Ujamaa – the new synthesis

What, then, is this “kind of society we want?” It is a society based on Ujamaa. Ujarriaa derives its major inspiration neither from Adam Smith nor Karl Marx.  Indeed, Nyerere seems to have made a special effort to disclaim any Eastern or Western ancestry for this utopia. Ujamaa, he asserts, is opposed to both ‘capitalism’ and ‘doctrinaire socialism’ because the latter “seeks to build its happy society on a, philosophy of inevitable conflict between man and. man”, and the former, “seeks to build a happy society on the basis of exploitation of man by man”. Ujamaa is a synthesis of what is best in the traditional African society and what a country like Tanzania has acquired as a result of her colonial experience. Specifically, Ujamaa is a response to a particular problem: “How to get the benefit of European society – benefits which have been brought about by an organization of society based on an exaggerated idea of the rights of the individual – and yet retain the Africans’ own structure of society in which the individual is a member of a kind of fellowship”. And in this attempt to synthesize, it will not only be the European Christian contact that will have to be fused with the African traditional communalism; but the Islamic influences too. This is how Nyerere describes his utopia:

“… a country in which all her citizens are equal; where there is no division into rulers and the ruled, rich and poor, educated and illiterate, those in distress and those in idle comfort …. in this country, all would be equal in dignity; all would have an equal right to respect, to the opportunity of acquiring a good education and the necessities of life; and all her citizens should have an equal opportunity of serving their country to the limit of their ability.”

And what are the necessary steps to bring forth Ujamaa? As presently constituted, society is so organized that rewards, go only to a selected few. Hence the existing social structure has to be radically changed so as to “prevent the growth of a class structure”. One major step in this direction is “not to allow the present income differentials to become sacrosanct”. This means the state must control the levels of income because without such interference, human equality and dignity cannot be assured. If society were to serve man, as indeed is its function as Nyerere tells us, then society must be organized to that end.

There must also be created new institutions to promote and rejuvenate socialist attitudes; and steps must be taken to re-inspire the acceptance of these principles. To ensure the implementation and security of Ujamaa, Nyerere further postulates that two conditions must be fulfilled. One: there must be institutions “which ensure that these institutions remain true to their purpose and are adapted as need arises”.

Indeed, what these institutions should aim at, Nyerere seems to imply, is a new kind of man capable of posing an altogether new set of questions. “The question, ‘what profit would I myself get’,” Nyerere says, “must be socially discouraged; it must be replaced by the question, ‘what benefit and what loss will be obtained by the people who make up this society?’ ”

The creation of a ‘new African man’, though not unique to Africa as all societies devise means to evoke patriotism from their members, is the most common element in all African socialist writings. Thus Mamadou Dia views the ultimate aim of African socialism as to:

“Develop a breed of new man, animated by a certain awareness of the world and also by a certain intuition of spiritual values, of a vital strength whose vibrancy vitalises our aesthetic senses. This spiritual humanism will be in accord as much with Christian ways as with Muslim ways.”

Nkrumah writes along a similar vein:

“Africa needs a new type of man; a dedicated, modest, honest and devoted man. A man who submerges self in service to his nation and mankind. A man who abhors greed and detests vanity. A new type of man whose meekness is his strength and whose integrity is his greatness. Africa’s new man must be a man indeed.”

And what is the place and the role of the individual in Ujamaa? What rights does he possess? Is it a society of conformists and of uniformities? Nyerere answers that “Ujamaa is a way of life”, and as such there are no experts. “We are all experts of Ujamaa”. To live the life of Ujamaa, one does not have to be ‘educated’ in any particular field; indeed, it was because the African was educated in the Western traditions that he came to lose his original socialistic attitudes. Thus Western education might even be a hindrance. But does this mean that there is no place for the Western-educated individual in Ujamaa? Being a fusion of African traditions and the best that Africa has learned from her colonial and other contacts, an Mjamaa is one who can best synthesize the two traditions. And Ujamaa is a society in which property or wealth is not “a symbol of power or prestige”, but a means to “banish poverty”. Ujamaa is obviously not a society of those who wish to adopt uncritically the Western way of life, nor of those who are still deeply and blindly rooted in the old African traditions. Is Ujamaa a Tanzania version of socialism for Tanzanians, or is it socialism for Africa and Africans? In other words, is Ujamaa a tailor-made solution for Tanzania’s peculiar needs and circumstances, or is it applicable and relevant to other African countries? Nyerere is very clear on this point. Although it is the African tradition of the extended family which constitutes the basis of African Socialism, Ujamaa, Nyerere asserts ” …. can no longer confine the idea of the social family within the limits of the tribe, nor, indeed, of the nation”. And adds:

“For no true African Socialist can look at a line drawn on a map and say, ‘The people on this side of that line are my brothers, but those who happen to live on the other side of it can have no claim on me’; every individual on this continent is his brother …. But we should not stop here. Our recognition of the family to which we all belong must be extended yet further – beyond the tribe, the community, the nation, or even the continent – to embrace the whole society of mankind. This is the only logical conclusion for true Socialism.

Ujamaa is therefore not a Tanzanian version, as it were of a fascist National Socialism. Although it is primarily an African and not a Tanzanian version of socialism, the ultimate aim of Ujamaa is to embrace the whole of mankind, irrespective of race, culture or religion, because it is for the provision of the needs of man that Ujamaa is all about.

Although Ujamaa is clearly a society based on certain principles which, ideally, should be generally accepted; still, principles are primarily guides for proper actions, and they should “not blind us”, warns Nyerere.

Thus, the eccentric as well as the conformist have a place and a role to play in Ujamaa. Of the eccentric, Nyerere says, “He it is who by the very irritation he causes stops society from ceasing to think, forces it to make constant re-evaluations and adjustments”.

In practical terms all this means, and has meant in the case of Tanzania, that the state and not the individual capitalist or speculator ought to assume the “commanding heights” of the economy. Production must be based largely on utility and not on the profit motive entirely. This is the only way by which Tanzania can succeed to evolve a classless society, and hence the elimination of exploitation of man by man.

New institutions meaningful to Tanzanians will therefore have to be created. And this means innovating. Nothing short of a revolution in values and attitudes is called for. In place of shame and lack of confidence in using things African, now it must be a source of pride precisely because it is African. The Tanzanian, the African, must be accepted for what he is – and not what others have always postulated he should be – a poor imitator of things European.

We cannot understand Nyerere’s notion of socialism, nor indeed that of any other African socialist thinker, without reference to the social and cultural and psychological consequences of the colonial situation In Africa. As Nyerere indignantly observes:

“Of all the crimes of colonialism there is none worse than the attempt to make us believe that we had no indigenous culture of our own; or that what we did have was worthless – or something of which we should be ashamed, instead of a source of pride. Some of us, particularly those of us who acquired a European type of education, set ourselves out to prove to our colonial rulers that we had abandoned everything connected with our past and learnt to imitate only European ways. Our young men’s ambitions were not to become well educated Africans but to become Black Europeans! Indeed at one time it was a compliment rather than an insult to call a man who imitated the Europeans a ‘Black European’.”

Thus, whereas the economic dimensions of African socialism are to raise the material standards of the African, its social dimensions are to eradicate completely any vestiges of racial, cultural and other discriminations, and their psychological consequences not only at home, but throughout the world. At this juncture African Socialism widens its posture and assumes the burden not only of the African but of the ‘Black Man’. “It is the task of African Socialism”, proclaims Father Onuoha, to:

” … restore the dignity and respectability to the black colour which centuries of humiliation suffered by negro people have turned into a symbol of inferiority and backwardness.”

Thus postulated, African socialism emerges as an expression of the Africans’ desire to be themselves, to find or discover themselves. The African does not want to be reminded, or told as Lord Brockway has done, that “as Africans surge from these back streets and take possession of the shell and enjoy its fruits, they should remember sometimes that without the Europeans it would not yet have been constructed”. African Socialism is a kind of declaration by the. African that the African must act by and for himself.