A WARNING FROM RENE DUMONT

Rene Dumont’s book ‘False Start in Africa’ published in the early sixties warned of the dangers of poor newly independent African countries attempting to adopt the technology and life styles of the industrialised world which he saw as not simply irrelevant but a hindrance to real development. Dumont’s analysis and prescriptions were widely acclaimed among the new ‘Third World’ and ‘Development’ groups springing up during that period, but they found little support either from the large aid providers or the Governments of most developing countries. Almost alone Julius Nyerere saw the relevance of Dumont’s arguments for Tanzania and he is said to have required all his senior politicians and civil servants to read Dumont’s book. Its influence can be seen in the Arusha Declaration.

Even Tanzania has found Dumont’s ideas difficult to follow and most other countries have ignored them but Dumont has continued to identify and criticise examples of the failure of large scale capital intensive schemes to produce any improvements for those relying on peasant agriculture.

At the end of the seventies with both Tanzania and Zambia facing the most severe economic difficulties Presidents Kaunda and Nyerere asked Dumont to advise them on what had gone wrong. Dumont’s report to Nyerere has not so far been published although he has given some idea of what it contains in his news conferences and speeches. Now Dumont has published a book based on his work. It has the title ‘L’Afrique Etranglee’ and is not yet available in English.

In the next edition of the Bulletin we hope to have a full review of this important new book. The following brief comment gives an outline of Dumont’s analysis of Tanzania’s problems.

Dumont’s theme is the contradictions in Tanzania’s economic policies. The President’s commitment to rural development and belief in the fundamental importance of agriculture is contrasted with the failures of agricultural production since the Arusha Declaration. Dumont attributes this to the abandonment of Nyerere’s original ideas. In ‘Socialism and Rural Development’ Nyerere emphasised the importance of villages starting with small groups of families and bringing their land gradually into communal cultivation, while retaining individual plots. In the less publicised statement ‘Freedom and Development’ Nyerere clearly stated that Ujamaa villages could not be created by force, nor should people be persuaded to join by promises of large scale Government aid. Subsequent mistakes could have been avoided if these guide lines had been followed, if villages had started small and developed at their own pace. In practice Dumont argues that Ujamaa policy was socialism imposed from above. He asks ‘What do peasants know of socialism even renamed Ujamaa.?’

The Arusha Declaration, which was intended to curb the growth of an economic elite, gave new power to officials (‘state bourgeoisie’) as they expanded state control of economic affairs and too quickly baptised it socialism. In 1969 when TANU committed itself to the development of Ujamaa villages the first important act of the Central Committee was to disband the Ruvuma Development Association which had established successful cooperative villages according to Nyerere’s principles. The Minister for Rural Development explained this decision by claiming that ‘R.D.A. was scheming against the Party which ought to control all village development.’ This elitist ideology of directives from above which were to be passively accepted could not cope with the challenge of the genuinely self-reliant R.D.A. The agricultural marketing cooperatives were similarly wound up on the pretext that they had become inefficient and corrupt. To the peasants the state run marketing corporations which replaced the cooperatives seemed to be equally inefficient and corrupt. Moreover, the state corporations provided more employment for members of the ‘state bourgeoisie’ and added economic power to their existing significant political influence.

The marketing cooperatives have been used by the Government to press for increased production of cash crops for export but this policy may not be in the best interest of the peasants. Food crops directly benefit the growers and keep them free of the money economy. The marketing of cash crops is outside the peasants’ control and the profits are largely used to support urban life styles.

The Arusha Declaration was born out of the realisation that in post colonial Tanzania the real danger of exploitation was that of the rural peasants by the towns. Dumont claims that this situation continues as Government and Party Officials frustrate the implementation of Nyerere’s ideals.

Translation and Summary by Ada Dickins

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