Limited Choices: The Political Struggle for Socialism in Tanzania

Limited Choices: The Political Struggle for Socialism in Tanzania

Limited Choices: The Political Struggle for Socialism in Tanzania

Limited Choices: The Political Struggle for Socialism in Tanzania


Studies Tanzania's post-independence attempts to build a socialist society. The text examines the country's efforts to achieve socio-economic equality; to use agricultural co-operatives as a vehicle to socialism; and to contain Zanzibari sub-nationalism, which threatened the project.


The concluding years of the twentieth century may be remembered as the period when socialism "died." Even if one does not accept the finality of the "triumph" of liberalism over socialism, one must accept the fact that the political face of the world has radically changed. Almost everywhere, socialism, as a form of social and economic organization, seems to be in disrepute. Although most scholarly attention has been given to the demise of socialism in the North, especially the radical changes in Eastern Europe and the collapse of the Soviet Union, there have been important changes within states committed to building socialism in the South as well.

One of the most significant cases is that of Tanzania, which formally initiated socialist construction more than a quarter of a century ago. Tanzanian socialism shared with socialisms of the North the criticisms of individualism and the praise of collectivism; the depreciation of private enterprise and the glorification of collective and state enterprise; the condemnation of inequality and the support for state efforts to bring education and health services to all; and the fear that unfettered individual liberties would retard the creation of the good society.

Independence was accompanied by a widespread feeling that much could be done to transform Tanzanian society. This optimism was reflected in the positive public reaction to Tanzanian socialism in the 1960s. It contrasted with the more cynical and sanguine attitudes toward socialism prevalent at the time in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Twenty-five years later, though, disillusionment and cynicism had crept in. Although the formal commitment to socialism remained, many of the basic policies enacted to facilitate socialist construction were being reversed. An explanation of these changes and a prediction of whether they will lead to a complete abandonment of the goal of socialism will be sought in the pages that follow.

The sources of information used to address these issues are twofold. First, I, have relied upon the work of many scholars who have sought to understand the changes that have taken place both in Tanzania and in other countries seeking to build socialism. Second, I have relied upon my own work in Tanzania, which spans a period of more than thirty years.

The challenges a researcher faces in Tanzania are both stimulating and daunting: understanding meanings in a context of cultural diversity and justifiable suspicion; interpreting scholarly writings whose authors have very strong and very different orientations; extracting an accurate picture of events from newspapers owned by the sole political party and/or the . . .

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