What Was Ujamaa and How Did It Affect Tanzania?

Nyerere's Social and Economic policy in 960s and 70s Tanzania

Julius Nyerere at New Conference
Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

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

Nyerere's Plan

Nyerere argued that urbanization, which had been brought about by colonialism and incentivized by wage labor, had had a disruptive influence on the traditional precolonial rural African society. He believed that it was possible for his government to re-establish communal communities which would, in turn, re-establish a traditional level of mutual respect and return to settled, moral, lifeways. The main core of ujamaa would be to move people out of the urban cities like Dar es Salaam and into newly created villages dotting the rural countryside.

The idea for collective rural agriculture was sound—the government could 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 was possible to provide a good level of education to the population. Villagization also overcame the problems of 'tribalization'—the sectarian plague which beset other newly independent African countries.

Nyerere set out his policy in the Arusha Declaration of Feb. 5, 1967. The process started slowly and was voluntary, but by the end of the 1960s, there were only 800 or so collective settlements. In the 1970s, Nyerere's reign became more oppressive, and the move to collective settlements, or villages, was enforced. By the end of the 1970s, there were over 2,500 of these 'villages.'


Ujamaa was intended to foment a nuclear family, and engage the small communities in an economy of affection, by tapping into the traditional African attitudes, and at the same time introducing essential services and modern technological innovations for the majority rural populations. But the idea of the traditional devoted female domestic guardian of the family rooted in the village was incongruent with the actual lifestyles of women. Instead, they moved in and out of productive and reproductive roles 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 fostered a need for people to involve themselves more deeply in the urban/wage economy. Ujamaa villagers resisted engaging in communal life and withdrew from subsistence and commercial agriculture, while urban residents chose to engage in 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 percent 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 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 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


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