‘Africa must control its own wealth’

Madaraka Nyerere, son of Julius Nyerere, on East Africa and economics

African governments should do more than just provide a favourable environment for companies and investors. They should also pursue a social policy, which is only possible if they control the exploitation of their natural resources, according to Madaraka Nyerere, son of the legendary first president of Tanzania. “And if to some this sounds like socialism, so be it,” he says.

  • Lilian Nabora Madaraka Nyerere Lilian Nabora

Many, mainly older, people in Europe still remember Tanzania as the country where the experiment with African socialism, or ujamaa, took place during the seventies. Ujamaa, which means “extended family” in Swahili, was used by the leader of the independence movement, Julius Nyerere, for his plan to base modern socialism on the traditional extended family and community in Africa. Nyerere described the objective of his ujamaa-socialism in Socialism and Rural Development (September 1967) as:

“a society in which all members have equal rights and equal opportunities; in which all can live in peace with their neighbours without suffering or imposing injustice, being exploited, or exploiting; and in which all have a gradually increasing basic level of material welfare before any individual lives in luxury.”

Nyerere has been overlooked ever since. His ideas were too leftist for neoliberal opinion makers, who have been dominating the field since the eighties, and too soft for hardcore Marxists. However his thinking set in motion an entire generation in and far beyond Africa, including the Flemish Third World movement. This is why MO* did not want to miss the unique opportunity to talk with the heir of the Mwalimu, or “teacher”, as the president was often called.

Is there still evidence of Julius Nyerere’s policy to combine development with solidarity?

Madaraka Nyerere: Of course, the country has undergone some fundamental changes. Something that still characterizes Tanzanians is a feeling of unity, which I am convinced is a result of Nyerere’s early policy, because he emphasised the dignity of each person, not only as an individual, but also in social connection with others, with the community. In all too many African countries, power is based on tribal networks, which is fatal for national coherence and development. An advantage for Tanzania was of course that the immense diversity of the population was compensated by the existence of one language that everyone spoke or understood. Dozens of tribes and races lived together in the country and were obliged to work together if they wanted to form a nation. The first president descended from a smaller tribe, which might also have contributed to the coherence and unity. But perhaps even more important was the fact that he refused to grant privileges or benefits to those who felt they earned it on the basis of kinship or neighbourhood.

During the first two decades, Tanzania’s development policy was based on the importance of local communities and solidarity. A much more liberal course was adopted from the eighties onwards, under pressure from the IMF, but also because the hoped-for progress failed to occur. Do you think this was the right choice?

Madaraka Nyerere: I have come to the conclusion that even a market-driven policy cannot eliminate all inequalities in income, education opportunities, healthcare and other issues in Tanzania. When a country’s policy is based only on the functioning of the market, an entire group of inhabitants threatens to become alienated from that policy. Today, the government believes its task is to create the necessary conditions and framework for each citizen to be able to make use of the opportunities at hand. But this view oversees the deeply-rooted inequalities in society. Someone from the countryside or someone with limited education has much fewer chances to make use of the scarce opportunities than someone with a richer background. Therefore, a social policy that supports everyone in realising their opportunities is necessary.

In Ujamaa - The Basis of African Socialism (April 1962) your father quotes a Swahili saying: ‘Mgeni siku mbili, siku ya tatu mpe jembe,” which means “offer someone hospitality for two days and a hoe the third day” so that he can work on the land. Also in Socialism and Rural Development (September 1967), Julius Nyerere stressed the conviction that everybody had to work together in order to help society make progress as a whole. Is this the African view on solidarity in a nutshell?

Madaraka Nyerere: In any case, it is a beautiful expression of the traditional view on labour and hospitality. Everyone has to contribute according to one’s means to make individual progress as well as progress for society as a whole.

Does this work ethic still count in the 21th century, with its big cities and unemployment?

Madaraka Nyerere: The problem is that the government lacks the means to offer jobs. Most of the state- or semi state-owned companies have been privatised. The government now puts more emphasis on young people’s education to make them able to work independently and earn money, rather than looking for a job that does not even exist. This is an appropriate policy, especially given the growing population. There is simply not enough employment to offer a respectable job to each member of the new generation.

Should the Tanzanian economy integrate more into the world market, or should it fall back instead on the old ideal of self-sufficiency?

Madaraka Nyerere: Today, integration into the world market is inevitable, but at the same time of minor importance. What we should really invest in is agricultural production to ensure food security in the countryside. If farmers know how to produce and distribute, they can feed themselves and export the surplus to cities or abroad.

‘Given the fact that Africa is rich in raw materials, a sensible mining policy could truly fund the development of the entire continent. But for that to happen, African countries must themselves take an active part in the exploitation of their natural resources and raw materials.’

In one of his works, Freedom and Development (October 1968), Julius Nyerere laid the foundation of what would later form the core idea of the work of Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen. Was he ahead of his time and would his work be better received today?

Madaraka Nyerere: Someone like Jimmy Carter once said that my father was far ahead of his time. But I strongly doubt that he would have been more appreciated or have had more influence. Today, free market thinking sets the tone to the extent that anyone making a stand for social policy is considered an alien. At the time of the ujamaa, the natural resources of the country belonged to the state to ensure the development of the entire nation. In today’s free market economy, such a policy is derided as economic nationalism – with an explicit negative connotation. According to the dominant ideology, resources should be concentrated in the hands of private investors, while the role of the state should be limited to providing a “supportive environment.”

The market-oriented economy generated a decade of outstanding economic growth for Africa, but also considerable inequality. What is your overall opinion on the policy pursued?

Madaraka Nyerere: In the countryside, where I have lived for more than twelve years, I see no more than a handful of people making progress. And on a national scale, only some of the biggest companies, mainly from the mining industry, are making large profits. For the vast majority of Tanzanians nothing has changed. All in all, economic growth did not help the people.

Your father believed strongly in the economic value of a strong regional integration of East Africa. At the end of the eighties, this dramatically led to a war with Uganda, to put an end to the ravages of dictator Idi Amin, and to international sanctions. However, in the last few years, this process has appeared to gain new momentum.

Madaraka Nyerere: The benefits of cooperation are evident. Opening the borders of Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi would generate a new market of about one million people. This offers a lot of opportunities for companies and would foster economic growth. During the sixties, Tanzania would indeed have been prepared to do anything to create an East African union, but today there are some reservations in Tanzania about a union. Fear of people’s freedom of movement and the – original - obligation to allow people from other member states to own land is at the bottom of this. The population explosion in countries such as Rwanda and Burundi are of such scope that many Tanzanians fear a large-scale takeover of their country.

Ambassador Dr. Dioderus Buberwa Kamala, who is following this discussion from a distance, used to be a minister of the East African Community and adds:

“Land is the only means of production for the poor and their only chance of getting out of poverty. So it is crucial that it is dealt with in a sensible way. Land ownership law is different in each country. Basically, all land in Tanzania belongs to the state or to the community. For each case, the authority in charge must give permission for land use. Anyone can go to a town and ask permission to stay and receive a plot of farmland. It will be authorised at the relevant level. Larger plots of land must be approved at a higher level. A few years ago, 120.000 Burundian and Rwandan refugees obtained permission to settle in Tanzania and apply for citizenship. Because of this they can also receive farmland. Because of the different legal frameworks, it was decided that arrangements concerning land ownership should be based on national law rather than on a unitary umbrella arrangement.”

Does Tanzania also fear the economically stronger neighbours?

Dioderus Buberwa Kamala: No, because for several years already the Tanzanian economy has been booming faster than Kenya and accounts for about two-thirds of the entire East African economy. We have more natural resources at our disposal than our neighbouring countries. An important condition for the success of a regional organisation such as the East African Community is that no member state survives at the expense of another and that everybody believes they can benefit from it.

Ujamaa was one of the inspiring ideas that arose in newly independent Africa in the sixties. Which fundamental ideas should steer policy in the year 2013?

Madaraka Nyerere: Today, it is of great importance that African countries take an active part in the exploitation of their natural resources and raw materials. This means for instance that the profits of these raw materials must stay in the country, instead of being exported to some rich investors abroad. Given the fact that Africa is rich in raw materials, a sensible mining policy could truly fund the development of the entire continent. To some, this may still sound as a plea for socialism. So be it.

You do not only plead for fair contracts and transparent management, but for real ownership or even nationalisation?

Madaraka Nyerere: Not necessarily nationalisation, and in my opinion, the state doesn’t have to be the majority shareholder. However, I do believe a share of 40 percent or more is vital to ensure that the resources of the country are distributed among the inhabitants of that country.

Madaraka Nyerere was in Leuven at the invitation of the African film festival. MO* talked with him before he participated in the workshop “Enterprising South”, organised by Entrepreneurs for Entrepreneurs and KU Leuven.

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