The idea of Ujamaa emerged from the writing and speeches of Tanzania’s first president, Julius K Nyerere, from the late 1950s and into the 1960s. Usually translated as “familyhood,” it was a form of African socialism that blended broadly conceived socialist principles with a distinctly “communitarian” understanding of African societies, and a strong commitment to egalitarian societies. It was to form the bedrock of efforts to institute profound social change from the late 1960s, directed and shaped by the state. At the heart of the idea of Ujamaa were ideas around self-reliance (people should build for themselves their futures), total participation of all in developing the nation (“nation building,” and self-help), communal labor in the rural sector and communal ownership of land, and nationalizations in the private sector and of public services. Ujamaa as an idea was to have a profound impact on Tanzanian economic and development policies from the late 1960s, but also had a wider continental impact in contributing to and shaping a distinctive form of African socialism in the 1960s and 1970s.
The heyday of African socialism as the animating force behind African political developments has passed. Yet, like other political doctrines of great revolutionary movements, its name and principles continue to be invoked by political and social leaders today. As recently as 2005, the Rev. Johnson J. Chinyong’ole of the University of KwaZulu-Natal argued that the principles of African socialism should guide the Anglican Church’s efforts in reducing poverty in Tanzania. As part of the zeitgeist of early postcolonial Africa, the traditions and principles of African socialism have had a profound impact on how Africans have seen and shaped their world. An understanding of the central tenets of African socialism helps to explain the unique ways in which Africans have responded to and appropriated features of Marxism, socialism, and capitalism, as well as to illuminate distinctly African traditions of communalism, philosopher-kings, aestheticism, and perfectionism in politics.
Julius Kambarage Nyerere (1922–1999) was the East African nation of Tanganyika’s (from 1964: Tanzania) central political figure from the struggle against colonialism in the 1950s, through the attainment of political independence in 1961, and into the late 20th century. After briefly serving as Tanganyika’s first prime minister, he was the country’s first president from 1962 until 1985. From these positions and his thirty-five years as the chairman of the ruling party, Nyerere profoundly shaped Tanzania’s political and societal trajectory. Under the guiding ideology of ujamaa (“familyhood”) African socialism, he set out a vision of society built on egalitarian principles and the mutual obligation of its members toward one another. His commitment to this vision saw Nyerere fight for equal rights under inclusive citizenship irrespective of race, ethnicity, and religion in Tanzania and liberation from colonialism and racist rule in Southern Africa. In 1967, the famous Arusha Declaration reinforced the socialist aspects of ujamaa and resulted in nationalizations, the dramatic curbing of the ability of elites to accumulate wealth, and the reshaping of Tanzania’s rural areas in a massive resettlement campaign—notionally a first step in the building of socialist villages. Nyerere was able to override resistance to these policies through a combination of his personal authority with the public and the political class, the ruling party’s institutional monopoly he instituted in the political arena, and resort to usually mild forms of coercion. Thus imposing his vision of a just society over challenges and against resistance that he perceived as illegitimate or misguided, Nyerere practiced a politics that was often in tension with his professed democratic ideals. Although Nyerere was an authoritarian ruler, his voluntary retirement from political office and his support for the 1992 reintroduction of multi-party politics are indications that personal and institutional power had not become an end unto itself for him and that he was willing to relinquish both when holding on to them no longer seemed imperative or, indeed, effective in securing the larger political purposes he pursued.
Central Tanzania is a heterogenous region in the interior of East Africa. Its history, politics, and cultures have been affected by numerous outside influences. These outside influences have primarily come in the form of migrants from elsewhere in the East African interior and the Western Indian Ocean world, and in the form of “proto-colonial,” colonial, and postcolonial governance structures, whose centers since the mid-19th century have been located in Tanzania’s coastal or island regions. Despite the apparent “newness” that each migrant group or governor instituted, Central Tanzania’s politics and cultures have shown a remarkable adaptability to new influences, whether that be to ivory traders arriving in the region during the 19th century or to colonial rulers attempting to govern it during the 20th. Additionally, Islam and Christianity have taken a variety of forms within Central Tanzania, none of which exactly correspond to the ideals of those who originally brought them to the region. The peoples of Central Tanzania have acculturated to outside influences and reconciled them with their preexisting and developing political and cultural structures.
This paper concerns the long-term evolution of labor in East Africa up to the twenty-first century. While it considers the classic themes of labor history, trade unions, strikes and politics, it is concerned with the broader question of how people relate to their environment, how their work is organized and what the economic consequences are. Taking 1500 as a bottom line, it proceeds to look at changes before and with the coming of imperialism and colonialism and the contradictions of colonial labor policy. It also considers how labor conditions have altered since independence. Mau Mau in Kenya and the institution of villagization in Tanzania, which both shed a light on labor conditions, receive particular attention. Since the majority of the population even in the twenty-first century are rural dwellers, there is much concern with agricultural and pastoral activities. If the greatest concentration is on Tanzania and Kenya, East Africa is defined broadly in part for purposes of comparison.