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Cranford Pratt, a Toronto professor, presents the great qualities and political insights of president Nyerere, including his political innovations of the one party state and Ujamaa philosophy. He sought for an equality of opportunity and a sharing of resources through traditional cooperative values. He tried to defend his people against foreign interference within the continent, from western powers and the World Bank and IMF, often without significant support from his African peers. His continental role in the liberation struggle was extremely important. (jds/jk)

vol 15 no 1

Julius Kambarage Nyerere - 1922-1999 : Reflections on his legacy
Cranford Pratt

Printable Version
Southern Africa Report

SAR, Vol 15 No 1, December 1999
Page 21



Cranford Pratt was the first Principal of the University College of Dar es Salaam from 1960 to 1965. He returned to Tanzania for briefer periods during the next 14 years and wrote several books and many articles on Tanzanian affairs, most notable "The Crucial Phase in Tanzania: Nyerere and the Emergence of a Socialist Strategy in Tanzania." He is an emeritus professor of political science at the University of Toronto.

President Julius Nyerere, world statesman and President of Tanzania from 1962 to 1985, died of leukemia on October 13th. In the immediate 24 hours after his death many SAR readers will have heard Stephen Lewis's moving tribute on the CBC, and read Hugh Winsor's fond reminiscences in the Globe and Mail. Each expressed admirably the respect and affection felt for Julius Nyerere by themselves and by so very many others, including myself, who had occasion to meet him and to work under his leadership in Tanzania. I am confident that were he alive, he would be moved by such public expressions but would soon prefer discussion of some major issue to which he had devoted his life. With these sentiments, I am grateful to the Collective of SAR for this opportunity to reflect on his legacy. C.P.

In the final years and months of his life, Julius Nyerere devoted much time to two major issues - the search for justice and reconciliation in Burundi and the strengthening of the still tiny and fragile South Centre, a non-governmental organization seeking to provide for the world's poorer states an international voice and a range of professional advice and aspiring to be the seed of a southern parallel to the OECD. It was totally in character that his last major involvements were African and international rather than narrowly Tanzanian. More than thirty five years earlier he had been one of the first African leaders to support the liberation struggle in Southern Africa. He remained one of the most resolute, assisting its organizations, aiding its operations and sheltering its leaders (although on some important occasions failing to check severe violations of the human rights of some within their movements whose loyalties such leaders suspected). He also persistently reminded other African states of their obligations towards the liberation struggle and urged western states, in vain alas, "to refrain from giving comfort and help to those who would deny freedom and dignity to us." **

Nevertheless, his primary contribution was, of course, in Tanzania. It is an inauspicious time to offer an assessment of that contribution, especially a sympathetic one. Over the last 20 years, Tanzania's efforts to accomplish a socialist transformation have been severely discredited. This hostility pervades the current conventional view about Nyerere. Repeatedly, many of the assessments of his legacy which have appeared in the international press since his death, have praised his personal qualities and his international role but have dismissed his domestic record as disastrous. A far more nuanced judgment is required.

A re-reading of Nyerere's major essays and hindsight reflection on the first 25 years of Tanzanian independence, suggest that his central domestic preoccupations were fourfold: (1) the development of the Tanzanian economy, which he saw as a sine qua non for the accomplishment of most if not all other objectives; (2) securing and retaining national control of the direction of Tanzania's economic development; (3) creating political institutions that would be widely participatory and sustain the extraordinary sense of common purpose which in these early years united Tanzanians under his leadership and that of the Tanzanian African National Union (TANU); and (4) building a just society in Tanzania that would be genuinely equitable for all its citizens.

Nyerere shared the preoccupation with economic development with almost all of the Third World leaders of his generation. From Nehru to Nkrumah to Manley, all were determined that their peoples should more fully enjoy the improvements in personal welfare that economic development should entail.

His second central concern - that Tanzania not surrender control of the direction of its economic development to international capitalist interests or international agencies dominated by the major industrialized states - reflected not only nationalist aspirations but also a profound sense that integration into the international economic system would bring little advantage, especially to the poorest countries, if they were unable to manage skilfully and selectively their relationships with the major capitalist countries. This remained a central concern to Nyerere thought throughout his life. It contributed to the decision to launch the socialist initiatives in 1967 and it drove his desperate and finally unsuccessful efforts in the early 1980s to break free of the policy directives of the World Bank and the IMF. His attempts first with the South Commission and then the South Centre to build a powerful counter-weight to the OECD, were essentially an internationalization of his continuing conviction that the Third World had to find ways to avoid being dominated by the developed countries.

Nyerere's originality emerged in particular in his efforts to realize his third and fourth preoccupations. Let us consider these in turn. TANU, under Nyerere's leadership, re-ordered the constitution of Tanzania in 1965, replacing the rootless Westminster model that the British had hurriedly transplanted with an original, hybrid constitutional order, the democratic one-party state. Nyerere saw it as an interim arrangement which would provide for genuine political participation by ordinary Tanzanians while protecting Tanzania from the emergence of divisive ethnic, regional and religious factionalism which could easily destroy its fragile unity.

The democratic one party state was never without its flaws and contradictions. The strong oligarchic tendencies of many within the party were never successfully contained and indeed there were recurrent detentions and human rights abuses that should never have been tolerated. Nevertheless the 1965 constitution must be judged an extraordinary feat of creative political engineering. It fitted Tanzanian realities. For over 20 years it provided a largely unchallenged framework within which Tanzanians ordered their public affairs, enjoyed continuous and stable civilian rule and engaged in the public discussion of party and government policies more freely than was then possible in most African states. Then, peacefully and within the framework of this constitution, Nyerere stepped down, there was a change of political leadership, and a transition to a competitive party system. These crucial changes were a realistic response to emerging Tanzanian aspirations, but their peaceful accomplishment owed much to the fact that they were strongly advocated by Nyerere. Since then, again through established political processes, though without Nyerere's active support, there has been a near180 degree change in the direction of economic policies.

It is more difficult to assess the consequences of Nyerere's commitment to equality, the fourth core element of his political values. The central importance attached to this commitment separates him from western liberalism with its primary emphasis on individual liberty and its much weaker attention to equality. The roots of Nyerere's attachment to equality can only be surmised. I expect that his Christian faith and his aversion to racism and colonialism were crucial, along with his perception of the traditional heritage of most Tanzanians. The equality that Nyerere valued was not an equality of initial opportunities for autonomous individuals. Rather it was the equality enjoyed in closely integrated and caring societies such as Nyerere assumed most Tanzanian tribal societies had been and indeed still were.

Many in Africa at the time, rationalizing their personal ambitions, took the position that economic growth should be the primary task and that pursuing greater equity could be left to later generations, when African countries would have more to redistribute. Nyerere never embraced this rationalization. He knew very well that Tanzania would long be a very poor country and that the building of a just society would become vastly more difficult once severe class differences were entrenched. He recognised that the communal qualities of traditional Tanzania were rapidly being undermined and that the acquisitive ambitions of the emerging African bourgeoisie were powerful and hard to contain. Nyerere feared that unless development could be pursued in socially equitable ways and modern national equivalents created to the communal values of traditional Tanzanian societies, Tanzania would lose any chance of remaining united and harmonious.

However, within the African community, income differences were still not vast, if only because most were still very poor. Oligarchic ambitions and the morally corrosive power of consumer acquisitiveness had only just begun to erode more socially responsible traditional values. Thus, far from being ready to leave to a future generation any concern with equity, Nyerere was convinced that Tanzania had, but only briefly, a unique opportunity to create a pattern of economic growth that would not generate morally indefensible and socially destructive inequalities, and to develop a national public ethos that would contain the selfish acquisitiveness of the political and bureaucratic elites.

The major initiatives taken in the 10 years following 1967 to accomplish this transformation in Tanzania were breathtaking in range and scope. These included: the nationalization of the banks, the foreign owned plantations growing Tanzania's export crops and parts of the limited industrial sector; the introduction of a stringent leadership code which sought to contain corruption and to block the emergence of private economic activities by political leaders and by senior party and governmental officials; a major effort by TANU to induce peasants to farm collectively; the movement of very large numbers of peasants from their rural holdings to newly created villages; an attempt to regulate in detail a wide range of private economic activities; and an extensive state takeover of household properties that were not occupied by their owners.

Few would now claim that many of these were appropriate instruments for the development of a very poor country, especially one whose public service was already over-extended. Indeed, by the late 1970's, Nyerere and TANU were themselves coming to recognize that most were inappropriate, indeed counter-productive, to the accomplishment of their objectives. These socialist measures cannot alone be blamed for the dramatic economic decline that Tanzania experienced, for these were also the years of soaring oil prices, the collapse of world commodity prices and the severe and extensive drought, which together reversed the development accomplishments of a great many African states, whatever their ideological orientation. However, they did make their own not inconsiderable contribution to Tanzania's economic decline.

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The story should not end on this note, however. In the past decade and a half or more, the view of Nyerere's socialism taken by the IFIs, by many western governments and by most North American development economists went beyond criticisms of specific initiatives, to an impatient rejection of the very idea that Third World governments should seek actively to intervene in their economies either to advance social justice or to control the direction of their economic development. The Tanzanian experience instead was taken as evidence, by counter example, that African states must embrace a development strategy based on a minimal state and an open market economy, integrated into the international capitalist economy and pursuing an outwardly oriented development strategy .

The intellectual crudity and ideological nature of this view was challenged from the beginning by the Economic Commission for Africa and by many others outside the "Washington consensus." The validity of these criticisms has become all the more painfully obvious in recent years as the implementation of the full neo-liberal package of policies - thrust upon so many poor countries as the price of international assistance - has had such disappointing consequences in a great many of them. We are painfully relearning that the pursuit of economic growth through neo-liberal policies, both domestically and in relation to the international economy, and without regard to their social and political consequences, is often disastrous for such countries. As a result, those concerned with the welfare of the peoples of the poorest states, African, Asian, Caribbean and Latin American, and including, happily, the governments of many of the poor countries themselves, are increasingly identifying two questions as centrally important:

(1) How can a poor country best manage its relationship with the international economy so as to maximize the advantages that can be derived from that relationship while also minimizing the risks inherent in it, including notably the disadvantages that are often a consequence of the power imbalance which is embedded in it?

(2) What are the domestic social and economic policies most likely to ensure that economic growth is not pursued at the expense of the equally or even more important objectives of reducing poverty and advancing equity and social justice?

Finding workable alternatives to the neo-liberal policies that have been pressed upon the worlds's poorest countries by the industrialized countries in the 1980s and 1990s is certainly not as straightforward as Nyerere had initially hoped. But we need to remind ourselves that it was he rather than the World Bank, the IMF and the industrialized states who had identified, decades ago, these two central development challenges facing the world's poorest countries.

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** From his address to a Convocation of the University of Toronto on the occasion of his receiving an honourary D.C.L. in 1969.

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