Ujamaa (‘familyhood’ in Swahili) was the concept that formed the basis of Julius Nyerere’s social and economic development policies in Tanzania after it gained independence from Britain in 1961.


Ideology and practice

n 1967, President Nyerere published his development blueprint, which was titled the Arusha Declaration, in which Nyerere pointed out the need for an African model of development and that formed the basis of African socialism. The Swahili word ujamaa means ‘extended family’, ‘brotherhood’ or ‘socialism’; as a political concept it asserts that a person becomes a person through the people or community. He is declared servant of God in the Roman catholic Church for his resilient commitment to encourage the art of neighborliness among Tanzanians. The spirit of ‘others’ or ‘community’ bringing units of families together, and fostering cohesion, love and service.

Nyerere used Ujamaa as the basis for a national development project. He translated the Ujamaa concept into a political-economic management model through several means:

  • The creation of a one-party system under the leadership of the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU), alleging the need to solidify the cohesion of the newly independent Tanzania.
  • The institutionalization of social, economic, and political equality through the creation of a central democracy; the abolition of discrimination based on ascribed status; and the nationalization of the economy’s key sectors.
  • The villagization of production, which essentially collectivized all forms of local productive capacity.
  • The fostering of Tanzanian self-reliance through two dimensions: the transformation of economic and cultural attitudes. Economically, everyone would work for both the group and for him/herself; culturally, Tanzanians must learn to free themselves from dependence on European powers. For Nyerere, this included Tanzanians learning to do things for themselves and learning to be satisfied with what they could achieve as an independent state.
  • The implementation of free and compulsory education for all Tanzanians in order to sensitize them to the principles of Ujamaa.
  • The creation of a Tanzanian rather than tribal identity through means such as the use of Swahili

Julius Nyerere’s leadership of Tanzania commanded international attention and attracted worldwide respect for his consistent emphasis upon ethical principles as the basis of practical policies. Tanzania under Nyerere made great strides in vital areas of social development: infant mortality was reduced from 138 per 1000 live births in 1965 to 110 in 1985; life expectancy at birth rose from 37 in 1960 to 52 in 1984; primary school enrollment was raised from 25% of age group (only 16% of females) in 1960 to 72% (85% of females) in 1985 (despite the rapidly increasing population); the adult literacy rate rose from 17% in 1960 to 63% by 1975 (much higher than in other African countries) and continued to rise. However, Ujamaa (like many other collectivization projects) decreased production, casting serious doubt on the project’s ability to offer economic growth.

Nyerere used a colonial law, the Preventive Detention Act, to crush opposition.

In 1967, nationalizations transformed the government into the largest employer in the country. Purchasing power declined, and, according to World Bank researchers, high taxes and bureaucracy created an environment where businessmen resorted to evasion, bribery and corruption. In 1973, a policy of forced villagisation was pursued under Operation Vijiji in order to promote collective farming.

Decline and end

Eventually a number of factors contributed to the downfall of the development model based on the Ujamaa concept. Among those factors were the oil crisis of the 1970s, the collapse of export commodity prices (particularly coffee and sisal), a lack of foreign direct investment, two successive droughts, and the onset of the war with Uganda in 1978, which bled the young Tanzanian nation of valuable resources. By 1985 it was clear that Ujamaa had failed to lift Tanzania out of its poor economic state; Nyerere announced that he would retire voluntarily after presidential elections that same year.

In popular culture

The hip-hop scene in Tanzania was greatly influenced by the key ideas and themes of Ujamaa. At the turn of the century, the principles of Ujamaa were resurrected through “an unlikely source: rappers and hip hop artists in the streets of Tanzania.” In response to years of corrupt government leaders and political figures after Nyerere, themes of unity and family and equality were the messages sent out in a majority of the music being produced. This was in response to the working class oppression and in some sense a form of resistance. The principles of cooperative economics —”local people cooperating with each other to provide for the essentials of living”— can be seen in the lyrics of many Tanzanian hip-hop artists. They promote self-business and self-made identities in an effort to raise the spirits of the youth and promote change in society.

Ujamaa, understood as “Cooperative Economics”, is also the fourth of seven principles of the African-American celebration of Kwanzaa: “To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.”

Ujamaa is also the name of two African American–themed undergraduate dorms at Cornell University and Stanford University.

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