"A Very Real War": Popular Participation in Development in Tanzania during the 1950s & 1960s

Article excerpt

In his inaugural address as President in December 1962, Julius Nyerere outlined the difficulties the country now faced:

I know there are still a few people who think we are joking when they hear us using the word "war." Let me assure them that we are not... every year thousands of our children die needlessly for no other reason than a lack of proper care born of ignorance.1

In declaring this war, Nyerere began the identification of Tanzania with the process of economic and social development. The country was to be a developmental state, with every ounce of its energy and attention, its intellectual and material resources, dedicated to raising standards of living. The dominant discourse that emerged in this period was one in which socioeconomic advancement, the nation state, and the articulation of national citizenship, revolved around the fulcrum of national development. A "citizen" was one who shared these developmental aims and objectives, participated actively in projects, and accepted the responsibilities of self-reliance and community advancement.

Nyerere continued to expand upon his war motif in his address:

[Poverty, ignorance and disease], then, are not mock enemies. They are the true enemies of our people. And anybody who refuses to take part in this war, or who hinders the efforts of his neighbours, is guilty of helping a far more deadly foe than is he who helps an armed invader. So, I repeat, this war is a very real war; it is no sham battle in which we are engaged. I look to every citizen of our country to join in the fight. And anyone who interferes in our war effort, I, for my part, shall look upon as a traitor and enemy of our country.2

Nyerere was offering a particularly Aristotlean version of "the citizen" and the state-defined primarily in terms of duties rather than the discourse of "rights" that permeates modern liberal definitions.3 The notion of the "virtuous" citizen found expression in Nyerere's demands for willing participation in development schemes for the benefit of all: to be a Tanzanian was to assist in the development of the nation. To be a citizen, to have access to those rights that such a status inferred, meant a willing acceptance of the obligations that nationhood demanded.

The nations of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Europe and North America were forged from revolution and battle: against the tyranny and corruption of ancien regimes, and against other emerging nation states.4 European nationalism was consecrated in blood, underscored by a mythology of struggle and conflict. Nyerere's Tanzania was also to be born from battle, of which the struggle against colonialism was merely the opening feint. Following independence the struggle was to continue as Tanzania battled against poverty. Nationalism is an ideology of identity, a psychological and social creation as much as political. "Nations" require a legend, a myth that sustains them in their darkest hours and longest struggles, that can provide a focus point around which the hopes, the dreams, and the aspirations of a diverse society can be built. "Ujamaa" and "self-help" became the myth around which Tanzanian nationalism came to be based in large part: the colonial interlopers had torn the Africa of old to bits, scattered and buried its remnants under alien structures. TANU and Nyerere, through a rediscovery and adaption of the traditional "African" notions of communal assistance and effort, claimed to be rebuilding African society. The Tanzanian development narrative fed upon (a created) past even as it looked to the future. It provided not only the means for development, but a means for unity. "Self-help" and Ujamaa were the means to incorporate the rural sector and its population into a new nation, and for articulating the needs and demands of the developmental state within a benevolent (if still paternal) framework.

The development narrative in Tanzania in the 1960s to some extent reflected ongoing transformation in developmental processes and policies that had been taking place since the 1930s. …