THE TANZANIAN EXPERIMENT

The BBC Radio Four programme Analysis on 5th. February focussed on what it appropriately called ‘The Tanzanian Experiment’ with central planning of the economy since the Arusha Declaration of 1967. This major policy departure led, in the years between 1967 and 1976/7 to significant reordering of the economy, of society and of political institutions in the country under the banner of ‘ujamaa’, the kiswahili word which has come to be regarded as the equivalent of socialism. Since Julius Nyerere, the father of the nation, is to resign from the presidency later this year after a quarter of a century as the helmsman, a programme of this kind was pertinent. Although the presenter, David Wheeler, did not actually say so , he left very little doubt that the conclusion he wished to impress on his listeners was that the experiment had failed and that private capitalism would have boded less ill for Tanzania. I would argue, however, that this interpretation of developments in post-Arusha Tanzania is unsatisfactory in a number of important respects.

Of course the strength of the programme was that it offered a generous coverage of important issues- the parastatals, villagisation, corruption, public order, the union between Zanzibar and mainland Tanganyika, the Party (CCM), Nyerere and the question of the succession, and so forth. A11 of these are issues that the country’s new parliamentary and presidential leadership to be elected in November will have to address in the light of the poor performance of an over-regulated economy and an excessively ordered society in the eighteen years since the Arusha Declaration. The programme was also strong on the selection of participants . Apart from one expatriate young woman, all the respondents were experienced people whose noses have long been close to the ground.

It was unfortunate, therefore, that the presenter was not willing, or perhaps able, to follow any of the affirmative and quite sober analyses offered by his respondents. It was somewhat paradoxical that whilst participants were admitting to the failures of the experiment in the most candid manner and pointing to possible correctives, Mr. Wheeler chose to develop his ‘analysis’ along the lines of the wiseacres you can find at fashionable hotels in Nairobi or Arusha or Dar es Salaam drinking tusker or Kilimanjaro beers and bemoaning the colonial past. To be sure the general sentiments expressed by the narrator are sometimes to be found in more respectable (often ‘left’) circles in the West – gross insensitivity and cynicism accompanied by a mocking jeer at whatever progressive leaders in the Third World countries attempt to do by way of effecting social change. Interestingly enough, it is becoming more common for some ‘left wing’ analysts strongly to support the World Bank’s prescription for Africa – partial withdrawal of the state from the economy and active encouragement of private capital, which can lead to cuts in public spending on health, education and so forth. Informing such a perspective is usually the absence of an appreciation of the general context of poverty and often the at best limited development in which progressive regimes are having to operate whilst coping with a generally hostile international environment.

An awareness of this context is sadly missing from Mr. Wheeler’s analysis of the Tanzanian experiment. Tanzania, for example, has long been amongst the twenty five poorest countries in terms of present development of the productive forces and the creation of wealth. A large country with enormous potential, her population has been largely concentrated at the periphery, thereby posing problems of communication, defence, access to markets, delivery of government services, etc.. Additionally, Tanzania before the Arusha Declaration was not exactly a country to which investors were flooding. In such a situation if any development is to take place including putting in place the basic infrastructure which would make it possible for the government successfully to invite foreign capital- it had to be undertaken by the state. The fact that the state has failed to effect development efficiently does not necessarily mean that the original decision to regulate the economy was essentially wrong.

At independence in 1961 Tanzania faced a familiar set of problems that all ex-colonies have had to confront at this juncture- how so to utilise the limited services and resources, which in the colonial period were designed and well administered for the benefit of the colonialists, for a vastly enlarged constituency with newly acquired rights. Few, if any, countries have been able to redistribute in a manner that enables the poor to have some access to the basic needs of life, such as medicine, water, food, shelter and education, as Tanzania has been able to do. This success has undoubtedly slowed down the process of private capital accumulation, but this of itself is not evidence that private capital would have done things any better. After all, Tanzania went a far shorter distance along the path of development during the decades of direct colonialism than in the relatively short period since 1967.

One of the central questions, or set of questions, that Mr. Wheeler posed concerned the problem of continuity once Nyerere takes a back seat after November. In terms of the political aspect of the question I have always maintained that one of Nyerere’s positive contributions has been the development of a political system that may outlast him. This obviously would be an achievement anywhere, but especially so in Africa. As Haroub Othman said on the programme, the Tanzanian experiment has not been merely a ‘Nyerere business’, which is likely to go with him in the way that Nasserism, or Nkrumahism, were quickly and easily swept aside after their departures.

On the economic side the question has been improperly posed. In some quarters in the West people have chosen to believe that the Tanzanian experiment rules out participation in the economy by private investors, but this has been far from the truth. If this point was somewhat lost in the noise and fury that accompanied the Arusha Declaration and Mwongozo 1 in 1971, a number of government statements, including the five year plans, have repeatedly called for private and foreign capital participation in the country’s development. The stress that this is presently receiving, including Nyerere’s willingness to return sisal estates to private investors, obviously indicates a shift in the balance of forces in the leadership in favour of those who have seen enough of the large and inefficient bureaucracy which has developed and who would in any event be happier in an economic climate where private wealth and political office could go hand in hand. It is also an admission that the state bureaucracy is ill equipped to manage an under-developed, shaky economy. My reading of the situation, however, is that greater participation of private capital in the economy will have to be presented and defended within the broad nationalist framework established by the Declaration.

The valuable lessons learnt in the process of an experiment with change and the frank admission of these warrant informed and sympathetic analysis, not cynicism. The biblical view that ‘a little knowledge puffeth up’ is perhaps therefore more apt with regard to the superficial analysis offered in the programme than is Mr. Wheeler’s paraphrasing of St. Augustine with respect to Tanzanian socialists.
Harry Coulbourne

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