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 is being published by Francis Pinter – Editor.

Much has been written on Tanzania’s former President, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere and his political thoughts. To the Christians and social democrats he was a liberal; to the revolutionary nationalists he was the embodiment of the African struggle for freedom and national independence; and, in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s he even won the praise of Marxists. Nyerere thus seems to be everything to everybody, A BBC Television programme once described him as an ‘Idealist in Power’ and he himself once said that he should have been preaching from the pulpit instead of being President of a Republic.

Any understanding of the transformation of Tanzania in the last 25 years must be preceded by an evaluation of its leader because Nyerere has effectively dominated the Tanzanian political scene for more than 30 years. Despite his absence from the State Presidency he will continue to be a great influence on the country for a long time to come even after he retires as CCM Chairman in 1987.

The Party
In his “Ujamaa – the Basis of African Socialism” Nyerere dismissed the idea that classes had existed in pre-colonial African societies claiming instead that these societies were living in tranquillity and peace and had seen no antagonistic contradictions. He felt that it was possible for Africans, regardless of their social backgrounds to come together in national movements and to retain unity after independence. He failed to see that the different social groups had come together during the colonial period only because each one of them was affected in some adverse way by colonialism. The nationalist movement that emerged during this time was a united front of classes and not a political party in the Marxist sense.

After the attainment of independence Nyerere insisted on the nationalist organisation retaining its old structure. He did not see the need of transforming the nationalist organisation into a political party. There were debates within TANU regarding the need, especially after 1967 when TANU had declared its intention of building socialism, to transform the organisation into a socialistic political party. Nyerere maintained throughout that TANU would remain a mass party open to every Tanzanian who believed in its objectives and principles. He completely rejected the notion of a vanguard party, saying that the structure of such a party would be like that of the Catholic Church, with a Pope, Cardinals, Bishops etc. The Tanzanian ruling party has till today remained unchanged, a mass organisation comprising people of different social classes and different ideologies. The 1982 Party National Congress voted into the National Executive Committee leading socialists and a few Marxists as well as strong anti-socialists and proponents of capitalism.

Nyerere’s theory was that the existence of a multi-party system in a young country could result in political differences which might be exploited by external powers to destabilise the country. He felt that, in the absence of powerful internal economic groups with divergent political programmes, allowing the existence of a multi-party system was a luxury that a new state could not afford. This position was easily accepted at the time because all political organisations that had existed previously had failed during the elections to gain any meaningful number of votes. Nyerere was therefore encouraged in 1963 to put forward the idea of a one-party system.

In its evolution in the last twenty years the ruling party in Tanzania has undergone several changes. The struggle between those who want the Party to continue as a united front and those who want to purify it into a revolutionary vanguard has continued. Nyerere has throughout the period taken the former stand. In 1977 when TANU on the mainland and the Afro-Shirazi Party in Zanzibar merged to form Chama Cha Mapinduzi, a compromise was struck between the two contending forces. In some of its structures, the Party moved from the British Labour party model into one found among the ruling parties of some of the socialist countries.

One of the achievements Nyerere prides himself on is the existence of a single strong party with powers supreme to any other organ of the State, including the National Assembly. But we do not know how the Party will evolve after Nyerere steps down from its chairmanship in 1987. The possibility of a multi-party system existing in Tanzania in the near future is a difficult one to predict. But what is very clear is that with the absence of Nyerere from the Party leadership the two contending forces will fight it out and whoever wins will make sure that the opposing elements are weeded out of the Party. It is the outcome of the struggle within the Party that will decide whether or not Nyerere’s progressive policies will survive in the post-Nyerere Tanzania.

National Integration
Tanzania is among the few countries in Africa that has been able to attain real national integration. The reasons given are many. It is true that over 120 ethnic groups exist in Tanzania and that there is not a single one that can claim dominance. The fact that some of the country’s leading figures such as Nyerere and Rashidi Kawawa come from small ethnic groups has also contributed to the situation. Swahili is spoken and understood throughout the country. At the time of independence there was no strong national bourgeoisie in the country and the petty bourgeois intellectuals that emerged have not been completely uprooted from their peasant backgrounds.

There were past attempts to disturb the national unity attained. In 1985 there was a strong trend in Zanzibar which almost threatened to break up the Union itself. The Zanzibaris themselves, with the help of Nyerere, were able to overcome this threat and the result was the forced resignation of the President of Zanzibar.

National integration can therefore be said to be one of the important legacies that Nyerere has bestowed on Tanzania. It is difficult to conceive of any struggle being won along tribal or religious lines. Tanzanians are highly politicised and they identify with each other, not because of common ethnic backgrounds or common religious beliefs but because they share economic or political interests.

In 1967 Tanzania declared its intention to build socialism on the basis of self-reliance. This attracted the attention of many. To social-democrats in Europe this heralded the possibility of seeing the realisation of their ideals in an African Set-up. Imperialist powers, on the other hand, were afraid that Tanzania would set up an example to the rest of Africa. From 1967 then Tanzania’s actions in the domestic and international arenas were judged in accordance with the terms of the Arusha Declaration. Tanzania’s close relations with China or its granting of diplomatic status to the German Democratic Republic were seen as tendencies to further integrate Tanzania within the Eastern orbit. But, as Nyerere keeps reiterating, the Arusha Declaration should be viewed as a statement of intent. Neither in 1967 nor now 20 years after has Tanzania become a socialist state.

The Declaration followed discussions within the Tanzanian leadership regarding the development process that the country has been following since 1961. The Declaration should also be seen as the manifestation of a political struggle within the leadership at the time, though the document is attributed to Nyerere, who was able to capture an important movement in Tanzania’s history and to understand the feelings of his people and therefore be able to articulate their sentiments effectively. At that time in Tanzania’s leadership there was no effective and articulate socialist trend and the one person in the TANU leadership who could be said to be radical, namely Oscar Kambona, turned out later to be the very person opposed to the leadership conditions that went with the Declaration. Nyerere can therefore be said to be the intellectual power behind the Declaration.

The late Walter Rodney, in his article “Ujamaa versus Scientific Socialism” tried to present some elements of the Ujamaa philosophy as being identical with aspects of scientific socialism. One person who disagreed and who, in fact, was always at pains to disassociate the Ujamaa concept from the science of socialism, was Nyerere himself. He maintained that Ujamaa had got its roots in the African traditional society which had no classes. He completely discouraged the notion of class struggle and believed strongly that it was possible to “evolve” into socialism. In fact in many of his foreign policy statements one can see a real attempt to distance himself from a Marxist perspective.

Nyerere’s major contribution to the socialist debate in Tanzania has been in putting socialism on the agenda and in allowing different schools of socialist thought, including the Marxist one, to contend. Some of the progressive achievements of the Nyerere era are now under threat, especially with the acceptance of the IMF conditionalities but he will definitely go down in history as the person who raised the prospect of socialist development in Tanzania.

African Liberation.
Tanzania’s position on liberation is well known. Almost all the liberation movements in Africa have enjoyed sanctuary in Tanzania. Nyerere has always been non-racial in his perspective and this at times got him into conflict with his colleagues. During the days of independence he rejected the position of “Africanists” within TANU who put forward the slogan “Africa for the Africans” meaning Black Africans. This led the “Africanists” to march out of TANU and form the African National Congress. In 1958 at the TANU National Conference in Tabora when some of the leaders strongly opposed TANU’s participation in the colonially-proposed tripartite elections, where the voter had to vote for three candidates from the list of Africans, Asians and Europeans, Nyerere stood firm in recommending acceptance of the proposals.

Nyerere has always believed in peaceful means in the struggle to achieve certain political ends. When he was faced with a situation of whether to go into prison or pay a fine, he preferred the latter, not so much because he did not want to make himself a political martyr, but because, in his absence, things might have got out of hand and violence might have erupted.

However, when he is faced with a situation where all peaceful means are closed, Nyerere has never hesitated to advocate violence against an oppressive regime. A few months before Britain handed over power to the Sultan’s regime in Zanzibar he appealed to the British Government to reconsider its intention because he felt that if the situation was not rectified to allow the African majority to peacefully take power then violence was inevitable. And in this he was right, because, four weeks after independence, the Sultanate regime was violently overthrown by the opposition parties.

Given this background, one aspect of Nyerere’s position has caused some surprise. He has consistently refused to openly support democratic and socialist forces bent on overthrowing a regime in an existing African state even when it was obvious that the regime was being supported by external forces. He always invoked as his defence the OAU position of non-interference in the internal affairs of another state. Thus the opposition groups operating against Mobutu in Zaire, Ahmed Abdallah in the Comoro’s or Kenyatta, and now Moi in Kenya have enjoyed no open support from Nyerere. One hopes that as the struggle intensifies for what Nyerere calls Africa’s second liberation that this position will be discarded and that it will be possible for Tanzania to give all possible assistance to those fighting for their second liberation.

The Army
In 1961, at the time of independence, Tanganyika inherited a colonial army led by British officers. There were hardly any senior Tanganyikans. This created a problem the result of which was the army mutiny of 1964. The junior army staff demanded higher pay and Africanisation of the armed forces. What Nyerere did as a response to the mutiny was something unique in Africa at the time. He dissolved almost the entire army and created a new one. He demanded also that all those joining the armed forces must be members of the Party and introduced political education as part of army training. The result was the high politicisation of the armed forces. Tanzania was able to reap the benefit of that foresight in 1979 when it went to war against Amin’s Uganda. The army was not only motivated by the desire to recapture part of Tanzanian territory usurped by Amin, but was also committed to overthrowing him because he was perceived as a dictator and a source of tension in East Africa. It is also inconceivable that the Tanzanian army would have played any positive role in the question of African liberation had it not been for its politicisation. It is also possible that the credit for the stability that Tanzania has enjoyed during Nyerere’s Presidency is partly due to this politicised army. In his years in power Nyerere was not without his enemies. There have been conspiracies as revealed in the 1970 and 1985 treason trials. The fact that none of these succeeded supports the thesis that the army considered itself very much part of Nyerere’s regime and had nothing to gain in overthrowing him

The State
Nyerere in all his writings has failed to address himself to the State. Tanganyika at the time of independence inherited a colonial State and its institutions. What Nyerere tried to do was to give the State the national colours. But he never considered dismantling the State or how the new forces that emerged at independence could effectively use it. One can venture to say that part of the problem that has resulted in what is said to be the “failure of socialism” is the reluctance on the part of the leadership and Nyerere in particular, to examine the question of the State. It is baffling that it was thought that a colonially inherited State could be a vehicle for socialist transformation. The one person in the Tanzanian leadership who saw the problem was the late prime Minister, Edward Sokoine, who, in an address to Party cadres in 1983, conceded that the State needed to be overhauled. Unfortunately this was not taken up by the Party or the mass media.

Nyerere’s intellectual and other contributions have taken deep root in Tanzanian society. For the foreseeable future any Tanzanian President and Party Chairman will be judged in accordance with yardsticks set up by Nyerere. Whoever goes against the main tenets of Nyerere’s legacy is likely to not only meet with popular disapproval but to have problems with the Party. There are also certain moral principles that Nyerere laid down which leaders will long continue to be judged by. Moreover any leader pursuing tribal or religious bigotry would find it difficult to sustain his position. Even when, the liberation of South Africa from apartheid is attained it will be difficult to see post-Nyerere Tanzania giving up the struggle for total liberation and real socialism.

Haroub Othman

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.