Useful Instruments of Participation? Local Government and Cooperatives in Tanzania, 1940s to 1970s

Article excerpt

One of the more effective political strategies used by former Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere were his public confessions that he had made mistakes. In the mid1980s, for instance, he announced:

There are certain things I would not do if I were to start again. One of them is the abolition of local government and the other is the disbanding of co-operatives. We were impatient and ignorant.... We had these two useful instruments of participation and we got rid of them.1

This article examines the significance of these two "useful instruments" both in political thought and political practice. Local government as well as cooperative societies are characterized by their ambiguity. On the one hand, they are instruments that allow the central authority to push through its interests at various levels. On the other, they provide possibilities for a wider and more democratic participation in political affairs. This paper argues that although those in power expressed fairly different political ideas over the course of time, there was a strong element of continuity between the late colonial period and the first decades of independence. Despite a rhetoric that stressed popular participation, decentraliza-tion, and democratization, both the British colonial administration and subsequently the government of independent Tanzania largely pursued a policy of centralization and bureaucratic authoritarianism. Moreover, state rhetoric in both colonial and independent Tanzania sought to use an educational metaphor in their presentation of local government and cooperatives, claiming that experience in more democratic local institutions would provide some measure of political education for the wider population.

"A Showcase for Experiments": Local Government Reforms in the Late Colonial Period

The post World War II decade in Africa saw what has come to be known as a "second colonial occupation" embodied in development planning and secondary industries, cash crop expansion and agricultural improvement schemes, educational advance, constitutional progress, and local government reform.2 In the tumult of the post-war years British officials-believing that their development initiatives would make colonies economically more productive and ideologically more stable-sent waves of experts to Africa to increase efficiency in the agricultural and industrial sectors and to restructure health and education policies.3 The development concept became crucial to all participants in post war politics. But development was something to be done to and for Africans, not with Africa.4 The reforms of formally democratizing the local administration and of promoting marketing societies were part of this general development project. However, whatever democratic elements these reforms were intended to introduce, the aims were subordinated to economic interests. Securing full benefits from development funds was at least as important as furthering political education.5

In Tanganyika, as in many other British territories, local government became the key issue for the administration.6 The view of the British Colonial Office is well expressed in a now famous and often-quoted dispatch issued in February 1947 by Arthur Creech-Jones, Secretary of State for the Colonies:

I believe that the key to success lies in the development of an efficient and democratic system of local government. 1 wish to emphasize the words efficient, democratic and local.... 1 use these words because they seem to me to contain the kernel of the whole matter: local because the system of government must be close to the common people and their problems; efficient because it must be capable of managing the local services in a way which will help to raise the standard of living; and democratic because it must not only find a place for the growing class of educated men, but at the same time command the respect and support of the mass of people.7

Two years later district officers were told to create (gradually) a pyramid of councils from village to sub-chiefdom to chiefdom, district, and provincial levels. …