A contribution by Lawrence Cockcroft with the assistance of Gerald Belkin, and Ralph Ibbott.
In responding to a call from the late Julius Nyerere in 1960 to people to work hard and work together on farming in the interest of the country’s development, a small group of the TANU Party Youth League (TYL) led by Ntimbanjayo John Millinga (see obituary below) established, in the Litowa valley in Songea District, what became known later as the Ruvuma Development Association (RDA). Millinga had a vision of developing a village where its families, by working together, would improve their lives and provide a better future for their children.
From this small start in 1961 other groups came for advice and as a result the RDA was formed. All members had agreed that a large part of the work would be carried out communally. In 1966 Griff Cunningham, the Principal of Kivukoni College wrote, “An unique set of circumstances prevailed in the RDA, for the founder and chief sustaining drive behind the settlements is undoubtedly Ntimbanjayo Millinga…(who) has provided a genuinely charismatic leadership from the beginning and has, by his messianic zeal, created a small group of disciples.”
The RDA type villages came to be known as ujamaa villages which soon attracted considerable attention. President Nyerere became very interested. He began to see it as a pattern for the rural development of Tanzania. In the villages and the association there was always much practical discussion, which often led to new enterprises. From past experience, the people knew that if their children went far enough in the school system, they generally went off to work in the big city. This led to them setting up a school at Litowa for the children from all the RDA villages. Millinga’s position had enabled him to select a fine person to be head of this school and to get the authority from Nyerere for them to develop their own curriculum suitable for the needs of the villages.
Discussions also led to the questioning of the law which only allowed the sale of people’s excess maize to the local inefficient co-operative which sold maize flour at more than three times the price at which it purchased the grain. A better price for them would mean earning more development capital. This led to them buying out the Songea grain mill. President Nyerere helped with this purchase by donating Tsh 90,000/- Later the association also purchased the timber mill.
In 1967 Nyerere appointed Millinga Principal Assistant Secretary of TYL responsible for Youth Settlement and the following year moved him to be head of the Ujamaa Villages Department of TANU. Millinga’s dream was becoming a reality. The 16 village groups and their association were showing impressive results and setting a high standard. At the end of the decade, aid agencies were saying that the RDA was perhaps the finest grassroots project on the continent. In Millinga’s perception their critical value was that: ‘Any action which increases people’s capacity to decide their own affairs is development even if it does not bring them more food and water; any action which reduces people’s capacity to decide their own affairs is against development even it improves their nutrition and general well being’.
The tragedy is that, in spite of this success, it received great opposition from successive regional commissioners and most government officials. They could not sit down with and discuss with the villagers as equals.
During 1967/8 Nyerere wrote three papers, ‘Education for Self Reliance’, ‘Socialism and Rural Development’ and ‘Freedom and Development’. These were all obviously based on the development of the RDA and dealt with the problems the association was facing. Without Millinga’s initiative, which led to the RDA, it is obvious that these papers would never have been written.
Nyerere took many steps in an attempt to spread the practice of the RDA ideology. One of these in 1969 was a week long seminar for the members of the CCM Central Committee attended by three RDA members. Shortly after this the whole of the party’s Central Committee met at which 21 out of the 24 members voted for the banning of the RDA. Millinga had successfully built a team of people able to understand what was needed for the development of their dreams. Nyerere was not able, despite great efforts, to build such a team at government level. The party took over. People power was not accepted.
In the mid 1970’s the peasant peoples of Tanzania were forced into villages nationwide causing much hardship and resentment. In many peoples’ minds today the villages of this villagisation project by diktat are seen as having produced ujamaa villages. However, they were the antithesis of the RDA methods and of the three papers written by Nyerere.