Extracts from a paper presented to the Conference on “Tanzania after Nyerere” held at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London University. A full version with a list of references will be included in a book on the Conference to be published by Francis Pinter – later this year – Editor

One of the greatest achievements of Tanzania under the leadership of Julius Nyerere has been the political stability which the country has enjoyed, setting Tanzania’s political development apart from the ugly experience of many Third World countries. Academics at Dar e s Salaam University have also enjoyed an unprecedented autonomy and freedom to experiment and discuss critical national issues with confidence, an atmosphere that President Nyerere has helped’ to provide. The President’s own clarity of thought and commitment to the liberation struggles in Southern Africa have given us inspiration and added a new dimension to our understanding of international relations, Indeed Nyerere towered high above the parochialism and mediocrity of his many contemporaries, striving to rise above tribalism, racialism, class interests and sometimes, even above national interests, in a herculean effort to create a better world.

But the President was also a dictator and a ruthless implementer of the policy of Villagisation (1975) which forcefully moved 11 million peasants from their homes to strange surroundings. The President did hot hesitate to imprison people with out trial, if they were viewed as a threat to the state, notwithstanding his humanitarian ideals and values. The surprising and interesting fact about the President is that he chose to function within the boundaries of the law. Thus what makes President Nyerere interesting is the manner in which he utilised the state machinery.

The paper below examines the different roles the President played in policy-making and attempts to generalise their effects on the state machinery. The President’s greatest success was the maintenance of political stability and unity; his failure was his inability to create and consolidate a system to safeguard his achievements. This failure cannot be isolated from the way in which he utilised the state machinery.

The Tripartite System of Policy-Raking

Tanzania has had a tripartite system of policy-making which allows the Party, the Government and the President to formulate policy on different bases. This arrangement was made more complex and difficult because the state lacked a consensus. The Party and Government sponsored different and competing ideologies of development, which were often reflected in conflicting policies within this relationship, the President’s role and relationship with the two organs was extremely important as he could change the equation balance. Between 1962 and 1967 the President was closer to the Government, and supported Government capitalist policies. From 1969 to 1974, the President became closer ideologically to the Party; this affinity was reflected in his support for the Party policies such as Mwongozo (1971), re-location of the capital from Dar es Salaam to Dodoma (1973), and the Musoma Declaration (1974). Likewise this period was characterised by his withdrawal of support from policies which were favoured by the Government.

After 1974, with the first economic crisis, the President attempted to establish an equilibrium, by balancing conflicting objectives. This was seen especially in his vacillation from one position to another. The concept of a tripartite system of policy-making reveals a complex and intricate scenario of institutional manoeuvrings, changes of alliances, of issues and of policies. For example, two organs of the state would cone together to push through a policy which did not have the support of the third organ. A case in point, according to Green, was the Villagisation policy which was supported by both the President and the Party but not by the Government. At other times, one organ of the state would pass a policy unilaterally. The policy of Operation Maduka (1976) was passed by Prime Minister Kawawa unilaterally and reversed by the President, also unilaterally. On other occasions the state would come together in an attempt to co-ordinate policy-making; this usually happened when it was confronted with a crisis. Within this complex web of institutional interactions, the President’s role and support became critically important for he could determine the policy.

The President played different roles in policy making. For instance, as there was no institutional co-ordination between the Party and the Government, the President became the only co-ordinating mechanism; he was required to modify policy in order to balance conflicting demands and objectives. In addition, the Republican Constitution of 1962 had given him, according to his own words, “enough powers to make me a dictator”, and enabled him to by-pass both the Party and the Government and pass policy unilaterally. Sometimes, however, the President could be very democratic and take a policy issue to the Government and sometimes to the Party for ratification. By utilising the tripartite arrangement to suppress, sponsor, pass, support or change policy, the President was placed in a strategic position within the state to direct and control policies.

The President as a co-ordinating Mechanism

The problem of separation of policy-making from implementation was compounded by the absence of an institutional mechanism for coordination or consultation. It was difficult to co-ordinate discussion of the objective of policy with the problems of implementation. A policy which brought the Party and Government into a headlong clash was the policy on private capital, The Party opposed private capital because it created greater social inequalities; the Government supported it because of its contribution to economic growth. As head of both the Government and the Party, the President was in a strong position but he was subjected to contradictory pressures and demands, which were reflected in frequent changes of policy. Sometimes the Government would appeal to the President to modify a policy after it had been passed by the Party. A case in point was the Arusha Declaration. The nationalisation of foreign capital, together with the antagonism shown against private capital generally, led to a situation where private local capital stopped investment and threatened to bring the economy, trade, commerce etc. to a halt.

The Government appealed to the President and a month later in February, another document was issued, entitled, “Public Ownership in Tanzania”, which “welcomed private investment in all those areas not reserved for Government in the Arusha policies”. The new policy modified considerably the model of socialist development which was embodied in the Arusha Declaration.

What is significant is that President Nyerere changed his theoretical and political position, and his alliance. In his Opening Speech at Arusha in January, 1967 the President had stressed the problems of exploitation, a position which had brought him closer to the Party’s. A month later, the President accepted the policy of Public Ownership and was closer to the Government’s position, which he strongly supported at the Party Special Meeting held in Mwanza in September 1967.

However the President could also change a policy as a result of intervention from Party activists. For instance, the Party has had an immense impact on policies concerning international trade. As far back as 1962 Party activists, both in Parliament and in the Party forums, have consistently demanded the replacement of internal trade, which was controlled by Asian capital, by the co-operatives and state institutions. Until 1967, the President resisted the demand to nationalise local capital, especially internal trade.

In 1967, however, foreign capital was nationalised as the result of the Arusha Declaration. The import-export firms were subsequently affected. Three years later in 1970 the wholesale trade was nationalised. Indeed, one can argue that by 1969 the President changed his support for Government’s capitalist policies and moved to the Party’s more radical position of socialist development. With the nationalisation of local capital, the President accepted the principle of rapid nationalisation: once again, the President altered his theoretical and political positions and alliances.

The Presidency as an Independent Policy-Making Organ

But the President did not always respond to Party and Government pressures and demands. Sometimes, the President would act unilaterally, that is, without consulting either the Government or the Party. As we have seen the Republican Constitution had given him the powers to do so. Examples are difficult to come by, but research has indicated that the President was capable of acting as a dictator when he was confronted by a crisis and/or when he believed very strongly in a specific position.

A well documented case is the breaking off of diplomatic relations with Britain and West Germany in the 1964/1965 foreign policy crisis. According to Pratt the President took this decision without consultation with the Cabinet even though it affected the funding of the development plan. The decision to resign as Prime Minister in 1962 was also taken unilaterally by the President. According to Msekwa, the decision was “unexpected and unknown to the National Executive Committee of the Party”. Leys saw the resignation of Nyerere as Chief Minister as an attempt to avert a split between the Party and the Government.

The Arusha Declaration was also in response to crises. The Government was not consulted (Pratt) and Party members received no advanced notice (Mwansasu). In line with the crisis theory, Tanzania also experienced a number of mini-crises: the 1964 army mutiny, the emergence of wa-Benzi (Pratt) signifying the growth of gross inequalities among the social classes, the student crisis (Coulson), the coups taking place in Vest Africa and the Salaazar, Smith, and Verwoerd threat to the region and to Tanzania. President Nyerere used the Arusha Declaration as a shock treatment to pre-empt what he believed was a crisis looming over Tanzania. In this instance he came to believe that a different development strategy would help Tanzania avert political instability.

President Nyerere was also prepared to act unilaterally when and if he believed that his position on an issue was morally correct. His support for the Biafran case was an example, but the President was very careful after the Biafran experience not to repeat a similar case in foreign policy. However, the domestic scene was his own backyard, and here the President would often go against the advice of his Cabinet. After the Arusha Declaration the President discouraged private commercial farming because he believed that it was capitalist and exploitative, although the Cabinet had hoped to maintain it because of its contribution to the GDP. As a result, the Government had to rely very heavily upon the progressive farmers for export and food production. In 1967 the President supported this category of farmers but in 1969 he withdrew his support when he passed his Presidential Circular on Ujamaa 1969, which called for a frontal approach to the implementation of Ujamaa villages. Again, this policy was taken against the advice of senior Government officials(Pratt) . The villagisation policy was also taken against the advice of the Government (Green). Ve can therefore see that President Nyerere’s moral beliefs played a very important role in policy-making………

The President as a Democrat

In Tanzania both Parliament and the Party can ratify or pass policy. For instance, the President took the Union issue (between Zanzibar and Tanganyika) in 1964 to the Government; in presenting the Union agreement in Parliament he re-emphasised the absolute supremacy of the National Assembly (Msekwa), Nyerere himself dealt with the Union. According to Tordoff, “it seems unlikely that more than a handful of Ministers were consulted in advance over the Union” The policy of Decentralisation (1972) was initiated by the President and sent to the Government for ratification and implementation.

The President also took major policy decisions to the Party Both the Arusha Declaration (1367) and the policy of Villagisation (1975) were taken to the Party. Commenting on the latter, Msekwa states that: “The NEC discussed and accepted the President’s submission, and directed that it should he implemented throughout the country”. As Head of both Party and Government, the President could take a policy issue to either organ for discussion and ratification This situation gave him a great deal of room to manoeuvre because he would take a ‘policy issue to the organ which was more sympathetic to the policy or where he thought it would stand the greatest chance of being accepted without major modifications, challenges or the risk of being miss-handled. Democracy was facilitated by the flexibility of these structures.

Sometimes the President encouraged discussion between the tripartite organs – the Government, the Party and the President. This happened when the state was confronted with a crisis. The policy on private capital from 1976 onwards is a case in point. Various discussions within the state have been held at various times to discuss the pros and cons of private capital. Another example is the recent IMF package, the discussions of which occupied the state for almost 10 years. Over this period Nyerere’s position changed considerably, He had vehemently opposed the IMF package in 1978 which led to the resignation of his Minister of Finance, Htei. In 1986 as the Party Chairman, Nyerere was responsible for almost constraining members of the NEC to accept the IMF package. Once again, Nyerere changed his position and alliances.

The Presidency: A State within the State

We can see that the President was placed in an important and strategic position within the state, which enabled him to control policy in a very important way. The different constitutional traditions, parliamentary democracy, republican rule, supremacy of the Party, which Tanzania enjoyed, together with Institutional arrangements for policy-making which existed, virtually made the presidency a state within the state.

The Presidency became both a stabiliser and a source of policy in stability. Like the rock upon which Peter built his Church, the nation would look towards President Nyerere for guidance. Even the warring Party and Government would accept the President’s arbitration and acquiesce. With his charisma, national and international status, and his intellectualism, President Nyerere was able to drape a cloak over the dissensions and weaknesses within the state and maintain stability and unity in the country – two major contributions of the President. But the Presidency was also a source of policy-instability which was reflected in the extreme policy changes which the country has experienced. Such fundamental policy changes implied changes of positions and alliances. It created uncertainties within the state and in the larger society and destabilised the economy.

President Nyerere failed to build and consolidate a system. The conflict between the Party and the Government (1962-1982) and the dissentions between the President and his Government (1969-1982) indicated that the state lacked a consensus over serious policy matters. Indeed some of the policies passed during the Party-Presidency alliance weakened the role of the Cabinet and Government generally, which in turn inhibited the development of a strong and independent administration, a pre-requisite for building and consolidating a system.

This situation was made worse by the deteriorating economic performance, leading to an acute economic crisis which manifested itself in a shortage of consumer goods and rising inflation. Patronage, a network of clients and the ethos of the “economy of affection” gradually eroded the few professional norms and standards which had prevailed in the modern sector (Hyden).


The centrality of the Presidency within the state structure and the practice of switching fundamental positions and alliances did not encourage the development of consensus and of an effective administration. In addition, the docility of the public in general, the dependency of officials (Government and Party), professionals and businessmen on the state has inhibited the development of a social class which could have acted as a restraining influence on some of the measures, practices and policies which have been taken by the state. The manner in which state resources have been managed and the disregard of law and regulations which is taking place – are all an indication that there is a Government without governance, and a state without a system.

The challenge confronting Mwinyi’s government is to build a system. There is a need to strengthen the administration and make it a powerful tool to manage and supervise socio-economic activities. Corrupt and incompetent officials need to be weeded out and a new class of professionals encouraged to staff the administration. The public should also be encouraged to sue incompetent state institutions and to report malpractices.

The new constitution (1984) radically alters the arrangements for policy-making. The President is no longer the Head of both the Government and the Party, and the new President lacks the flexibility which the former President had enjoyed. The separation of the two systems – Party and Government, and their parallel administrations – can make co-ordination and co-operation difficult to achieve especially in case of conflict, which could reverberate from nation alto village levels. The position of Prime Minister has also become a powerful one within the state, The axis of power relation within the state still configurates within the tri partite relations of the President, the Prime Minister and the Chairman of the Party. Thus the concept of a tripartite form of policy-making has changed its form under the new conditions but without having lost its validity.

A post-Nyerere Tanzania will need to pay greater attention to building and consolidating a system which would strengthen the state and prevent its disintegration – a phenomenon which is already taking place in some parts of Africa

Jeannetta Hartmann – University of Dar es Salaam

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