighties

TANZANIA SUFFERED severe economic problems in the seventies and eighties caused by several factors.

By the late sixties, which was not long after independence, it was still one of the world's poorest countries. And like many other developing countries, it suffered from a heavy burden of foreign debt, a decrease in foreign aid, and a decline in the price of its export commodities; problems which continued in the seventies and eighties.

Nyerere tried to tackle these problems by implementing a series of measures which included large-scale nationalization and establishment of ujamaa villages to boost agricultural production, although his policy of ujamaa, what has been called African socialism, was influenced by his strong belief in the merits of the traditional African communal way of life from which he drew inspiration when he enunciated his socialist ideology, and would have introduced the policy even if the country did not have serious economic problems.

The focus was on rural development where the vast majority of the people lived and whom he believed, because of their strong traditional way of life, would be able to extend their communal way of living and kinship responsibilities to the large communities of ujamaa villages and eventually embrace the entire nation. He described ujamaa villages in the Arusha Declaration as socialist organizations.

But the policy was not successful in economic terms for a number of reasons.

The majority of the people did not want to work on communal farms because they had traditionally worked on their own farms owned by themselves or by individual families. The people did not work hard in ujamaa villages as much as they did on their own farms because they did not feel that the farms belonged to them but to the community. There were no incentives to production in ujamaa villages one would expect to have when working on one's private farm.

People expect to get profit from their investment in terms of labour and capital. They could not get that by working on communal farms. Everything belonged to the community. That was one of the biggest dis-incentives to production, and there was no way ujamaa villages were going to be successful with that kind of attitude among the people.

As long as they did not get profit for themselves from their labour investment, they were not going to work hard. In fact, millions resented being resettled in ujamaa villages and there were violent confrontations with the authorities in many cases when people refused to be moved into those settlements.

The government finally realized that the policy was not working. But it was too late by then. Agriculture had virtually come to a standstill. As Nyerere said, in retrospect: "You can socialize what is not traditional. The shamba (farm) can't be socialized."1

But there were a number of other factors which also had a profound impact on Tanzania's economy in the seventies and eighties which had nothing to do with the country's economic policies besides the unwillingness and refusal by Western countries to provide substantial aid to Tanzania because the country was pursuing policies they did not like. As capitalist nations, they did not want to finance socialist projects to help Tanzania achieve its goal of building a socialist society. Therefore curtailment of foreign aid did have an adverse impact on Tanzania' economy, but it was by no means the only factor, among external factors.

But even the others factors, except drought, were inextricably linked with the West. Prices for export commodities from Tanzania and other Third World countries dropped precipitously in the seventies and eighties. It is Western countries which control the world market; therefore it is Western countries which set the prices for commodities from developing countries. The producers have virtually no say in setting prices for their commodities under an international system they don't control. And that was one of the tragedies for Tanzania and other African countries and the rest of the Third World in the seventies and eighties as much as it is today.

And it has been that way all the time because of their weakness. They are at the mercy of the powerful industrialized nations of the West who dominate the world economy. Some of the Western powers are the very same ones which colonized Africa. And they continue to exploit Africa today.

The sharp increase in the price of oil beginning with the Arab oil embargo since the Arab-Israel war in October 1973 also had a big impact on Tanzania's economy. It was not an exclusively Western factor but the increase in oil by OPEC members including African ones such as Nigeria who formed the oil cartel was in response to external pressure mainly by the West exerted on their economies.

In the case of the Arab oil-producing countries, it was also in response to negligence by the West, especially American bias towards Israel, of the plight of the Palestinians who were being oppressed by the Israel, the strongest ally of the West in the Middle East.

But whatever the reasons were for sharply increasing the price of oil, the decision severely affected the economies of non-oil-producing countries such as Tanzania, draining much-needed foreign exchange which went towards purchasing oil at an exorbitant price.

There was also the war with Idi Amin which affected the economy of Tanzania, a country already in a precarious position as one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world. The six-month war, which started at the end of October 1978 and ended in April 1979, cost Tanzania more than $500 million, draining national coffers.

The large-scale nationalization programme in pursuit of Tanzania's policy of socialism and self-reliance in order to break away from the economic stranglehold exerted by the West and other external forces was another major factor in the decline of the country's economy.

Nationalization was carried out in a hurried manner and without the expert management and technical expertise needed to make it successful; a problem that was compounded by corruption by the very same people who were supposed to implement the country's economic policies of socialism and self-reliance. That was an additional problem.

Besides corruption, it also meant that Tanzania was trying to build socialism and achieve self-reliance by using people who were not committed to socialism and to the policy of self-reliance, except to one thing: enriching themselves at the expense of the nation.

Therefore, while there may have been valid criticism of Tanzania's economic policies and the manner in which they were being implemented, thus compounding the problem, external factors also played a critical role in pushing Tanzania to the brink of economic collapse and to the point where the country not only abandoned its policy of socialism and self-reliance but became heavily indebted and even more dependent on the very same powers, Western countries and financial interests, it was trying to break away from in order to be free to pursue its national interests and promote the well-being of its people, especially the poor masses, without being dictated to by the West.

One of the people who have provided a balanced picture of Tanzania under Nyerere is Professor Cranford Pratt, at this writing an emeritus professor of political science at the University of Toronto. He was the first principal of the University College, Dar es Salaam, from 1961 to 1965. After returning to Canada, he continued to visit Tanzania until 1982, about three years before Nyerere stepped down from the presidency, and wrote extensively about Tanzanian politics and economic issues and personally knew Nyerere with whom he also worked.

One of Professor Pratt's most well-known and influential works about Tanzania is his book, The Critical Phase in Tanzania, 1945 to 1968: Nyerere and the Emergence of a Socialist Strategy published in 1976.2

He further discussed Tanzania's socialist policies and development strategy in another book, Towards Socialism in Tanzania, co-edited by Professor Bismarck Mwansasu of the University of Dar es Salaam and published in 1979, twelve years after the Arusha Declaration. As he stated in his assessment of Nyerere and his policies after Nyerere died in "Julius Nyerere: The Ethical Foundation of His Legacy":

While many of Nyerere's policy initiatives failed, they rested on an ethical foundation and on an understanding of the challenges which Tanzania faced, which were vastly more insightful than anything offered by his critics. Perhaps, ordinary Tanzanians have always recognized this truth....

The critical view of Nyerere's socialist policies taken by the international financial institutions, by western governments and by most North American development economists goes beyond criticisms of specific initiatives, to an impatient rejection of the very idea that Third World governments should seek actively to intervene in their economies either to advance social justice or to control the direction of their economic development.

Others today will, I am sure, address the intellectual crudity and ideological nature of this neo-liberal view of the international economic policies that would best serve Tanzania's interests.

What I want to underline is this parallel argument - western judgments of Nyerere's domestic legacy have reflected political values that in contrast to his, attach little importance to communities, are largely un-concerned with equality and are overwhelmingly preoccupied with economic growth.

This perspective is also crude and has had consequences as disastrous for very poor countries as has the dominance of neo-liberal international economic policies.

As a result, those concerned with the welfare of the peoples of the poorest states, are increasingly identifying as centrally important, the creation of democratic controls and a robust public ethic