The departure of the colonial masters from Africa conveyed different meanings to different people. To some African leaders, independence meant nothing more than the assumption of the African’s “natural right” to rule himself. It was, as a cynic once clinched it, a mere ceremony of the Changing of the Guards. Nothing really changed except the incumbent elites – the Guards: now Africans instead of the colonial masters.

To others, independence meant the beginning of a long and tortuous road to real self-determination and to enduring harmony between individuals in the community. And this essentially implied a radical modification of the inherited colonially created socio-economic and political structures into something more efficient and meaningful to the people themselves. Independence was also significant, in another sense: it provided the African with a real opportunity to contribute to the general development of humanity in his own terms as an African, and not as an imitation of someone else.

Julius K. Nyerere, the President of Tanzania, clearly falls within the latter category of Africans. Indeed, of the contemporary African political leaders, “the Mwalimu (Swahili for ‘teacher’, and the name by which Nyerere is affectionately known to his countrymen) emerges as one of the most reflective and articulate African socialist thinkers. This article attempts to examine Nyerere’s conception of African Socialism, his search for the ideal society-Ujamaa[i]. Our attention will be focused on Nyerere’s ideas on socialism before the Arusha Declaration[ii]. What the Declaration actually did was to clarify the practical implications of Ujamaa for Tanzanians: that they must be self-reliant, and that socialism is a matter of faith. To be a socialist one must believe in and practise socialism. And it is the responsibility of the socialist state to ensure that this is so. The Mwalimu’s ideas on socialism are still basically the same. Fundamental to the understanding of Nyerere’s ideas on socialism are his conceptions of the traditional African society and his analysis of how it functioned before the “Western impact”, which ultimately corrupted it. Ujamaa is both an attempt to “cleanse” the contemporary African society of some alien “corrupting” influences, as well as a bold attempt to synthesize the best in the traditional African society and the most useful in the modern, for the benefit of Tanzania.

Before discussing Nyerere’s ideal society, let us look first at what Nyerere considers to be the main problems facing the new states of Africa today. The new states of Africa are at one and the same time faced with the task of rapid economic development and the creation of new values. How to achieve these objectives is, to Nyerere, the greatest challenge confronting the contemporary African leaders, a challenge greater than that of the struggle for independence. And because conditions in each society are different, there is no ‘sacred book’ from which all could draw inspiration. Still, whatever the objective conditions of a given society may be, Nyerere asserts, an ideal society must always be based on three essentials: equality, freedom and unity.

“There must be equality, because only on that basis will men work co-operatively. There must be freedom, because the individual is not served by society unless it is his. And there must be unity, because only when the society is united can its members live and work in peace, security and well-being.”

These three essentials, Nyerere argues, are not new to Africa: they have always been part of the African traditional life. The challenging problem is how to extend these traditional African values to the modern nation-state setting. And it is in meeting this challenge that Nyerere postulated ‘Ujamaa’ – his version of socialism – as the answer.