What Was Ujamaa and How Did It Affect Tanzania?

Nyerere's Social and Economic Policy in 1960s and 1970s Tanzania

Former Tanzania President Julius Nyerere
Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

Ujamaa, the Swahili word for extended family, was a social and economic policy developed and implemented in Tanzania by president Julius Kambarage Nyerere (1922–1999) between 1964 and 1985. Based on the idea of collective farming and the "villagization" of the countryside, ujamaa also called for the nationalization of banks and industry and an increased level of self-reliance at both an individual and national level.

Nyerere's Plan

Nyerere argued that urbanization, which had been brought about by European colonialism and was economically driven by wage labor, had disrupted the traditional pre-colonial rural African society. He believed that it was possible for his government to recreate precolonial traditions in Tanzania and, in turn, re-establish a traditional level of mutual respect and return the people to settled, moral ways of life. The main way to do that, he said, was to move people out of the urban cities like the capital Dar es Salaam and into newly created villages dotting the rural countryside.

The idea for collective rural agriculture seemed like a sound idea—Nyerere's government could afford to provide equipment, facilities, and material to a rural population if they were brought together in "nucleated" settlements, each of around 250 families. Establishing new groups of rural populations also made the distribution of fertilizer and seed easier, and it would be possible to provide a good level of education to the population as well. Villagization was seen as a way to overcome the problems of "tribalization"—a plague which beset other newly independent African countries that drove people to separate into tribes based on ancient identities.

Nyerere set out his policy in the Arusha Declaration of Feb. 5, 1967. The process started slowly and was voluntary at first, but by the end of the 1960s, there were only 800 or so collective settlements. In the 1970s, Nyerere's reign became more oppressive, as he began to force people to leave the cities and move to the collective villages. By the end of the 1970s, there were over 2,500 of these villages: but things weren't going well in them.

Weaknesses

Ujamaa was intended to recreate nuclear families and engage the small communities in an "economy of affection" by tapping into the traditional African attitudes, while at the same time introducing essential services and modern technological innovations for the rural population that was now the majority. But traditional ideals of how families operated no longer matched the reality of the Tanzanians. The traditional devoted female domestic guardian of the family rooted in the village was contrary to the actual lifestyles of women—and maybe the ideal never had worked. Instead, women moved in and out of working and raising children throughout their lives, embracing diversification and flexibility to provide personal security.

At the same time, although young men complied with the official orders and moved to the rural communities, they rejected the traditional models and distanced themselves from the older generation of male leaders within their family.

According to a 2014 survey of people living in Dar es Salaam, villagization did not provide enough economic incentive to people who had been used to wage labor. They found themselves needing to involve themselves ever more deeply in the urban/wage economy. Ironically, Ujamaa villagers resisted engaging in communal life and withdrew from subsistence and commercial agriculture, while urban residents chose to live in the cities and practice urban agriculture.

Failure of Ujamaa

Nyerere's socialist outlook required Tanzania's leaders to reject capitalism and all its trimmings, showing restraint over salaries and other perks. But as the policy was rejected by a significant fraction of the population, the main foundation of ujamaa, villagization, failed. Productivity was supposed to be increased through collectivization; instead, it fell to less than 50% of what had been achieved on independent farms. Toward 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 a high literacy rate
  • Halved infant mortality through access to medical facilities and education
  • United Tanzanians across ethnic lines
  • Left Tanzania untouched by the "tribal" and political tensions that 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

Sources