Creation of an Independent Republic
President Nyerere developed a constitution for a one-party state. The ideal was to stamp out class formation and racism, effectively to exclude tribalism from politics, but at the same time the state determined a firm autocratic line on the grounds that the majority was too ill-educated to know what was good for them. Order was maintained by a harsh Preventative Detention Act. This allowed for the immediate arrest and imprisonment of potential antagonists of the peace defined by the government system. The state actively controlled all media, banned opposition groups, controlled the unions and banned the right to strike, and two activists against the one-party state were almost immediately detained. Following the assassination of Vice-President Karume in 1972 the number of political prisoners rose to such an extent that Tanzania it ranked highly on the lists of Amnesty International. (At this time, over a thousand prisoners were detained, 81 of whom were convicted a year later, almost entirely on the grounds of confession after torture).
Over the following years the influence of state rule became even more clear, not least exemplified by the ruling in 1973 that all western clothing and mini-skirts were henceforth forbidden. Tight trousers, wigs, make-up (notably skin-lighteners) were all banned. Police and soldiers were expected to uphold the rules, and they took to inserting a bottle into men’s trouser legs to ensure that they were wide enough.
A model for African Socialism?
Although Nyerere claimed that Tanzania’s foreign policy was specifically one of nonalignment, the new republic became increasingly more reliant on socialist models, and found willing assistance from Chinese, Russian and East German governments. When the West rejected plans for a railway route linking Tanzania and Zambia, on account of Tanzania’s dismissal of Britain’s role in Rhodesia and their supplying arms to South Africa, China agreed to finance the route with an interest-free loan. A British press report from Dar es Salaam in 1969 reported that it was ‘not unusual to find a Chinese behind every palm tree along Tanzanias palm-fringed shores’, following the arrival of the Yao Hua steamship, which had despatched nearly 1,000 engineers. The Chinese were angling for a means through East Africa into Central and Southern Africa, and the Russians were interested in a means to help the East Germans block the Chinese. Cleverly enough, the new republic did not dissuade democratic governments from joining in the throng, and Nyerere happily discovered that the Americans were content to support any aid that might thwart the influence of either the Chinese or the Russians.
While Nyerere himself stuck to his ideal principles of a socialist leader, accepting only an annual salary of £4,000, the same could not be said of many of his fellow senior ministers, civil servants and leaders of TANU who were caught in the thrall of a growing lust for wealth. By the mid-1960s the Daily Telegraph in England reported on the era of ‘ a new and all-powerful tribe in Tanzania….the Wa-Benze, “the people of the Mercedez Benz”.’ This fast-expanding group were seen as ‘the new rich of a new nation’, and were making the most of their influential positions.
When Nyerere made a nationwide tour of Tanzania in 1966 and ’67, he was initially surprised and disappointed by the reception he received, and the realisation that the vast majority was sorely disenchanted with the unfulfilled promises of Independence. The President reportedly retired into solitude on completion of the tour, and later emerged with a plan for the new future of Tanzania. It was made instantly effective with The Arusha Declaration of 1967 and remains pivotal to Tanzania’s social and economic history and development.
Nationalisation and self-reliance
The Arusha Declaration aimed to restrict the capitalist surge of the Wa-Benze, and decreed that ministers could not own more than one house, could not accept positions in private companies and must rely only on their salaries. Perhaps more significantly, the declaration determined that Tanzania would adhere to a policy of self-reliance, and no longer remain dependent on foreign aid. To that effect, all banks were instantly nationalised, and certain larger commercial companies were to follow. As the legislation took effect immediately, businesses suffered a 10-day standstill and had only recovered up to 20% of previous volume by the end of the first month. But the main focus for development was agriculture, and all areas of rural production were to be organised into co-operative villages so that crops could be grown in ‘collectives’.
The Arusha Declaration had an extreme and lasting effect on the rural population, the majority of whom were required to move into more easily manageable ‘co-operative villages’ in order to develop agricultural collectives and benefit from potential services such as schools and clinics. This was the essence of the policy known as Ujamaa, literally family-hood, which inspired the development of 8,000 co-operative villages and subsequently the resettlement of over 13 million Africans in the following decade.
The basic concept for the controversial Ujamaa policy of re-villagisation was born of good intentions. Community education and health schemes were not viable considering the disparate situation of the many small, rural communities and the general lack of infrastructure, and drastic action was required. But the downsides of these policies enforced by the Arusha Declaration soon became obvious, and harder to solve.
Unfortunately, the implementation of the Ujamaa scheme was heavy-handed. Although Nyerere originally stated that the re-villagisation process would be voluntary, reports returned of villages being burned and their inhabitants fleeing under force. Nyerere responded that he had no knowledge of the violent methods used to carry out his policies in distant regions of his land, especially the far south and north. The results were drastic, as entire villages and rural regions suffered extreme poverty and near starvation when they were forced to leave the land that had provided their subsistent existence and to immediately establish new crops on unknown land. The policy for agricultural collectives suffered because the 8,200 Ujamaa villages were mainly reliant on the hand-hoe, meaning that group action had little effect and many farmers were reduced to subsistence farming. The sisal plantations, previously a highly developed industry, suffered hopeless detriment as a result of mismanagement and cashew farmers moved so far from their crops that they abandoned them. Government officials placed within the villages held the balance of power, over that of elected representatives.
The real effects of Ujamaa on the economy combined with major other factors to reduce Tanzania’s financial standing to being ranked as one of the poorest countries in the world.
Having proclaimed that Tanzania would continue without foreign aid, this aspect of the Arusha Declaration was put to the test when nearly all such aid was withdrawn and the country fell upon even harder times.
So it was in 1979, when Idi Amin invaded of Tanzania’s northern borders, that Nyerere had to rely on his own resources to topple the Ugandan dictator and restore Obote to power. Although Amin had primarily attacked to distract his country from his own internal political struggles, Nyerere amassed numerous troops and emptied all of the country’s financial coffers, a sum estimated to have been around £250 million.
By the early 80s Tanzania was reliant on imported cereals, and rationing was introduced.
Corruption was widespread, industry was working to only 30% capacity, and nearly half of the 330 farms taken over by the government went into liquidation.
In 1985 oil prices rose, and Tanzania, already stretched to the limit, suffered badly. Then crop prices for the cash crops that the ‘collective’ farms and Ujamaa villages were supposed to grow also fell, and whole regions of rural farmers were close to starvation due to lack of maize. The resultant food shortages were terrible, the shops in Dar es Salaam were bare, and the country suffered a desperate lack of currency.
Years of harsh and often dogmatically enforced socialist policies left Tanzania impoverished, one of the world’s poorest countries, and utterly dependent on Western Aid. Although Nyerere had encouraged Tanzania to be politically independent of the developed world, he was forced to leave it one of the most aid-dependent. In his last year as president, Nyerere denationalised the sisal plantations and began to devalue the currency, then handed over to his successor President Ali Hassan Mwinyi of Zanzibar to negotiate further structural reforms and devaluation in order to accept much needed assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
After Nyerere and the economic crisis of the 1980s
Nyerere stepped down in 1985, at the height of the bleakest years of Tanzanian economy. After 32 years of authoritarianism, reasoned on the grounds that the people were too ignorant to know what was best for them, he became one of the first African leaders to voluntarily resign his position. Nyerere and his supporters continued to defend the one-party state on the basis that it had developed a homogenous society and a strong National unity, and after resigning as President, Nyerere took an advisory role in Tanzanian and African politics, specialising in mediating peace agreements between neighbouring East and Southern African countries. In 1987 he flew to Lusaka to mediate on behalf of Kenneth Kaunda (former Zambian Leader), and spent the last four years of his life engaged in mediating peace talks aimed at ending the civil war in Burundi. Nyerere developed his role as benevolent elder statesman through the 1990s, and was rewarded in 1992 with the UNESCO Simon Bolivar prize, jointly awarded to him and San Suu Kyi, the Burmese pro-democracy leader for their contribution to International freedom and development….
When Julius Kambarage Nyerere died in 1999, Tanzania mourned the leader who had led them into Independence and united the nation. No music was allowed to play in public places other than tributes, and many shops and businesses were closed as a mark of respect to the first president, fondly remembered as ‘Mwalimu’. Hundreds of new kangas were printed with Nyerere’s image, and also a number showing the reigning president Mkapa alongside. At President Nyerere’s funeral, a line of African leaders gathered to pay their respects, even though, as in the case of President Isias Aferwerki of Eritrea and President Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, their countries had been at war with each other in immediately preceding months.