Julius Nyerere’s Philosophy of Ujamaa

Julius Nyerere wanted Tanzania to be self-sufficient and not be reliant on European imports. His policies failed, but present African leaders should revise them and take important lessons from “ujamaa.”

Finding sustainable ways to propel the economy forward for the betterment of everyone was the top agenda for Julius Nyerere when he became the president of independent Tanzania. He envisioned a society that will make itself prosperous simply by eschewing capitalism.

The biggest thing for Nyerere was to make massive economic progress by embracing African socialism. By embracing the traditional ways of Tanzanians, there would be a way to surmount modern problems. What Nyerere put emphasis on was the issue of Tanzanians working for themselves and thus bettering their economy than to rely on European imports.

He sought to effect this by using the concept of ujamaa as the basis for his economic blueprint. Ujamaa is a Swahili word that means “extended family,” “brotherhood,” or socialism.” The sense that the word evokes is oneness. In a political context, this implies that a person becomes a person through the people or the community. From this perspective, Julius Nyerere wanted to create a just society in which people worked together in the villages towards economic development.

In 1967, Nyerere published his economic framework on how to take the nation forward titled the Arusha Declaration. It was based on the concept of ujamaa. It entailed the idea of collective farming and “villagization” of the countryside. This would further be extended to the nationalization of banks and industry. The person was expected to work for themselves first, and work for the community. This was African Socialism coming to life.

Nyerere desired a full reversion to the African pre-colonial way of living, one that had been disturbed by Europeans colonization. If this was the way, then urbanization, which he argued was not contributing to the better welfare of people because wage labour would be eroded away. Production was to be done in the villages. This would create a traditional level of mutual respect, bring units of families together, unity, cohesion, love, service and a moral ways of life.

In the rural areas, families would be brought together in “nucleated” settlements, each of around 250 families. By doing that, distribution of farming inputs would be made easier. Villagization would make a complete Tanzanian, and thus avoid the problems of “tribalism,” something that was bedeviling newly independent African countries.

The rationale behind using ujamaa in the discourse of national development was to use African ways of living to beat capitalism. The goal was to make Tanzania self-sufficient, a goal that had been shared by Thomas Sankara, former leader of Burkina Faso.

This is a concept that present African leaders can learn – being self-sufficient. What it now requires is using practical means and modern solutions complemented by African ethics.

African leaders should be looking at some of these policies and glean important lessons on how to take their countries forward. They should carefully look at these methods, analyze where they failed and why, and then take practical steps to perfect them.

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