(Extracts from a paper presented by Col. F.S. Swai at the International Conference on the Arusha Declaration)

The colonial army – the Kings African Rifles (KAR) – was both a pan-territorial army and a segment of the British army with allegiance to the Queen and empire. KAR soldiers did not have to serve in their country of origin but could be stationed anywhere in East Africa. At the time of independence there were two battalions of the KAR – the 6th in Dar es Salaam and the 2nd in Tabora. The total strength was around 1,500 soldiers.

At independence, the new government of Tanganyika took over the two battalions and renamed them the Tanganyika Rifles (TR). An arrangement was made for the soldiers who had been recruited in Kenya and Uganda to return gradually to their respective countries while those from Tanganyika who were serving outside could equally do the same. But apart from the change of name and the moving out of non-Tanganyikan soldiers, the military establishment remained the same both in its composition and its ideology. The so-called martial tribes (in particular the Wahehe and Watende (Wakuria)) constituted the bulk of the soldiers while the command structure remained British. The 29 British officers, under a British Brigadier, were retained in the army and given the task of training the locals until such time as they were able to manage their own affairs. But if the past was to be taken as the British pattern of promotion then it was going to take many years before the command structure would be completely nationalised. This structure of command, dominated by white officers imbued with their racial superiority and looking down upon the African officers and the rank and file and the dim prospects for change, despite the changed political situation, was to become a source of tension and the major contributor to the military mutiny in 1964.

In the end the native rank and file thought that they had no alternative but to resort to mutiny to air their grievances. The grievances were basically two. The soldiers wanted British officers removed and they wanted an increase in pay and the restoration of certain fringe benefits.

The mutiny was organised by a handful of local rank and file. Initially it was only the battalion stationed in Dar es Salaam that was involved. They were poorly trained and armed and yet they managed to put a whole government machinery to a standstill from January 20th to 25th 1964. This was possible despite the good organisational set-up of TANU throughout the country. For five days neither the Party nor the government machinery managed to organise any local resistance. On the other hand, the suppression of the mutiny required only a handful of British marines.

Hence we find that by January 1964 Tanganyika, like most other independent African countries, had a military that was too small for the defence of the territorial boundaries and unreliable for national reconstruction.

After the mutiny all private soldiers were dismissed and sent to their home villages. Their place had to be taken by recruitment of fresh youth.

In designing the new army the government and the Party took into consideration three factors. In the first place, while immediately after independence the government and Party had tried to find ways of accommodating different sectoral interests such as those of the trade unions and the civil service, the same was not done for the military. The military did not identify itself with TANU policies, nor did the leaders of TANU have any contacts with the military. The military was taken as an apolitical institution. Secondly was the fact that most of the nationalist leaders who had struggled for independence saw high government posts which were to be vacated by the colonial administrators as the quickest means of amassing wealth and leading a comfortable life. In this struggle for sharing the ‘National Cake’ the military was ignored and left out. A third factor was the obvious weakness of the political system demonstrated by the mutiny and its later suppression.

In designing the new army the military was no longer to be taken for granted. Its place in the political set-up had to be well defined so that it identified with the policies of the Party and the government.

The period between 1964 and 1967 was crucial in defining the role that the military would play in Tanzania.

It was in 1964 that the first shots were fired by FRELIMO to mark the launching of the guerrilla war against Portuguese colonialism in Mozambique. Tanzania was to become the rear base for this protracted war. The OAU had also selected Dar es Salaam as the Headquarters of the Organisation for African Unity’s Liberation Committee which was covering all the other liberation movements in Africa as well. To the political leadership in Tanzania, this position that the country was taking up had to be backed up by a stronger military than two battalions of the TR.

It was also during the period of 1964-67 that the country had to demonstrate its non-alignment. Unlike the time when all weapons systems had come from NATO the army started to acquire arms from the Eastern block and especially from China. The Canadians were called in in 1966 to train in administration while the Chinese came for tactics in 1967.

After 1964 the Tanzania Peoples Defence Force (TPDF) as it was now known had three infantry battalions – in Dar es Salaam, Tabora and Nachingwea. The air transport battalion was started in 1964, the tank and armour battalion in 1965 and a navy unit in 1967.

Concrete measures had to be taken to involve a greater part of the population in defence matters. In 1966 a National Service Act was introduced. This required all youths finishing high school or doing any advanced training after Form IV to join the National Service.

Idi Amin’s coup in Uganda made it crucial for the political leadership to secure army loyalty in Tanzania. Previous to this there had been the abortive invasion of Guinea by Portuguese forces because of that country’s support for the liberation movement in neighbouring Guinea Bissau. There was fear that something similar would happen in Tanzania because of its support for FRELIMO in Mozambique. The suppression of the attack on Guinea by a citizen militia led the Party to call for a similar type of military preparedness in Tanzania. Serious involvement of the masses in military preparedness came about therefore after the Party Guidelines (MWONGOZO) were issued in 1971. TPDF instructors were sent to every district and work place throughout the country to provide military training. Militia training is done in the evening after the normal working hours and it takes up to four months to complete the course. Recruitment of the militia is done by the Party at branch level. After training, personnel become part of the reserve army but its command is directly under the Party and not the military. The use of the militia during peace time is to perform police and security duties.

Next followed changes in the composition of the regular army. From 1976 a TPDF Bill was passed in Parliament to the effect that only officers, non-commissioned officers and technical personnel would be employed by the army on a permanent basis. The rest of the rank and file would join the army on a contract basis after which they would go home to form part of the reserve army, while fresh recruits were taken from the National Service. This policy of involving the masses proved its worth during the 1978-79 war between Tanzania and Uganda. Every level of the Party had to mobilise for the front or rear defence work. In this way it proved possible, within two months, to raise an army of 50,000 men that finally brought down the Idi Amin government in April 1979. After the war demobilisation was done by the Party in the same way. Some of the militia were returned home (this exercise took only one month); the bulk of the militia remained in uniform and constituted part of the now much larger TPDF.

After the mutiny Mwalimu Julius Nyerere called on TANU youths to volunteer for army service. Selection was undertaken by Party branches on the basis of commitment to and identification with the Party and its policies. This process produced 500 new recruits. But this number was not enough for the new army. Hence there was a selective recall of former members of the TR. As long as they had not been directly involved in the masterminding of the mutiny they could be recalled. By this process most of the former TR soldiers were taken back. However, they had to become TANU members.

In this way we find that since its formation in 1964 the TPDF was made up of soldiers who identified themselves with the ruling Party. The soldiers not only undertook professional training but were also subjected to political education. This education emphasised the history of the nationalist struggle for independence and the goals of the Party and political leadership in creating a unified nation. Under the Arusha Declaration the role of the army was defined as that of being a vanguard for the building of socialism and as a college for defence and socialism.

When addressing soldiers in Zanzibar in 1973 Mwalimu Nyerere said …. “there is no single African country which will succeed to build socialism and bring respect to the African man without making its army accept socialism; if our army accepts socialism no one will be able to prevent socialism in our country.”

After the 1971 Party Guidelines there was instituted a system of Political Education Officers most of whom had graduated from the Party Ideological College in Kivukoni. It was their responsibility to raise the level of political consciousness of the soldiers at each level. Around 20% of training time is allocated to this.

The army was organised on the basis of ‘democratic centralism’. Thus the control of the army by the Party organ is found at the national level. But below this level the Party operates as two parallel organs in the army and outside. The major difference is that, while in the civilian organisation of the Party the chairmen of the various organs are elected and do not have government executive powers, in the case of the army, the chairmen of the various organs are not elected and hold their positions by virtue of their executive powers in the Command structure. For example, the moment one is appointed a battalion commander one automatically becomes the chairman of the Party branch in the battalion. Similarly, one cannot become a branch chairman in the army if one is not first appointed battalion commander. Whoever is appointed the Political Commissar of a formation in the army automatically becomes the secretary of the Party at that level. Apart from these two posts of chairman and secretary all other committee members in the army are elected according to the Party constitution and procedures. In Party meetings an atmosphere is created whereby the ordinary soldier can ask about and criticise Party policies and their implementation. But the success of the meetings depends very much on the ideological clarity of the chairman and his secretary in creating an atmosphere of free discussion, given the strong command powers they possess.

Leave a Reply

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