Julius Nyerere, African socialist

Kevin Anderson of the Marxist Humanist tendency discusses Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere, shortly after his death.

Submitted by libcom on July 27, 2005

For a more critical article on Nyerere, see this article from Pambuzuka.

Julius Nyerere, African socialist

I have turned "Black World" over to Kevin Anderson this month for the following in memoriam to former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere who died in October.-Lou Turner

by Kevin Anderson

With the death of Julius Nyerere, the world has lost one of the foremost proponents of African Socialism. Nyerere's humanist vision known as UJAMAA influenced several generations of Africans as well as many throughout the world concerned with African liberation.

In the 1960s, as president of Tanzania, a federation of the former colonies Tanganyika and Zanzibar, Nyerere developed a creative view of African Socialism: "In socialist Tanzania, our agricultural organization would be predominantly that of co-operative living and working for the good of all. This means that most of our farming would be done by groups of people who live as a community and work as a community. A nation of such village communities would be a socialist nation" (UJAMAA: ESSAYS ON SOCIALISM [1968], p. 124).

This was the basis of what was called the ujamaa village. In so doing, Nyerere attempted to build upon pre-colonial communal traditions: "All land now belongs to the nation. But this was not an affront to our people; communal ownership of land is traditional in our country-it was the concept of freehold which had been foreign to them. In tribal tradition an individual or family secured rights in land for as long as they were using it. It became the family land when it was cleared and planted; for the rest of the time it was tribal land, and it reverted to tribal land if the family stopped working it" (UJAMAA, pp. 84-85).

Nyerere's UJAMAA represented the hopes of many in the 1960s who wished to carve out an independent socialist pathway sharply different not only from the acquisitiveness of Western capitalism, but also from the totalitarian forms of Communism in Russia and China. Rather than rapid industrialization, Nyerere aimed for a form of democratic socialism rooted in the village.


Raya Dunayevskaya pointed to these developments in her PHILOSOPHY AND REVOLUTION (1973), terming them "a confrontation, not only with the economic realities of Africa, but with the self-development of Africans theoretically" (p. 244).

As these villages developed, Tanzania achieved the highest literacy rate in Africa (83%) and also experienced major advances in health care. The single party system Nyerere founded under the Tanzania African National Union (TANU) was hardly undemocratic, since open debate and competitive candidacies were permitted. Nor did Tanzania experience the pervasive corruption of so many post-independence African states.

Nyerere also took strong and principled international stands. Tanzania was in the forefront of the Frontline African States which supported the liberation struggle against apartheid South Africa, white settler-ruled Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia), and Portuguese-ruled Mozambique and Angola. From early on, Tanzania also supported Congolese revolutionaries seeking to dislodge CIA-installed dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.

Tanzania welcomed Black revolutionaries from the world over, who debated various forms of Marxism and Pan-Africanism. One venue for these discussions was the Sixth Pan-African Congress, held in Dar es Salaam in 1974.

Nyerere did not hesitate to take stands against other African leaders and regimes. A recent in memoriam statement by the U.S.-based Black Radical Congress singled out his principled humanism and internationalism: "Nyerere demonstrated that killing Africans in any part of Africa should be of concern to all human beings, especially African leaders" (Condolence Message of Oct. 19, 1999).


In 1967, Nyerere supported Biafra's war for independence from Nigeria. In 1979, he sent troops to help Ugandans to liberate their country from the murderous Idi Amin dictatorship. More recently, and from retirement, he spoke out forcefully against the genocide in Rwanda and supported Congolese rebels, first in the overthrow of Mobutu, and then in their efforts to oust their authoritarian and corrupt post-Mobutu ruler, Laurent Kabila.

By the late 1970s, Nyerere came into sharp conflict with the International Monetary Fund and other global capitalist institutions, which wanted Tanzania to adopt "free market" economic policies. Eventually, Tanzania was forced to give up many of its socialist-oriented policies. Earlier than this, however, Nyerere's turn to forced villagization, which he claimed was necessary for education and other forms of modernization, had begun to alienate many peasants, undermining from within the concept of UJAMAA.

As news of his death spread, tens of thousands of Tanzanians converged on the capital, Dar es Salaam, to pay tribute to one of the outstanding leaders of modern Africa. We too mourn the passing and celebrate the life of this unique African thinker and leader, who in his theory of UJAMAA developed an African version of socialist humanism.



6 years 2 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Battlescarred on January 23, 2018

"It is pointed out that it is under Mwalimu that the nationalists negotiating for independence of Tanganyika in London and Dar es Salaam rejected the inclusion of a Bill of Rights in the independence Constitution of 1961 The same position was repeated during the Republican Constitution of 1962; the Interim Constitution of 1965; and the Permanent Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania of 1977. The Bill of Rights was eventually incorporated in the Constitution in 1984 – a year before he left office due to the pressure from the people.

Apart from rejecting a Bill of Rights which could have guaranteed most of the fundamental rights and freedoms to the individual, it is also pointed that Mwalimu supported the extension and use of some of the oppressive colonial laws and allowed the enactment of new laws which also curtailed freedoms and rights and individuals.

Among the colonial legislation which were allowed to continue in use include the Penal Code of 1945; Collective Punishment Ordinance, 1921; the Townships (Removal of Undesirable Persons) Ordinance, 1944; and the Deportation Ordinance of 1938 which allowed the Head of State to deport citizens from one part of the country to another. This law was to be declared unconstitutional by the High Court of Tanzania in the case of Chumchua s/o Marwa v. Officer i/c Musoma Prison and Another in 1988. Controversial legislation enacted by the government with Mwalimu at the helm include the Preventive Detention Act, 1962 which allowed detention without due process and discussed at length in the case of Ahmed Janmohamed Dhirani v. Republic (1979); Regions and Regional Commissioners Act, 1962 and Areas and Area Commissioners Act, 1962 which allowed these two important representatives of the government in the regions to curtail the freedoms of the individual for specific periods also without due process.

It is also pointed out that apart from legislation, Mwalimu and his ruling party declared a one-party rule and thus curtailing the right of the people to organise, to form and join political parties of their own choice. It is not only political parties which were curtailed but also civil society organisations were also organised around the party and mass organisations under the party. These were for workers, women, youth, parents and co-operatives. It is argued that if Mwalimu was a democrat, then why did he block all routes to freedoms of the people?

Another issue on which Mwalimu is blamed on and indicated as a clear violation of rights of the people was the villagisation programme of 1970s. This programme involved moving thousands of citizens around the country into over 10,000 villages established around the country."

Mike Harman

6 years 2 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Mike Harman on January 23, 2018

Thanks, I've re-posted the article here. It's a failing that the more critical writing on Nyerere has been left almost entirely to Pan-African writers while Marxist Humanism writes this relatively uncritical account and many others just ignore post-colonial Tanzania altogether.