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A response to Noosim Naimasiah
Joburg Post

After more than 40 years since the Arusha Declaration, initially published in Kiswahili, was declared on 5 February 1967, it feels as though, before levelling any critique or disagreements one might have, difficult not to simultaneously acknowledge the sheer optimism, ambition and ingenuity in its underpinning that now seem dreams away from what could be expected from a present day government. 

The declaration described the social and political policy for the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) under the leadership of the then president, Julius Nyerere. “Ujamaa” or in a version of its English translation “Family hood” formed the synthesis of Nyerere’s proposition for an “African socialism” which was articulated in the essay Ujamaa – The basis of African socialism in April 1962 in a TANU pamphlet. The formulation of Ujamaa suggested in this pamphlet, as I understand it, essentially seeks to lay a philosophical basis for TANU’s conception of African socialism at that particular historical moment.

In reading the aforementioned essay I identify the following key points:

  1. Socialism is an ideal determined by an attitude of mind and a socialist society is categorised by the processes and extent through which wealth is distributed.
  2. That it is conceivably possible to transition from largely peasant based society, without transitioning through industrialisation and “developed” capitalism, to a socialist society.
  3. Traditional African communal values demonstrate practices of collectivism and communalism, which foster the kinds of egalitarian attitudes necessary for a “socialist” society to function.
  4. The people of Tanganyika, at the time, were largely agrarian and had not undergone industrialisation. “Capitalist ideals” and individualism arrive through colonialism and are strongest in the metropolis.
  5. While differences in wealth exist between people, they had yet to consolidate into classes, hence TANU’s African socialism attempt to distance itself from the models of the Soviet Union, along with the capitalist individualism of the West.
  6. The colonial state can be transformed to guide the society towards extending “family hood” and by extension existing communal values to foster an “African socialist” society, which operates beyond the nuclear family, tribe and race.

These points are taken from my understanding of the essay and are not intended to foreclose other readings, I list them above in point form as these will form my underlying assumptions for the conversation going forward around Ujamaa and “Education for Self Reliance” more specifically.

In response to Noosim Naimasiah’s earlier contribution in a book titled Ujamaa – Essays on Socialism, I will seek to engage with the important reflections on the collective engagement she highlights. I will also seek to emphasise and extend the deeper point she makes as she encourages us to look at Ujamaa and more specifically the “Education for Self Reliance” section as being the product of dynamic conflicts that were underway within the region as opposed to the notion that these emancipatory ideas were appearing as if from the ether from enlightened individuals somehow separate from society – as often we are led to believe. From this point forward we will consider the post-independence union Tanzania, which is formed through a union of Tanganyika under TANU and the movement that overthrew the Sultan governing Zanzibar.

In a book written by influential African scholar, Mahmood Mamdani, titled Define and Rule, as part of a series of arguments he interrogates the legacy of Nyerere’s contribution to decolonisation in Tanzania taking special interest in the role of the law and legislature in colonial and post-colonial contexts more broadly. As far as I can understand it he appears to be tracing the trajectory of the categories of political identity particularly in the case of indirect rule.

Settler populations, native elites, wage workers and early industrial proletarians existed under “common law” which was given authority and philosophic basis through the colonial powers and “customary law” was used to govern the natives. “Natives” often through dispossession and some form of relocation were often constructed as “authentic” and “indigenous” through fixed parameters controlled by traditional authorities installed and propped up by the colonial regime. Mamdani credits Nyerere’s government with abolishing the traditional authorities and extending common law to all “citizens” on the basis of an African national identity, Tanzania, which related to residency and a commitment to the values and work towards the prosperity of its people.

Nyerere himself expresses liberal conceptions of how “race” operates emphasising inter-personal dynamics of racial intolerance that can be resolved by addressing attitudes, ideals and values instead of simultaneously considering race as structural. This approach led to conflicts within nationalist elements within the country, which were eventually able to persuade him to implement an affirmative action policy as redress for the historical inequalities due to the privileges allocated by the colonial regime in the stratified society.

Following from this what might be interesting to think through is to put the above ideas in conversation with the work of Cedric Robinson, more specifically that which is presented in his book Black Marxism, which outlines the notion of racial capitalism. In my understanding, this term proposes the idea that race is constitutive of capitalism and not simply coincidental, that is to say capitalism necessarily produces racialism.

If we accept that Nyerere’s African socialism was unable to defeat capitalism, to the extent that this is uncontroversial, then it necessarily implies that while the Arusha Declaration called for desegregation and an end to racist attitudes, the structural regimes that exist and reproduce racism could not be abolished but are instead left to at most mutate during and after Nyerere’s regime. This is not to endorse the notion that somehow ending capitalism automatically ends racism, patriarchy or other forms of structural oppression, but to reaffirm the point that to the extent that capitalism continues the defeat of any of those interlocking systems is impossible.

The impact of this assertion is potentially immense for how we might reflect on the legacy of the Education and Self Reliance section of the Arusha Declaration and its implementation in the physical world. This particularly relates to the question of the real ability for this programme to address the legacies of colonialism, slavery and historical dispossession all of which are ultimately necessary to open up the radical potential of the emancipatory aspirations within the masses of the people at large. It is important for us to reconcile with these issues as they lay bare the supreme difficulty of transforming the colonial apparatus in the face of very real divisions and inequality within the society at the point of formal takeover.

In a paper written by Walter Rodney, the radical public intellectual from Guyana, titled Tanzanian Ujamaa and Scientific Socialism, an attempt is made to provide a charitable critique of Ujamaa from the perspective of scientific socialism. In my limited understanding, Rodney affirms the position that there is a structural impossibility for capitalism in Africa to “develop” to the extent to which it has in Europe due to the proposition that the development of Europe through capitalism is made possible, in part, through the “underdevelopment” of Africa. This position was expanded by Rodney in his book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, which was written during his time working at the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Rodney, like many others at the time, considers Nyerere’s articulation of African socialism a “utopian socialism”, which hinges heavily on two main pillars:

  1. An idealised conception of the nature of communalism found in existing agrarian societies.
  2.  A belief that the state could act to “prevent” the formation of classes from the top down.

Rodney and others of his ilk in contrast to Nyerere advocated for class struggle in Tanzania in pursuit of scientific socialism while at the same time levelling criticisms against the rigidity of some Western Marxists who saw the only path forward through the lenses of their particular historical development.

The Arusha Declaration describes an economic policy, which included aggressive nationalisation, charted the development of the nation through the “collectivisation of villages” organised under what were termed Ujamaa villages. These Ujamaa villages, which were intended to be state supported cooperatives that would foster a productive agricultural sector whose surplus would be redistributed fairly to the nation through Ujamaa (Family hood) and used to acquire foreign exchange to strengthen the economy and increase the capacity for the country to import resources and goods such as more advanced machinery. This system ultimately, as Noosim describes, has a low take up and devolved into a scenario where people were forced into the Ujamaa villages in an effort to realise the project.

With this in mind it is important to understand that the economic project of Tanzania is explicitly linked to the policy of “Education for self-reliance”. In the face of incredibly low levels of access to primary and secondary education across the country at the moment of independence, Nyerere who has a background as a teacher, proposes a system of education anchored in relevance to the realities of the communities in which they are located. The policy describes the ambition of democratising the classroom space through use of school gardens/community gardens, which learners as collectives would co-create and maintain as part of their education under the facilitation and guidance of the teacher. The idea is that this system of education would foster self-sufficiency but also would work alongside and as reinforcing institution for the village collectivisation process outlined by the Ujamaa village’s programme.

Nyerere asserted the role of educational institutions under formal colonialism as being sites that reproduced individualist ideals and responded with a policy that sought to create a space where public education would be extended to all citizens, not simply the elites, but through the philosophical lenses of the broader emancipatory project guided by TANU’s policies. He criticised the hegemony of examinations as a universal marker of understanding and assessment and along with the expanded definition of what a school do and look like he called on creative approaches of assessment that emphasised learning as opposed to only standardised proficiency tests. The approach for making this transformation in the education space was defined somewhat differently in the urban and rural cases given their different roles in the economy and society at the time. Nyerere prescribed a national service requirement for all university going students (who benefited from free education) as a means of reinforcing the point that the objective of education was towards the ends of the collective freedom.

One of the first serious challenges in the urban elite sectors of society was outlined in Noosim’s article by a massive strike at University of Dar es Salaam where students opposed the implementation of national service and were subsequently expelled en masse.

The Tanzanian left intellectual Issa Shivji in an article “Walter Rodney in Tanzania” reflected on the Rodney’s time at the University of Dar es Salaam by contextualising it within the broader debates and historical conflicts of the time. Shivji’s account lifts and emphasises the atmosphere of debate, disagreement and engagement with issues around emancipatory politics in Africa and across the world. What is significant for us to reflect on in relation to his account is that it is important for us to then trace and engage with the dynamic forces and ideas which exist during the time of Ujamaa and not simply take for granted totalising representations of history that present us with the story of ideologues (whether they be Shivji, Rodney or Nyerere in this case) but rather as being the product of the forces shaping society as a whole.

In 1966 democratic socialist intellectual, Jitendra Mohan, published an article titled “Varieties of African socialism” through which he traces the different contending interpretations for socialism in Africa in that period as divided largely in two groups those identifying with scientific socialism and the pursuit of class struggle and those who proposed African socialism leveraging of traditional African communal practices and values while in practice adopting mixed economies.

I cite this article, mostly as point of reference, which offers very interesting critical perspectives on the various interpretations of socialism at that time, but also to emphasise the broader point that the moment that the Arusha Declaration was declared over and above the global conflict revolving around the United States and allied forces against the Soviet Union there were a sea of contending interpretations and conflicting views around the paths to socialism and the conditions for unity in Africa and beyond. By consequence we have to then see the Arusha Declaration and even the education project it defines, in the context of its historical moment with all the opportunities and challenges there were as unique to the national liberation era and the impetus it provided.

To further emphasise the point above I will point to the petition submitted by James Ngugi (later Ngugi wa Thiongo’o), Henry Owur-Anyuma and Taban Lo Liyong calling for the abolition of the English department submitted at the University of Nairobi in September 1968. This petition among several other key demands calls for the abolishing of the English department and the establishment of a Department of African Literature and Languages in an attempt to undermine the hegemony not simply of languages brought by colonialism, but also to call into question the very modes of understanding and reasoning that had developed within the English department as an instantiation of the colonial apparatus.

Their proposal did not call for a rejection of engagement with European literature but instead, demanded to shift the terms under which that content would be engaged with while re-purposing the educational space to incorporate an engagement with other forms of knowledge production such as the oral tradition. Locating itself firmly with East Africa, by responding to context, it draws specific attention to the need to encourage and foster engagement with Swahili literature although not exclusively. This proposition, is one in a sea of disruptions that led to and bolstered a cultural wave across that region, particularly in Kenya and Tanzania that saw Kiswahili enter into formal academic educational spaces and to a limited extent within the transforming state apparatus itself as evidenced by the delivery of the Arusha Declaration in Kiswahili.

The question of language, among many of the issues raised in the petition and in the broader discussion, have historically been of great importance for thinking about public education institutions, if there is one thing that is clear, for those of us located in South Africa the present debates around “Free Education” and the education crisis more generally demand urgent reflection on the impact, challenges and trajectory of Kiswahili in educational institutions in Tanzania and the East African region as a whole.

In thinking through Noosim’s account of the collapse of Nyerere’s regime what comes to surface is the extent to which, if we are being charitable, the class forces (or emerging class forces) within Tanzania’s were underestimated by TANU’s vision. Extensive webs of bureaucracy and rising privileges allocated to civil servants along with the structural adjustments imposed by the International Monetary Fund eroded the early gains and social welfare schemes fashioned in post-independence Tanzania.

By consequence even the prospects for the realisation of Nyerere’s vision for education for self-reliance, however we might feel it about it, seem perhaps more challenging than they have ever been in a present age of almost permanent austerity and relentless privatisation. In closing, Education for Self Reliance offers us today many interesting and important things to think about as a philosophy but more importantly, I would argue, if we are to seriously tackle the challenges of tomorrow a rigorous debate and interrogation of the historical context and forces that shape the contours of the society in which this idea was attempted, can open up possibilities within public debates that are increasingly limited to the machinations within and on the periphery of the United States and Europe.

Popular education discussions, organised on a non-sectarian basis, such as those reflected on in Noosim’s essay offer us a tangible starting point into how we can practically embark on a process to engage with ideas and history from a time and place that have consistently been ignored and overlooked in spite of their rich and significant contribution to the pursuit for collective emancipation.


* Brian Kamanzi is an activist, student and writer based at the University of Cape Town, South Africa.



Mamdani, M. (2012). Define and Rule - Native as Political Identity. USA: Harvard University Press.

Mohan, J. (1966). Varieties of African Socialism. Socialist Register, pp. 220-266.

Nyerere, J. (1971). Ujamaa - Essays on Socialism. USA: Oxford University Press.

Robinson, C. (1983). Black Marxism. North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press.

Rodney, W. (1972). Tanzanian Ujamaa and Scientific Socialism. African Review (Dar es Salaam), pp. 61-76.

Rodney, W. (1981). How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. USA: Howard University Press.

Shivji, I. (2013, June 27). Walter Rodney in Tanzania. Retrieved July 1, 2017, from Pambazuka News -Voices for Freedom and Justice:

Thiongo’o, N. w. (1995). Post-Colonial studies reader. London: Routledge.