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The struggle for socialism in Tanzania

Tanzania is a poor country. But it is trying to give its people a rich future, which everyone can share. This is a socialist future — but Tanzania wants a kind of socialism which comes from the heart of Africa.

Tanzania is an east African country, which lies to the north of Zambia and Mozambique. Just over 100 years ago, Germany took it as a colony. Then the country was taken over by Britain after the First World War.

We in South Africa can learn much from Tanzania’s history of struggle. ILRIG (International Labour Research and Information Group) has written a book about Tanzania. It is called, “Tanzania — The Struggle for Ujamaa”.

Ujamaa is a word which means ‘African Socialism’. The man who brought this idea to Tanzania is Julius Nyerere. He is one of Africa’s best known and most respected leaders, and it was he who led Tanzania to independence.


Tanzania was called Tanganyika before independence. Nyerere became the president of the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) in 1954. TANU is a political party that fought for Tanzania’s independence from Britain in 1961.

The TANU government faced big problems at this time. There were very few factories and only a small number of people lived in the towns. Only one out of every six adults could read or write.

TANU forced the British to give the country independence after the party won an election in 1958. After independence, Nyerere went back to his home village. There he wrote a pamphlet which explained his ideas about how Tanzanians could build their country.

It was called “Ujamaa, the Basis of African Socialism”. Nyerere travelled around the country, teaching people about his ideas. The people called him “Mwalimu”, which means ‘teacher’.


Ujamaa means sharing and working together, like a family. Nyerere said this was how people had lived in the past. The people in the villages all used to help each other, and Nyerere said this is how people should live today.

Nyerere said: “In the village everyone was a worker. Before colonialism there were no big differences in wealth and power in African society”. By this he meant the rich were not too rich — and the poor were not too poor. Everyone worked hard for what they had.

But it has been a hard struggle to build socialism, and Ujamaa has run into many problems. ILRIG’s book asks some important questions about these problems.

  1. Why has it been so difficult to build socialism in Tanzania?

  2. Why have many TANU government officials not pushed forward with Ujamaa?

  3. Why do foreign companies still have so much power in Tanzania?


To find answers to these questions, ILRIG found five interesting stories told by Tanzanians. The stories teli what ordinary people are doing in Tanzanian towns and villages, in the factories and farms, in the trade unions and in TANU.

The first story is by a teacher. He tells how 75 years of foreign rule left Tanzania one of the poorest countries in the world. The foreigners took from the country and put nothing back into it. Ujamaa had to grow from the soil of history, and the roots of many of the country’s problems today can be found in the past.

There were important differences from other African countries in the way the European nations ruled Tanzania. There were not many white settlers, so the Europeans did not build many factories and railways. And Tanzanians did not have to go to war for their independence, like other African countries.


The second story is by the son of a trade unionist. He shows how the trade unions worked with TANU for independence — and how weaknesses in the unions weakened the struggle for socialism. The unions were not strong at the grassroots. They were controlled too much by their officials, and not enough by the workers. TANU worked closely with the unions to fight for independence. But the workers were not the leaders of this struggle.

After independence some rich groups, like traders and top government officials, wanted TANU to keep the unions quiet. The TANU government did not allow workers to strike. And the government put their own men in charge of the unions. These officials were not elected by the workers.


A journalist tells the third story. It is about the big companies that were taken over by the government after 1967. The government wanted to run the companies for the good of all Tanzania’s people. But the big overseas companies that used to own these banks, factories and farms, still have too much power in Tanzania.

The government also said the workers should control the factories. But managers control them still, and they get paid much more than the workers. But workers are gaining more power, and worker councils now advise management on production. ILRIG asks: will the managers hold on to their power and wealth? Or will workers win more control of the factories?


The fourth story is about ujamaa vijijini, which is Swahili for socialism in the villages. It is a story told by a young woman who works for the Ministry of Agriculture. She tells how the government forced people to move into bigger villages, so they could work the land together.

People were not happy about being forced to move. They wanted to carry on living in their old, small villages, farming in the traditional way. But there was a drought and a food shortage, so people had to move into the villages to get food from the government.

But other problems followed — problems with planning, and with doing things in a democratic way. Some government officials and rich farmers saw that ujamaa vijijini helped the poor, and not them. So they worked against ujamaa.

The government forced many people to live in the new villages after 1973. But the biggest problem was that the peasants did not control the price of their crops. This price was controlled by the government and the foreign companies. So the poor peasants stayed poor — and they thought that ujamaa was to blame.

The people no longer farm the land together. But some things changed for the better. Bigger villages give the people things like schools and clinics, which they did not have before. And the peasants used the old system of village assemblies, where the people made decisions together, to build ujamaa democracy.


The last story is by a TANU official. He tells how TANU made itself the only party in Tanzania’s government. TANU wanted the nation to be united. But this has caused problems.

Nyerere himself has questioned if a one-party state is such a good idea. Now the TANU government officials have much power. And workers and the people have little power. Nyerere knows this is a big problem in his country.

Nyerere said: “In the last years of my life, I am going to spend my time helping to build up the organisations of the party, the trade unions, the youth, the women, the poor peasants, in each village and town.”

Twenty seven years after independence, there is still much work to be done, building socialism and democracy in Tanzania. And there are other problems too. But South Africans can learn much from the history of this African nation. We must not make the same mistakes in building our own future.

* Do you want to get a copy of “Tanzania — The Struggle for Ujamaa?” You can buy this book from ILRIG. It costs R2,00 for workers and unemployed people. If you earn a salary, ILRIG asks that you pay R5,00 for a copy. You can order the book by sending the money to:

ILRIG Box 213 Salt River 7925

ILRIG helps workers to learn about the struggles of their comrades in other parts of the world. They help unions and organisations with education workshops, videos and research. They have also published books on worker struggles in other countries. The titles of the other books are: Botswana, Bolivia, Brazil, International Worker Organisations, Mozambique, Kenya and Zimbabwe. If you want to know more about ILRIG, please write to them at the above address.

NEW WORDS colony — a country that is ruled by another country. Independence — when a country rules itself production — the way things are made or grown peasants — poor people who work the land in the countryside traditional — the old way village assemblies — village meetings Swahili —the language spoken in many parts of Africa salary — a monthly wage


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