Babu, Nyerere and Tanzanian Socialism

LeoCasey at LeoCasey at
Sun Oct 8 22:00:36 MDT 1995

Tom Condit writes:
>Abdul Rahman Mohamed Babu was one of the leaders of the
>revolution which overthrew the Sultan of Zanzibar and led
>Zanzibar into union with Tanganyika as "Tanzania" in 1964.  He
>became Minister of Development in the new Tanzanian government
>and was among the hundreds of Tanzanians placed in "preventive
>detention" (and in some cases murdered) as the inadequacy of
>*Ujamaa* politics became apparent in the early 1970s.  His book
>grew out of discussions with his fellow prisoners.

There are grave and extraordinarily misleading errors of the historical
record in this summary. As someone who spent a year of study in Tanzania in
1974-75, I feel obliged to set the record straight.

Babu was the main leader of the Zanibari party Umma, a leftwing splinter from
the ruling, Arab dominated ZNP (Zanibar Nationalist Party), Umma was
ideologically unified but had little in the way of a popular base. He and his
party joined with the African dominated Afro-Shirazi Party (ASP) in a 1964
coup/revolt, and he was one of the main figures in the Revolutionary Council
of the new Zanibari government which took power. (The Tanganyikan government
lent crucial support to the 1964 effort.)

After the revolt, Umma was quickly incorporated into the ASP, and Babu became
one of the leaders of the new party. The merged ASP styled itself as
Marxist-Leninist, but like so many other parties of scientific socialism in
Africa, from Guinea to Ethiopia, it is extraordinarily questionable how deep
the commitment to anything resembling a liberatory, democratic and socialist
politics was. Shortly after the 1964 coup, Tanzania was formed as an "union"
of Tanganyika and Zanibar; Babu was one of the leaders of the Zanibari side
in the negotiations. Tanzania was never more than a loose confederation --
both nations maintained separate political structures (the ASP and TANU, the
Tanganyikan party never merged), armed forces, etc.

Factional struggles and power consolidation had a long and dishonorable
history in the ASP: the actual military leader of the 1964 revolt, John
Okello, was deposed, with Babu's participation, a matter of months after the
event. As these struggles went on, Babu was arrested and sentenced to death.
This incident had nothing to do with the attempts to build Tanzanian
socialism on the mainland; the ASP leadership never had the slightest
intention of subordinating themselves to Nyerere's experiment in African
socialism, and took on Babu for their own internal reasons. It was only
Nyerere's intervention that kept the rather blood thirsty ASP leadership from
executing Babu. Over time, Nyerere managed to have Babu transferred from
Zanibar to a mainland prison, from which Nyerere released him. Eventually
Babu made his way to the US. The last I knew he was  teaching college in
Western Massachusetts. In any case, far from being the source of Babu's
undoing, Nyerere had rescued him from his erstwhile "comrades".

Ujamaa is a Swahili word roughly translated as 'familyhood'. Nyerere has had
no monopoly on its use (the nationalist Karenga of the Los Angeles based US
organization has used it in his theory, for example), and so I think it is a
huge jump to conclude that its use is somehow traceable to Nyerere. Nyerere's
African socialism was an attempt to build an indigenous African social
democracy; at heart, he was a Fabian socialist. There is virtually no
connection between his thought and the way in which the term was originally
employed on this list.

There is a substanital literature evaluating the attempt to build Tanzanian
socialism and Nyerere's role in it, with contributions from virtually every
perspective imaginable. I have yet to run across an author who does not admit
that under Nyerere's rule, Tanzania was unique among African nations,
self-avowed socialist or otherwise, in the degree of intellectual and
political freedom it allowed. When I studied at the University of Dar Es
Salaam, individuals with critiques of Tanzanian socialism every bit as
dogmatic and ultra-left as Babu's tract taught there, and advocated their
views openly. The government publishing house regularly published their work.
Whatever its faults -- and there were many -- political imprisonments and
murder were not among them! And in Africa in the age of neo-colonialism, that
is no mean accomplishment.

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