Academic journal article African Studies Review

Julius Nyerere, Ujamaa, and Political Morality in Contemporary Tanzania

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Julius Nyerere, Ujamaa, and Political Morality in Contemporary Tanzania

Article excerpt

Abstract:

Since the 2000s, Tanzania has witnessed the return in the public sphere of a reconfigured version of Ujamaa as a set of moral principles embodied in the figure of the first president of Tanzania, Julius Kambarage Nyerere. The persisting traces of Nyerere and Ujamaa are not so evident in actual political practices or economic policies, but rather in collective debates about politics and morality-in short, in contemporary imaginaries of the nation. Contributing to a long-standing discussion of the moral stature of Tanzania's "father of the nation," the article explores how and why a shared historical memory of Nyerere is being built or contested to define, mediate, and construct Tanzanian conceptions of morality, belonging, and citizenship in the polis today.

Résumé: Depuis les années 2000, on observe le retour d'une version reconfigurée de TUjamaa dans la sphère publique en Tanzanie. Cette ensemble de principes moraux avait été incarnée par la personnalité du premier président de Tanzanie, Julius Kambarage Nyerere. Les traces persistantes de Nyerere et de l'Ujamaa ne sont pas tant évidentes dans les pratiques politiques réelles ou dans les politiques économiques, que dans les débats collectifs sur le politique et la moralité, bref, sur les imaginaires contemporains de la nation. Afin de contribuer à un débat de longue date sur la stature morale du "père de la nation" tanzanienne, l'article explore comment et pourquoi une mémoire historique commune de Nyerere est en train d'être construite ou contestée pour définir, négocier et construire les conceptions tanzaniennes de la moralité, du sentiment d'appartenance et de la citoyenneté dans l'espace citoyen d'aujourd'hui.

Key Words: Nyerere; Tanzania; Mwalimu; Ujamaa; memory; nationhood; political morality

Introduction

After two decades of popular and academic expectations since the transition from the Ujamaa national development path to a free-market economy and a multiparty political system, Tanzania has witnessed the return in the public sphere of a reconfigured version of Ujamaa as a set of moral principles.! jn p0pUiar discourses, in the political arena, and in the media, this revisited philosophy is being used as a moral code in debates about social, political, and economic morality in a postsocialist situation characterized by increasing concerns about economic inequality, threats to national cohesion, and the high visibility of corruption in the political sphere. This new version of a national ethos, which constitutes a nebulous set of broad and flexible moral concepts from which individual and collective actors can draw to pursue different agendas and connect to other political repertoires of morality, has gained coherence through its embodiment in the figure of the tireless promoter of the 1960s-70s version of Ujamaa, the first president of Tanzania, Julius Kambarage Nyerere.

Indeed, after Nyerere's death on the October 14, 1999, the relative eviction of "Mwalimu" (the teacher) from the political landscape in the mid-1980s-when he became associated with the economic failure of Ujamaa-was suddenly reversed. The baba wa taifa (father of the nation) reappeared on the scene and was brandished as a symbol of humility, integrity, and incorruptibility in the face of today's corrupt economic and political elite. The state and the media have been instrumental in propagating a laudatory official memory of Nyerere for the purpose of nation-building and the maintenance of the political hegemony of the ruling party. Claiming to walk in Nyerere's footsteps has also become a common stand among politicians of both the ruling party and the opposition as they strive to build their personal legitimacy and attract votes. In a similar vein, popular discussions about present-day hardships, religious, ethnic, and political cleavages, and the absence of patriotism among political leaders tend to resort to a revisited positive image of Nyerere. Yet the prominent presence of the iconic figure of Nyerere in the public space does not mean that there is no critical perspective, if not alternative historical memories of Nyerere. …

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