Missing Mwalimu

Tanzania has lost its governing ideology, socialism is humanity, as even the staunchest of Julius Mwalimu (teacher) Nyerere’s supporters adopt the neoliberal paradigm.

Published : Apr 03, 2013 00:00 IST

July 28, 1967: Julius K. Nyerere addressing a session of his party, the Tanganyika African National Union, in Dar es Salaam.

July 28, 1967: Julius K. Nyerere addressing a session of his party, the Tanganyika African National Union, in Dar es Salaam.

WALKING the streets of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, with Professor Issa Shivji produces a remarkable sensation. Everyone knows him—the men sitting in the shade sell consumer goods made in China, the woman at the Bureau de Change, an intellectual who finds his way to the Mkuki Na Nkyota bookstore on Samora Avenue, or the waiters at Al Qayam Take Away on Zanaki Street. I ask Shivji why he does not run for public office. “I love politics,” he says, “but dislike politicians. Politicians hate politics. They love power.”

Shivji, born in 1946 to Ismali parents who ran a store in small-town Tanzania, emerged in the late 1960s as one of the most clear-headed student activists at the newly formed University of Dar es Salaam. Involved with the University Students African Revolutionary Front and influenced by well-known Marxists such as the Guyanese historian Walter Rodney and the Hungarian economist Tamas Szentes, Shivji developed a critical stance towards Tanzania’s socialist experiment. Led by the charismatic Julius Mwalimu (“teacher”) Nyerere, Tanzania embarked on a long march to ujamaa , freedom. When the process drifted, Nyerere drafted the Arusha Declaration in 1967 to deepen the process.

“We have been oppressed a great deal, we have been exploited a great deal and we have been disregarded a great deal. It is our weakness that has led to our being oppressed, exploited and disregarded. Now we want a revolution—a revolution which brings to an end our weakness so that we are never again exploited, oppressed, or humiliated.”

Humiliation and weakness are easily diagnosed but not so easily treated. Hard work, self-respect, and intelligence: this is the prophylaxis against weakness. The remedy for the colonised was not going to work very fast—and yet, of course, with imperialist pressures building up, Nyerere and others had to resort to the kind of “short cuts” which they later regretted. Shivji not only saw the perils of the short cuts, but within a few years saw that the nationalisation programme would not lead to socialism; rather it would simply enrich the transnational firms and their native allies, the emergent Tanzanian elite. As Walter Rodney put it in his review of Shivji’s work, “Shivji provides convincing and disturbing evidence of the way in which the policy of nationalisation of foreign enterprises in Tanzania has been deprived of much of its sting.” This argument would form a special issue of Cheche (Spark), the magazine of the University Students African Revolutionary Front, edited by Shivji’s future brother-in-law and a distinguished biostatistician, Karim Hirji. It appeared there as The Silent Class Struggle and then, in both the West and in Tanzania, as Shivji’s landmark book Class Struggle in Tanzania (1976).

One of the leaders of the socialist current at the university in the 1960s was Yoweri Museveni, now the President of Uganda. Reflecting on his time at Dar es Salaam in Cheche (1970), Museveni wrote: “We waged such a resolute struggle against the interests of imperialism that the reactionaries thought we were mad.” No longer does Museveni wage such as struggle, and no longer does he believe, as he did in 1970, that “socialism is the only hope for the world’s oppressed masses” (the essay is reprinted in a delightful collection edited by Karim Hirji for Mkunina Nyota called Cheche: Reminiscences of a Radical Magazine , 2010). In 1998, he was anointed by United States President Bill Clinton as one of the leaders of the “African renaissance”, a post he has taken seriously since then.

I ask Shivji why the Left, so promising in Cheche, was not able to flower. For one thing, despite Nyerere’s own capacious appetite for radical ideas, he was not comfortable with the development of an independent, critical Left. “The budding Left outside [Nyerere’s party, Tanganyika African National Union, or TANU] did not manage to either build links with the masses or take on a serious organisational form. Just when it was beginning to assume some serious form, it got dissipated by a fratricidal debate.” Nyerere used the Left when it suited him, and closed it down when it threatened his agenda. Trade unions, for example, could not maintain any independence. When the neoliberal policy framework struck Tanzania in the 1990s, Shivji points out, “people did not have the organisational resources to fall back on.” TANU did not have the capacity to defend Nyerere’s socialist policies against the neoliberal ideas of his successors, notably Benjamin Mkapa, President from 1995 to 2005. Four years after Mkapa left office, he told Roberto Savio:

“We privatised everything the state had. Everything was bought up by foreign capital because we had no national capital to compete. The foreign companies almost always closed local business, which were not competitive, transforming them into distributors of foreign products and driving up unemployment. The experts of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund predicted that this would happen, but they told us: Now, the influx of foreign investment will lead to the creation of new competitive and technologically current businesses that will provide the foundations of everlasting modern development. None of this happened for us.”

Mkapa came to power with Nyerere’s blessings. By the 1990s, the Arusha Declaration had no defenders as even the staunchest of Nyerere’s supporters enthusiastically adopted the neoliberal paradigm. The failures of Tanzania’s neoliberal adoption is evident in Dar es Salaam—poverty stalks the edges as street vendors, the machinga , walk miles to sell their plastic goods in traffic jams, and 70 per cent of the population lives in slums.

Nyerere’s own people did not defend his socialism against the advent of high rates of inequality and violence. Ironically, it is those who were strong critics of Nyerere, such as Shivji, who are now among the few who publicly defend Nyerere’s radical nationalism. Indeed, Shivji is now the Mwalimu Nyerere Chair at the university, set up to uphold the legacy of Nyerere in a world that has otherwise disavowed it.

At a quiet hotel in Dar es Salaam, I meet two journalists to ask them about the recent spate of attacks against reporters and editors. Just a few days before we meet, Absalom Kibanda, editor of Mtanzania (The Tanzanian) and Tanzania Daima , was attacked outside his home. Dangerous head injuries lead his doctors to insist that he be flown for treatment to South Africa. The attack on Kibanda, who is also chairman of the Tanzanian Editors Forum, follows the political murder of two journalists last year—Issa Ngumba (of Radio Kwizera) and Daud Mwangosi (of Channel Ten and chair of the Iringa Press Club)—and the closure of a Tanzanian newspaper, MwanaHalisi . After the murder of Mwangosi by a police officer, Ndimara Tegambwage wrote in Tanzania Daima : “Fear can kill all journalists. Courage can save many, and sharpen many others in this profession that is growing up fast. We should write. We should write.” The journalists I meet tell me that these killings reflect a culture of silence enforced by the political and business classes, who do not want their corruption to be revealed in the public domain. They are both so afraid, despite the entreaties of Tegambwage, that they do not want me to use their names.

I ask Shivji about the attacks on journalists. He agrees that this is a new phenomenon. (Mwangosi’s murder is the first in independent Tanzania.) A medical doctor leading a strike was attacked by “professionals”, Shivji says, an attack that resembles the one on the chair of the editor’s forum. Reporters get caught up in the highly charged bid by political parties for office, itself the key to the vault of bribes and contracts.

Old forms of civility crafted during the Nyerere era dissolve in the solvent of conspicuous consumption and everyday desperation. Makwaia Wa Kuhenga, a senior Tanzanian journalist, asks in The Daily News : “Whither Tanzania’s Culture of Fraternity?” (March 15). In the 1960s, when Tanzania pursued a socialist path, Wa Kuhenga and others would look across the border to capitalist Kenya and be startled by stories of political murder and other kind of mayhem. “You can imagine how gleeful adherents of socialism here had watched events in Kenya those days! Indeed ‘ubepari ni unyama’—capitalism is beastly! With this flashback in mind, what is happening in this country today?” asked Wa Kuhenga. Caught in the grip of “market forces,” he writes, Tanzania has lost its governing ideology— Ujamaani utu , socialism is humanity.

Tanzania’s loss of self-confidence is visible at the Dar es Salaam airport. It was originally named the Mwalimu Nyerere International Airport. But, with pressures to increase tourism apace, the managers worried that foreign tourists would not be able to pronounce Mwalimu. They named it the Julius Nyerere International Airport. In the first issue of Cheche , November 1969, the editors published an extract from Franz Fanon on tourism:

“The national bourgeoisie will be greatly helped on its way towards decadence by the Western bourgeoisies, who come to it as tourists avid for the exotic, for big-game hunting and for casinos. The national bourgeoisie organises centres of rest and relaxation and pleasure resorts to meet the wishes of the Western bourgeoisie. Such activity is given the name of tourism, and for the occasion will be built up as a national industry. If proof is needed of the eventual transformation of certain elements of the ex-native bourgeoisie into the organisers of parties for their Western opposite numbers, it is worthwhile having a look at what has happened in Latin America. The casinos of Havana and of Mexico, the beaches of Rio, the little Brazilian and Mexican girls, the half-breed thirteen-year-olds, the ports of Acapulco and Copacabana—all these are the stigma of this depravation of the national middle class. Because it is bereft of ideas, because it lives to itself and cuts itself off from the people, undermined by its hereditary incapacity to think in terms of all the problems of the nation as seen from the point of view of the whole of that nation, the national middle class will have nothing better to do than to take on the role of manager for Western enterprise, and it will in practice set up its country as the brothel of Europe.”

Older traditions of self-reliance and pride are threatened in the new Tanzania. Shivji introduces me to some younger scholars and activists. They have other, happier ideas in mind for their country.


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