Analysis: The rise and fall of the Arusha Declaration

Analysis: The rise and fall of the Arusha Declaration

Analysis: The rise and fall of the Arusha Declaration

Julius Nyerere, 1967 during Arusha Declaration march

Julius Nyerere, 1967 during the Arusha Declaration march. Photo credit: Mwalimu Nyerere Resource Centre

By Issa Shivji | August 2017

Genesis of the Arusha Declaration

2017 marks 50 years of Arusha Declaration and 100 years of the Russian revolution. Without doubt, the Declaration has been one of the revolutionary documents coming out of the African continent. At that time, and within the period of struggles for independence, the Declaration inspired and mobilized the working people while giving hope to Africans all over the world. If the independence of Ghana in March 1957 returned dignity to the African, the Declaration gave hope to the economically wretched, to struggle against exploitation, poverty and oppression.

The Arusha Declaration was a result of the struggle for progressive ideology and independent and self-reliant development. Its elaboration cannot be attributed to the dream and belief of a single person. Indeed, Julius Nyerere played a major role in elaborating Ujamaa, being Tanzania’s socialist ideology. The political party in the struggle for sovereignty, the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU), under the leadership of Nyerere committed itself to socialism. Nonetheless, it was in the real life struggles of the working people that both the potential and limits of the Arusha Declaration were revealed.

The independence struggle was an alliance of different social interests with differing stand on the meaning of independence led by the petty bourgeoisie. They were united in one goal: to get rid of the common enemy, colonialism and regain their people’s right to self-determination. As soon as independence was achieved, different interests and expectations came to the fore and were locked in battle. The top leadership of the party assumed government posts while the middle and lower cadre were left out because they could not be accommodated in the state service which required certain level of education. So ironically those who had not fully participated in the independence struggle, mainly the educated elite, ended up getting government positions while those who had made sacrifices in the struggle were left out in the cold. Within the party grievances started brewing. Rank and file membership of the trade unions, which had supplied the most militant force in the struggle for independence, were also aggrieved because their lives and livelihood did not show immediate improvement. Trade union leadership made full use of this grievance to spearhead the struggle for Africanization. The result was an inter-petty bourgeois struggle that posed a threat to the stability of the new government and collided head-on with the core beliefs of Nyerere in human quality and non-discrimination. Meanwhile, the elite in state power used their positions to go on a self-enriching spree, subtly challenging the declared aim of the ruling party, TANU, to build socialism based on human equality.

Matters came to a head in 1964 with the army mutiny. The mutiny was put down with the help of British forces and the government took the opportunity to destroy two centres of rival power, the army and the trade union. The army was dismantled and vocal trade union leaders detained. While trade union leaders were in detention, the government rushed through parliament a new law, which banned free trade union and formed one single trade union, which to all intents and purposes, was a state union under the full controlof the government. This move took care of the trade union and army but the “enemy” within, that is, the rising political class with capitalist tendencies, continued to flex muscles. In October 1966, University students demonstrated against the proposed national service under which graduates would have to undergo five-months military training in camps and contribute 60 per cent of their salary for the subsequent 18 months. Students carried provocative placards such as “colonialism was better” which infuriated Nyerere. Worse, their spokesperson in his speech made before Nyerere and his cabinet in the state house grounds, gave the political class an undisguised ultimatum. They asserted that if forced into the national service, their bodies would go “but our souls will remain outside the scheme. And the battle between political elite and educated elite will perpetually continue.” [i] Nyerere could not stomach it. He expelled nearly 400 students en masse from the University, slashed his and his ministers’ salary by twenty per cent and cleverly used the opportunity to take the country to the next stage. He spent the next couple of months touring the country making speeches and holding rallies teaching people the meaning of development, the importance of self-reliance and the imperative of building a socialist society, which, for him, was the only rational choice. [ii] With the benefit of hindsight, we can say that he was preparing the masses for what was to come.

The tour ended in Arusha, where in his speech to a meeting of Regional Commissioners on 23 January 1967, he first revealed his proposal to adopt socialist policies. Immediately after the Regional Commissioners meeting, the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party started its meeting on 26th January. Originally NEC was scheduled to meet in March in Tabora but Nyerere moved it to Arusha to meet immediately after the Regional Commissioners’ meeting. This was a strategic move. While the potential opponents of the Arusha Declaration in NEC were still digesting what they had read in the newspapers and heard on the radio regarding Nyerere’s speech, they were presented with Nyerere’s proposal, which was not on the agenda and had never been discussed in advance either by the Central Committee of the party or the Cabinet. In his opening speech at the meeting of NEC, Nyerere explained Ujamaa, the characteristics of a dependent economy and the importance of building a self-reliant economy. He also explained how capitalists from Western countries were exploiting producers in Africa, Tanzania included. This was one of Nyerere’s most articulate, lucid and militant speeches. [iii]

The conceptual overview of the Declaration [iv]

In order to simplify my analysis of the Declaration, I will use the relation and interface between philosophy, ideology and policy. In short, philosophy, which can be simply defined as a world outlook, gives birth to ideology; ideology gives birth to programs and policies. Generally, we may say that these three – philosophy, ideology and policy – form the basis or deeper structure of ruling politics, although it may not be articulated explicitly as such.

Three philosophical principles

The Arusha Declaration is constructed on three building blocks. These are:

a) Equality;

b) Freedom; and

c) Collectivism.

Equality was the guiding star of Nyerere’s own personal, both philosophical and political, outlook. Throughout his political life, Nyerere steadfastly and uncompromisingly, defended the principle of equality. Even where he bent it in practice, he never justified it on philosophical grounds but rather on grounds of political necessity. Freedom resolves itself into two aspects: individual freedom and collective freedom of society. For Nyerere, first and foremost, there could not be individual freedom in an unfree society [v], hence his consistent struggle against colonialism, apartheid and all forms of social oppression. The principle of collectivism is simply the opposite of individualism, the latter being the central premise of capitalist society and economy. Notwithstanding philosophical principles, it certainly does not mean that in actually existing political practice these principles were followed. But that is beyond the scope of this short article. Here I am only discussing the theoretical dimension of the Arusha Declaration.

Four pillars of the ideology

The four pillars of the Ujamaaideology, derived from the basic philosophical principles, of the Declaration are as follows:

a) The socialist vision;

b) The collective mode of production;

c) Democratic governance; and

d) Peasants and workers as builders of Ujamaa

The direction or vision of the Arusha Declaration was very clear, which was to build asocialistsociety which respects human dignity and equality; where there is no discrimination of any kind and which is free of exploitation. In other words, it means that a socialist country has no social classes of exploiters and exploited, or more simply put, those who live by their sweat and those who live on others’ sweat. Thus it follows that the main means of production are owned and controlled by workers and peasants through, to quote the words of the Declaration, “by using their instruments, their Government and co-operatives.” TheDeclaration identifies the following as major means of production:“land, forests, mineral resources, water, petroleum and electric energy; means of communication, means of transportation; banks and insurance; external trade, and wholesale businesses; iron/steel industries, machinery, weapons, motor vehicles, cement, fertilizers, textiles, and any other big industry that has a large number of people who are depending upon it for their livelihood or a lot of other industries which are depending on it; large farms, in particular, those producing necessary raw materials for big industries.”

The Declaration emphasizes that it is not enough for the Government to own the means of production if the Government itself, and the Party, which is leading the Government, is not of workers and peasants. It follows therefore that both the Government and the Party must be democratic.

By this logic, it means that in a country that has decided to buildsocialism, peasants and workers are its builders, defenders and beneficiaries of the system. It further means that leaders of the Government as well as the Party have also to be peasants and workers. You cannot preach socialism if you are not a socialist. Similarly, you cannot lead peasants and workers if you are a capitalist. These arguments constitute the basis of the leadership conditions that are an integral part of the Declaration. Leadership conditions bar leaders of the Party and senior Government officialsfrom holding shares or directorships in private capitalist enterprises.They were not supposed to have two incomes or own houses for rent.

The leadership conditions had their root in the very philosophy and politics of the Arusha Declaration and cannot be compared with leadership ethics or conflict of interest argument which is currently the political discourse in the country. Political and government leaders were given a choice: if they wanted to be in the party and government leadership they could not at the same time, directly or indirectly own, run or have interest in any kind of business. If they wanted to be in the world of business or involve themselves in any activities deemed to be capitalist, they would have to surrender their leadership positions because business and leadership were considered incompatible.


Nationalization of the main means of production, which affected mainly foreign capital and local Asian businesspersons, was welcomed and celebrated both by the people and politicians. On the contrary, the leadership code was openly and covertly opposed by a significant section of the leadership. In April 1967, members of parliament were invited to ask questions on the Arusha Declaration and Nyerere promised to answer them. None of the question was on socialism or self-reliance. Almost every question asked by members was on leadership conditions. Most of the questions were rhetorical exhibiting hostility to the code though disguised as questions seeking clarifications. Nyerere’s answers were strident, albeit logical and well-articulated, calling for self-sacrifice and altruism on the part of leaders. Yet, practical politics is not made of altruism. It centers around power and power seeks property. That is the iron law of capitalist society. The party under Nyerere had to make some compromises but for good ten years the Arusha Declaration held sway until the most critical decade of 1980s, to be discussed below.

Four constituents of social development

According to the Declaration, there were four things that were essential and critical for spearheading social development. These are:

1) Land;

2) People;

3) Progressive politics; and

4) Good leadership.

The Declaration stated that there was plenty of land available, but peasants lacked sufficient efforts and basic knowledge for enhancing their productivity. The Declaration emphasized the need for food self-sufficiency. Being dependent on others for food would be the worst kind of dependence. The policy of socialism and self-reliance had to be led by leaders who believed in socialism, Nyerere argued. Leaders had to go through political training at the party’s ideological college, Kivukoni. Nevertheless, Nyerere was against turning the party into a vanguard. He held that Tanzanian socialism would be built through education and persuasion, not by class struggle. In practice, initiatives from below from peasants and workers were put down, sometimes forcefully by the state and party leaders.  In the process, the very class of working people that was supposed to be the builder of socialism found itself without an ideology and an instrument, autonomous of the party-state. The party-state became hegemonic shielding the emerging new bureaucratic class, which eventually proved to be the gravedigger of the Arusha Declaration.

The fate of the Declaration

The Arusha Declaration was not a holy scripture beyond analysis and criticism. It was a policy document whose genesis lay in real social struggles. Historical circumstances and the balance of class forces circumscribed its potentialities and set its limits, notwithstanding the good intentions and remarkable leadership of its author. Some would argue that Nyerere could have made strategic interventions at critical points that could have perhaps changed the course of Arusha Declaration but he did not do so because of the limitations of his own world outlook. Perhaps, but history cannot be remade. It can only be analyzed and lessons learnt. The fact remains that over the next two decades both the Declaration and the leadership code were abandoned and the country returned to the capitalist fold.


For reasons that cannot be gone into here, the Tanzanian economy entered into economic deep crisis in the late 1970s, and particularly in the 1980s. The crisis affected many developing countries, both of capitalist and socialist orientation. Imperialism, under Reagan-Thatcher leadership, took the opportunity to mount an ideological offensive against socialism and nationalism and an economic offensive to bring into the mainstream capitalistfold recalcitrant countries that had attempted to carve out some kind of autonomous path. The relatively independent stance that many developing countries had managed to adopt previously, as the world smarted under two opposing superpowers, increasingly became untenable as the socialist camp under the Soviet Union began to unravel with the fall of the Berlin wall. Such international environment proved to be conducive to the internal pro-capitalist forces within the party and the state, which had hitherto lain low, to flex muscles as the country entered its worst economic crisis in the 80s. Nyerere stepped down from the presidency in 1985. In the next two decades, the post-Nyerere regimes gradually adopted neo-liberal, pro-capitalist reforms dictated by imperialist powers and the so-called donors. Under a series of structural reform programmes, liberalization, marketization and privatization measures were implemented wiping out most of the achievements of the nationalist period in the economic and social sectors such as education, health, and public services. The country was literally deindustrialized as the private owners of former state enterprises found it more profitable to dump their commodities rather than produce them domestically. The country once again became an appendage of the capitalist world answering to the voracious appetite of foreign corporate capital for mineral and other natural resources. Over 95 percent of the foreign direct investment in Tanzania went into the mining sector rendering more than half a million small local miners destitute while employing very little local labor. Very little went into the manufacturing sector and almost none in the agricultural sector. For all intents and purposes, a new form of colonialism had returned through the back door.


Neo-liberalism proved to have a very short staying power. With the 2008 financial crisis, the world capitalist system finds itself in deep structural crisis. The all-pervasive crisis is giving rise to both right and left political forces. All over the world, we are witnessing the rise of narrow nationalists whipping up racial and religious prejudices to get into power or stay in power. At the same time, there is an upsurge of Left forces of different hue, from social democrats to Marxists. As we celebrate 50 years of the Arusha Declaration, 100 years of the Russian revolution and 150 years of Marx’s Capital, the world is in great turmoil. As the Chinese used to say once upon a time: there is great chaos under the sun, the situation is good. History has once again put on the agenda the great choice between capitalist barbarism and socialist civilisation, as Rosa Luxemburg posed it in her The Junius Pamphlet (1915) as the world was on the brink of the First World War. It is for the current generation to choose their mission. Like Fanon said in his classic The Wretched of the Earth(1961):“Each generation must discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it, in relative opacity.” What would the mission of the current generation of Africans be if not socialist Pan-Africans be if not socialist Pan-Africanism?

[i] Sunday News, 23 Oct 1966.

[ii] Julius K. Nyerere 1973) ‘The Rational Choice’, in Nyerere 1973), Freedom and Development, Dar es Salaam: Oxford University Press, pp.379-390.

[iii] The speech is reprinted as ‘TukateMirijayaUnyonyaji’ in KutokaKavazini No. 1 of 2017, a series published by the Nyerere Resource Centre.

[iv] Based on Issa Shivji, 2017, ‘UchambuziMfupiwaAzimio la Arusha’, in Bashiru Ally & Issa Shivji, eds., SimulizizaAzimio la Arusha: ChapishoMaalum la MaadhimishoyaMiaka 50, Dar es Salaam: Nyerere Resource Centre, pp.4-15.

[v] See, generally, Issa G. Shivji, 2014, ‘Utu, Usawa, Uhuru: Building Blocks of Nyerere’s Political Philosophy’, in Leonhard Praeg & Siphoka Magadla, eds., Ubuntu: curating the archives, University of Kwa-Zulu, Natal.