What was Ujamaa?

Nyerere's social and economic policy in Tanzania in the 1960s and 70s

Julius Nyerere at New Conference
Pres. Julius K. Nyerere of Tanzania at news conference at State House in Dar es Salaam, 1976. Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

Ujamaa, the Swahili for 'familyhood'. was the social and economic policy developed by Julius Kambarage Nyerere, president of Tanzania from 1964 to 1985. Centered on collective agriculture, under a process called villagization, ujamaa also called for nationalization of banks and industry, and an increased level of self-reliance at both an individual and a national level.

Nyerere set out his policy in the Arusha Declaration of 5 February 1967. The process started slowly and was voluntary, by the end of the 60s there were only 800 or so collective settlements. In the 70s, Nyerere's reign became more oppressive, and the move to collective settlements, or villages, was enforced. By the end of the 70s, there were over 2,500 of these 'villages'.

The idea for collective agriculture was sound -- it was possible to provide equipment, facilities, and material for a rural population if they were brought together in 'nucleated' settlements, each of around 250 families. It made the distribution of fertilizer and seed easier, and it was possible to provide a good level of education to the population. Villagization also overcame the problems of 'tribalization' which beset other newly independent African countries.

Nyerere's socialist outlook required Tanzania's leaders to reject capitalism and all its trimmings, showing restraint over salary and perks. But it was rejected by a significant fraction of the population. When the main foundation of ujamaa, villagization, failed -- productivity was supposed to be increased through collectivization, instead, it fell to less than 50% of what was achieved on independent farms -- towards the end of Nyerere's rule, Tanzania had become one of Africa's poorest countries, dependent on international aid.

Ujamaa was brought to an end in 1985 when Nyerere stepped down from the presidency in favor of Ali Hassan Mwinyi.

Pros of Ujamaa

  • Created high literacy rate
  • Halved infant mortality through access to medical facilities and education
  • Untied Tanzanians across ethnic lines
  • Left Tanzania untouched by the 'tribal' and political tensions which affected the rest of Africa

Cons of Ujamaa

  • Transportation networks declined drastically through neglect
  • Industry and banking were crippled
  • Left the country dependent on international aid