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Tanzania Today: An African-American Perspective

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By Dr. Manning Marable

PART I

For two weeks in late 2006, I traveled throughout Tanzania, East Africa, on a fact-finding tour. Over thirty years earlier, I had attended the University of Nairobi, in Kenya, as an undergraduate college student. During my year in East Africa, I visited and traveled throughout Kenya, as well as neighboring Uganda and Tanzania, immersing myself in the Swahili language, African cultures, and the region's politics.

Throughout the 1970s, there was a large expatriate community of idealistic, young African Americans who lived and worked throughout Tanzania, and especially in its capital city, Dar Es Salaam. What attracted most of them to the East African country was a remarkable social experiment called "Ujamaa," or "African Socialism." The political architect of Ujamaa was Tanzania's humble yet charismatic president, Julius K. Nyerere, who was universally called "Mwalimu," which in the Swahili language means "teacher."

When Nyerere became president of what was then called independent Tanganyika in December, 1961, he was confronted with overwhelming challenges. Great Britain, the country's ruling colonial power from 1919 until 1961, had devoted virtually no resources to building government-sponsored schools, hospitals, or social welfare programs. In a nation twice the size of California, there were fewer than one thousand miles of paved roads. The country's major crops - coffee, sisal, tea and cotton - were produced for external markets, but agricultural production largely occurred on technologically-backward, single family farms, without tractors or modern agricultural equipment. Over 80 percent of the population worked in the agricultural sector, living in rural areas without electricity, irrigation, and schools.

Nyerere was determined to transform his nation's poverty. Nyerere envisioned the construction of villages, "ujamaa vijijini," where millions of small farmers and peasants would be relocated. Each village would have access to modern agricultural equipment, electricity, running water, and education. Because all of Tanganyika's banks, large plantations, factories and private companies were owned by the British or Europeans, Nyerere called for their nationalization by the government. Nationalization, Nyerere believed, was the only means through which Africans could control their own economic affairs.

To inaugurate these bold policies, in 1967, the Tanzanian president delivered the "Arusha Declaration," which committed the young nation to a policy of "Ujamaa," or "African Socialism." In Swahili, "Ujamaa" translates as "Familyhood." Unlike Marxist socialism, Ujamaa was based on the African traditions of sharing, communal values, and self-reliance. Nyerere vigorously opposed class distinctions between the rich and the poor. He preached that all citizens had to make personal sacrifices for the benefit of the entire nation. Nyerere fought against government corruption, and set a personal example by living a frugal and modest life.

Perhaps Nyerere's greatest contributions to the empowerment of African were his commitments to education and to Pan-Africanism. Nyerere, a former schoolteacher, understood that African people could never be truly free so long as they were illiterate. Therefore, Tanzania declared that a primary school-level education must be compulsory for all citizens. The nation invested millions of dollars into building secondary schools and a university. As a result, Tanzania has one of the highest literacy rates in the Third World. As of 2003, 86 percent of all males, and 71 percent of females, were literate in either Swahili or English.

Nyerere was also a committed "Pan-Africanist," who believed that no African nation could be completely free so long as any part of the continent was dominated by white-minority rule. Under Nyerere, Dar Es Salaam became Africa's headquarters for the global anti-apartheid movement, the struggle to destroy the oppressive, white dictatorship in South Africa. It was also home to the anti-Portuguese colonial struggles in neighboring Mozambique and Angola. In 1974, Tanzania hosted the "Sixth Pan-African Conference," where hundreds of African Americans participated in its deliberations. These idealist actions by Nyerere earned him the implacable opposition from the U.S., the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank. Foreign investment and loans were cut off, and Tanzania's currency went into a freefall, plummeting in value.

By the early 1980s, other sources of opposition to Nyerere emerged. Tanzania's small middle class, and more prosperous African farmers rejected both ujamaa and the collective villages. They wanted privatization, individually-owned farms and businesses, where they could enrich themselves. Tanzania also lacked the thousands of technicians, agronomists and educators necessary to run the government's collective farms and nationalized businesses. Corruption also became a serious problem, as many members of the government's ruling party, "Chama Cha Mapinduzi"  (Party of the Revolution) used their positions for personal gain. By 1985, with Nyerere's retirement from the presidency, Tanzania shifted away from ujamaa's policies. State-owned companies were privatized, and the rural collective villages were disbanded. I was eager to learn what had happened here since the 1980s.  I soon discovered both hopeful and discouraging signs, indicating that the struggle for a liberated Africa has not yet been won.

 

Dr. Manning Marable is Professor Public Affairs, History, and African-American Studies at Columbia University, New York City. "Along the Color Line" appears in over 400 publications internationally, and is available at http://www.manningmarable.net.

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