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date: 19 January 2021

Tanzania: Civil–Military Relations and Nationalismlocked

  • Daniel G. ZirkerDaniel G. ZirkerDepartment of Social Sciences, University of Waikato

Summary

Why have there been no successful military interventions or civil wars in Tanzania’s nearly 60 years of independence? This one historical accomplishment, by itself striking in an African context, distinguishes Tanzania from most of the other post-1960 independent African countries and focuses attention on the possibilities and nature of successful civil–military relations in sub-Saharan Africa. Contrary to most civil–military relations theory, rather than isolating the military in order to achieve civilian oversight, Tanzania integrated the military, the dominant political party, and civil society in what one observer called a combination of “political militancy” and “antimilitarism,” somewhat akin, perhaps, to the Chinese model. China did provide intensive military training for the Tanzanians beginning in the 1960s, although this could in no way have been expected to ensure successful integration of the military with civil society, nor could it ensure peaceful civil–military relations.

Eight potentially causal and overlapping conditions have been outlined to explain this unique absence of civil–military strife in an African country. Relevant but admittedly partial explanations are: the largely salutary and national developmental role of the founding president, Julius Nyerere; the caution and long-term fear of military intervention engendered by the 1964 East African mutinies; Tanzania’s radical foreign policy as a Frontline State; its ongoing territorial disputes with Uganda and Malawi; concerted efforts at coup-proofing through the co-opting of senior military commanders; and the country’s striking ethnic heterogeneity, in which none of the 125 plus ethnolinguistic tribes had the capacity to assume a hegemonic dominance. Each factor has a role in explaining Tanzania’s unique civil–military history, and together they may comprise a plausible explanation of the over 50 years of peaceful civil–military relations. They do not, however, provide a hopeful prognosis for future civil–military relations in a system that is increasingly challenging the dominant-party state, nor do they account for Tanzania’s subsequent democratic deficit.

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