Pambazuka News

Nyerere’s vision of economic development

Faustin Kamuzora

2009-10-13, Issue 452

cc Neil J S
Faustine Kamuzora’s article looks at the vision that guided Mwalimu Nyerere’s economic policies. “Since the majority of the citizenry lived in rural areas,” the article notes, “rural development was accorded high priority in economic policies.” These policies had mixed results whereby “while a number of indicators of human development indices improved appreciably, productivity in some sectors did not improve resulting into an economic growth decline.” “Nevertheless,” the article concludes, “the underlying philosophy of Nyerere’s economic policies of building an egalitarian society has enabled Tanzania to attain a stable nation status.”

After gaining independence in the early 1960s, many African countries tried various economic policies to bring economic development to their citizenry. The government of Tanzania, mainland to start with and later the entire republic, under the leadership of the Mwalimu Nyerere invoked economic policies which aimed to raise the living standard of all Tanzanians.

The main objective of this article is to demonstrate that the first phase government under Mwalimu had an impeccable desire and commitment to reduce the level of poverty. It provides some historical account on economic policies that were employed to reflect a reality of striving to bring economic development to Tanzanians. Since the majority of the citizenry lived in rural areas, rural development was accorded high priority in economic policies. The policies had mixed successes but an underlying philosophy of building an egalitarian society cannot be challenged.


Immediately after independence the Tanganyikan government under Mwalimu Nyerere declared three development problems, namely, poverty, diseases and ignorance. Using Tanganyikan and donor resources, the Development Plan for Tanganyika 1961/62 –1963/64 aimed at creating an enabling environment for rural development that would fight these problems. Accordingly the first development budget under this plan had the following allocation by major sectors: Agriculture (24%), Communication, Power and Works (28.8%), and Education (13.7%).

This budgetary allocation clearly depicts the commitment of the government of the day in spearheading rural development. The agricultural sector that supported the livelihood of the majority of people of Tanganyika was allocated nearly a quarter of the development budget. In the same vein, communication, power and works – infrastructural sectors that support rural development were allocated a lion’s share of the budget too. Also, the education sector – important for fighting ignorance followed in weight in terms of developmental budget allocation.

Similarly, the first Five Years Plan (1964 to 1969) aimed at reducing poverty through an Improvement approach in developing the agricultural sector but in the long run it employed a Transformation approach. The latter approach would involve settlement schemes where modern machinery would be provided and, if possible, irrigation facilities. Also, the plan encouraged private enterprise for economic development but cautioned that it would contract government intention to expand cooperatives and government activities in commerce and industry, as well as in agriculture (Government of Tanganyika, 1964).

The growth of the economy seemed to be low in achieving the targeted objectives of poverty reduction. Between 1960/61 – 1967 the economic growth rate was 4.3% to 5% per annum. With an increase in the population growth rate of 2.7%, the real economic growth of 2.3% per annum was not sufficient to bring about tangible economic development. A drop in the price of sisal, lack of experts, poor implementation of the first development plan, and a lot of resources being expended on settlement schemes were the other factors that behind the country’s failure to meet its rural development goals.


The above factors prompted the government to change the approach of rural development by declaring the Arusha Declaration in 1967 that resulted in the nationalisation of many pillars of the economy. Its original objectives of state ownership of major means of the economy were to ensure that the corporate sector of the economy was in national hands. Before nationalisation the control of the pillars of the economy was either in the hands of foreign investors or the minorities that enjoyed business dominance upon independence. At that time the economic policy assumed that public enterprises would perform in an environment of market accountability, management autonomy and incentive for efficiency.

The focus, given the nature of the Tanzanian society, was still on rural development. People were encouraged to live and work on a co-operative basis in organized villages. The idea was to extend traditional values and responsibilities around kinship to Tanzania as a whole. A policy booklet on Socialism and Rural Development was released in 1968. It clarified more clearly the way the Arusha Declaration was to implement the rural development strategy in order to fight poverty. The following excerpts from J.K. Nyerere (1968) summarise the gist of the Arusha Declaration on Rural Development:

It is particularly important that we should now understand the connection between freedom, development, and discipline, because our national policy of creating socialist villages throughout the rural areas depends upon it. For we have known for a very long time that development had to go on in the rural areas, and that this required co-operative activities by the people . . .

When we tried to promote rural development in the past, we sometimes spent huge sums of money on establishing a Settlement, and supplying it with modern equipment, and social services, as well as often providing it with a management hierarchy . . . All too often, we persuaded people to go into new settlements by promising them that they could quickly grow rich there, or that Government would give them services and equipment which they could not hope to receive either in the towns or in their traditional farming places. In very few cases was any ideology involved; we thought and talked in terms of greatly increased output, and of things being provided for the settlers.

What we were doing, in fact, was thinking of development in terms of things, and not of people ... As a result, there have been very many cases where heavy capital investment has resulted in no increase in output where the investment has been wasted. And in most of the officially sponsored or supported schemes, the majority of people who went to settle lost their enthusiasm, and either left the scheme altogether, or failed to carry out the orders of the outsiders who were put in charge – and who were not themselves involved in the success or failure of the project.

It is important, therefore, to realize that the policy of Ujamaa Vijijini is not intended to be merely a revival of the old settlement schemes under another name. The Ujamaa village is a new conception, based on the post Arusha Declaration understanding that what we need to develop is people, not things, and that people can only develop themselves . . .

Ujamaa villages are intended to be socialist organizations created by the people, and governed by those who live and work in them. They cannot be created from outside, nor governed from outside. No one can be forced into an Ujamaa village, and no official – at any level – can go and tell the members of an Ujamaa village what they should do together, and what they should continue to do as individual farmers.

It is important that these things should be thoroughly understood. It is also important that the people should not be persuaded to start an Ujamaa village by promises of the things which will be given to them if they do so. A group of people must decide to start an Ujamaa village because they have understood that only through this method can they live and develop in dignity and freedom, receiving the full benefits of their co-operative endeavour . . .
Unless the purpose and socialist ideology of an Ujamaa village is understood by the members from the beginning – at least to some extent it will not survive the early difficulties. For no-one can guarantee that there will not be a crop failure in the first or second year – there might be a drought or floods. And the greater self-discipline which is necessary when working in a community will only be forthcoming if the people understand what they are doing and why . . .

As we can see from the above excerpt, there was a commitment to raising basic living standards (and an opposition to conspicuous consumption and large private wealth). The socialism Mwalimu Nyerere believed in was ‘people-centred’. To him, humanness in its fullest sense rather than wealth creation must come first. Societies become better places through the development of people rather than just the gearing up of production for sake of production. In addition, the aspiration was to attain a self-reliant, egalitarian and human-centred society where 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, 1968, p. 340).

One has to acknowledge that these moral standards cannot be challenged even in today world where unregulated open market philosophy and a number of post-modernist tendencies are not empowering poor people to improve their socioeconomic wellbeing. As seen from the policy on socialism and rural development, ‘The development of a country is brought about by people, not by money. Money, and the wealth it represents, is the result and not the basis of development’ (Nyerere, 1968, p. 243). Similarly, it emphatically delineated what are the prerequisites of development. These were identified as people, land, good policies and good leadership.

Thus, with an advantage of evidence from a number of Asian late comers in the development arena, the author of this article believes that of the four prerequisite, people and good leadership are the most critical missing parts of the development jigsaw. This is because there a number of countries and societies in today’s world which have managed to attain very high socioeconomic development without large land masses. Similarly, good leadership will definitely promote good policies and in normal thinking, leaders are usually a reflection of a society they are coming from. As Nyerere’s analogy attests, if you fetch a bowl of water from a dirty well, water in the bowl will definitely represent the quality of water in the well.


Despite the fact that some of economic policies under Nyerere resulted into a reduction in productivity in some sectors, his focus on human development and self-reliance did bring some success in other areas of socioeconomic indicators as indicated by Human Development Index (HDI). The HDIs have been calculated annually by UNDP since 1960. It has been indicated by various authorities such as UNDP and the World Bank that the ranking of Tanzania has been declining in recent years in some socioeconomic development indicators.

The contrary is true in Mwalimu Nyerere’s government when the HDI indices were improving. One good example is the illiteracy rate which was 90 per cent in 1960, it declined to the lowest levels in the mid 80s to 10% and figures for 2000-2007 period indicate that the rate has been estimated as 28%. In the so-called knowledge based economy world of today, illiteracy is one of severest constraints of socioeconomic development because illiteracy reduces chances of an individual exploring one’s God-given potential as national competitiveness.


As seen above, efforts to curb poverty in Tanzania started right after independence in 196. Several strategies were employed to bring about rural development. These included the establishment of settlement schemes. In mid-1970s, the Villagisation programme was also a means the government considered could bring about rapid rural development after a slow pace of Ujamaa villages formation described above (Woods, 1975 and Ellman, 1975). Also, in 1970s, there was a decentralization of the government functions as described below.


Three major problems emerged during the period 1961-1971, due to the organizational structure that Tanzania had inherited at independence. These problems were as follows:

First, the lack of coordination between the four organizational systems, namely, the ministries, the local government, the then only political party, TANU, and the planning structure. Because of the overriding role in the development process of Tanzania played by the latter two systems (especially by the party), the ministries and the local governments were frequently confronted with policies and plans that could not be realistically implemented for lack of manpower, funds, equipment, organization and decision-making powers.

Second, the lack of coordination within individual systems, especially those responsible for government administration and planning. Because of the more or less autonomous behaviour of ministries responsible for the various economic and social sectors, three minor problems were created. Firstly, it was difficult to plan and implement projects which involved more than one ministry and so one found agricultural projects without transport or marketing facilities, settlement schemes without extension staff or social services, etc. Secondly, there was very little coordination between different projects in the same area that is to say there was no regional integrated development planning. And thirdly, because of the tendency to consider development in sectoral rather than in spatial terms, relatively little attention was given to regional differences in resource endowments and needs, resulting in imbalanced regional development and the accentuation of regional inequalities.

Third, powers of decision-making were over-centralized within political, planning and ministerial organizations. When the desire for national control and planning became dominant, especially after independence, the effects of over-centralization of power in ministerial headquarters of Dar es Salaam were to handicap the planning and implementation of projects on the spot, and to alienate the general public from the development process (Kamuzora, 2002).

Government reorganisation in response to these problems aimed at the decentralization of a large part of the responsibility for planning and implementing development programmes, and at the dissolution of the traditional minister¬ial structure.


The trend towards decentralisation resulted in the formulation of various Regional Integrated Development Programmes (RIDEPs). When the call for assistance towards RIDEPs was made in 1972, the administrative level responsible for people’s development was the region. The regions therefore became natural foci both in the planning and the implementation of development interventions.

This wave of integrated rural development became the new fashion of both multilateral and bilateral development assistance agencies. By the financial year of 1974/75 all the then twenty regions in the country had received assured pledges of donor support from foreign donors except for the Rukwa Region. However, by the late 1970s, the government in collaboration with various donors was implementing only ten RIDEPS in the country. These were geographically located in Kigoma, Mwanza, Shinyanga and Tabora under the funding and management of the World Bank. Others were Tanga (The Federal Republic of Germany), Kilimanjaro (Japan), Iringa (EEC), Arusha (USAID) etc. (Ngasongwa, 1988). Kigoma’s RIDEP was later abandoned by the World Bank and subsequently ‘inherited’ by NORAD. Rukwa’s RIDEP was also funded by NORAD (Shio, et. al. 1994).

The rationale of RIDEPs was to support multi-faceted development, on the assumption that the “trickle down” effect was an inefficient vehicle for distributing economic growth to the poor (Shio et. al, 1994). However, by the early 80s practitioners of integrated approaches particularly in Africa came to realize that IRDPs were also not a panacea. On the contrary, they appeared to impose strains on developing countries by their excessive demands on multiministry co-ordination. Due to these problems, the rate of donor dropout was so great that by 1986 only three regions were still operating integrated programmes with donor support, namely Iringa, Tanga and Kilimanjaro Regions (Ngasongwa, 1988).

Another reason for the low success of RIDEPs was the fact that there was no vertical integration to ensure grassroots participation from the lower organs of the administrative structure that would enable them to interact freely and mutually with the target group in project implementation. They had to work through project officers as intermediaries and this lengthened the bureaucratic line, a fact that negates the good elements of an integrated plan.

Horizontal integration was also weak. Given the limited expertise in the regions the programmes did not have enough personnel to implement them in a holistic way involving all the sector departments at a time.

The Tanzanian political system had dismantled the local government system in early 1970s. With the re-installation of the local government in 1984, districts became the focal points of people’s development administration and the regions were relegated to coordinating organs of regional development. The results of these changes caused RIDEPS to be exposed to pressures from the local government and target groups, and programmes changed from a regional to a district focus.


Despite the fact that there had been the reduction in productivity in some sectors as described earlier, Tanzania registered substantial growth in a number of sectors in the late 1960s and early 1970s period. The growth was attained in food security, income, education and health services in the late 1960s and early 1970s. However, from mid 1970s, a series of natural, internal and external events that occurred disrupted the economic growth trend. These events included drought in 1973 and 1974, oil crisis in 1973, more droughts in 1974 and 1975, the breaking up of the East African Community in 1977 and the war between Tanzania and Uganda in 1979.

On the other hand, at a global level, in contrast to a friendly relationship which a number of countries such as the Scandinavian ones which had showered Nyerere’s government with unconditional economic assistance, the ideologies of economic superpower turned against countries such as Tanzania from the late 1970s and early 1980s. This is due to the fact that the ideologies of Thatcherism (Margaret Thatcher was elected the Prime Minister United Kingdom in 1979) and Reaganism (Ronald Reagan was elected the President of United State of America in 1981) contributed to the reduction of the role of government and established conservative agendas (even though they left their postwar welfare state programs intact).

Faced with unprecedented economic woes arising from the above conservative agenda, Tanzania tried homegrown economic recovery programmes: the National Economic Survival Programme (NESP) between 1981 and 1983. Another economic policy that was undertaken before Mwalimu Nyerere stepped down voluntarily from power in 1985 was the trade liberalization of 1984.


Even though there are so many things Mwalimu Nyerere is remembered of at the global level, in the economic front, it is an estimation of the author of this article that it is the showdown with the IMF which is the most classical. Bolstered by the above conservative agenda, International Financial Institutions (IFIs), particularly the World Bank and the IMF veered from their initial objectives and decided to advance the Liberalise, Marketise and Privatise (LIMP) agenda to developing countries. With a more keen foresight than the majority of leaders, Mwalimu questioned ‘Who made the IMF the International Ministry of Finance?’

Tanzanians of all persuasions, including the author who was in Form Five in 1981, were organized to match against the IMF conditionality countrywide. Even though Nyerere’s dissident voice was not properly heard due to a cacophony of proponents of market fundamentalism, recent events in world economic system have put IMF at a spotlight once again. When IMF failed to provide candid solution to the Far East (Asian) financial crises in the late 1990s, pundits re-questioned the efficacy of such a body. Similarly, in the current financial crisis which climaxed in September 2008 due to the thicket of insurance scams, sub-prime bubbles and derivative trading in major economies, the same old question on the efficacy of the IMF has been raised once again.

It can be concluded that after trying the LIMP approach and similar approaches commonly undertaken under the “Washington Consensus” banner in many developing countries with little results, the IFIs seem to have now shrewdly toned down. Way back in 1998 Mwalimu Nyerere questioned the efficacy of IFIs’ agendas and dispositions. In his interview with Ikaweba Bunting on that year he thus contrasted the pre and post Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) eras:

I was in Washington last year. At the World Bank the first question they asked me was `how did you fail?' I responded that we took over a country with 85 per cent of its adult population illiterate. The British ruled us for 43 years. When they left, there were 2 trained engineers and 12 doctors. This is the country we inherited.

When I stepped down there was 91-per-cent literacy and nearly every child was in school. We trained thousands of engineers and doctors and teachers.

In 1988 Tanzania's per-capita income was $280. Now, in 1998, it is $140. So I asked the World Bank people what went wrong. Because for the last ten years Tanzania has been signing on the dotted line and doing everything the IMF and the World Bank wanted. Enrolment in school has plummeted to 63 per cent and conditions in health and other social services have deteriorated. I asked them again: `what went wrong?' These people just sat there looking at me. Then they asked what could they do? I told them have some humility. Humility - they are so arrogant! (Bunting, 1999).


Let us end this article by briefly revisiting the status of world’s current economic situation. From the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, it seemed to a number of people that Western liberalism had gained a universal triumph to the extent of declaring “end of history.” However, the current financial meltdown has just proved right those who had never ceased to question the sustainability of a capitalist system that had continued to be hinged on “irrational exuberance,” greed and the weak regulatory systems.

However, to a significant extent, the capitalist system (at least in the West) is relatively more responsive to realities on the ground. For example, after realizing fault lines in unregulated market capitalism, we are witnessing how practically the Western economies are embracing the major tenets of socialism policies. Examples of such policies include some sort of nationalization of critical economic systems such as financial institutions (at least for a while or pouring massive amount of public funds to ensure the institutions work), provision of generous welfare benefits, and nationalization of health care.

The article has therefore pointed a number of economic policies under Mwalimu Nyerere which were deployed to bring about socioeconomic development to Tanzanians. These policies had mixed results. While a number of indicators of human development indices improved appreciably, productivity in some sectors did not improve resulting into an economic growth decline. Due to a number of factors, including a lack of quick policy response to economic feedback such as the declining economic growth, the Tanzanian economy took a long period to recover.

Nevertheless, the underlying philosophy of Nyerere’s economic policies of building an egalitarian society has enabled Tanzania to attain a stable nation status. Therefore, a key lesson from Nyerere’s economic policies is that in order to deliver desirable socioeconomic development and stability to the citizens, the economic policies must aim at increasing productivity in all sectors and be egalitarian as well. This is because it is undisputed fact that there is no nation which has ever developed without increasing the productivity. Equally, sustainable egalitarian distribution of national wealth can be attained if there is sufficient economic growth wrought by the increased productivity.


* Faustin Kamuzora is the deputy vice chancellor (administration and finance) and associate professor of economic development and development informatics at Mzumbe University.
* This article will be a contributing chapter to a forthcoming Pambazuka Press book entitled 'Nyerere's Legacy', edited by Chambi Chachage and Annar Cassam.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.

Bunting, I. (1999). The Heart of Africa: Interview with Julius Nyerere on Anti-Colonialism. New Internationalist Magazine. Issue 309, January-February.
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Ellman, A. (1975). Development of Ujamaa Policy in Tanzania in Rural Cooperation in Tanzania (edited by Cliffe and Lawrence). Tanzania Publishing House. Dar es Salaam.

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Kamuzora, F. (2002) An Evaluation of Rural Development During Mwalimu Nyerere's Government Using Sustainable Livelihood Approach. Uongozi Journal of Management Development (Nyerere Special Edition), 76-98.

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