Ujamaa

Tom Condit tomcondit at igc.apc.org
Sun Oct 8 03:31:26 MDT 1995


*Ujamaa* is a Swahili word which I believe can be translated as
"community," "community spirit" or "communalism," much as the
English word "fraternity" can mean "a band of brothers,"
"brotherly feelings" or "the universal spirit of brotherhood." 
It's modern political significance is that it is the slogan of a
political theory of "African socialism" advanced by the Tanzanian
leader Julius Nyerere. Here is the theory as outlined by the
Tanzanian marxist Mohamed Babu in his book _African Socialism or
a Socialist Africa?_:

"The Traditionalist View of Africa's Past

"Let us try and summarize what the traditionalists recommend as
values to be emulated by modern Africa.  On the cultural front
the traditionalists say that African culture differs from
European culture in that, whereas European peoples organized
their societies on the basis of safeguarding 'rights', our
African ancestors organized their societies on the basis of
invoking 'duties'.  Our culture, unlike that of the West, had the
strength to restrain the community from succumbing to disruptive
forces by suppressing their free and unbridled sway.  Our
culture, like any other, was founded on three basic elements:
*(a)* the material element, which includes property relations and
technology; *(b)* the institutional element, which includes
customs, rituals, political as well as social institutions; and
*(c)* the element of social values, which includes ethics,
religion, literature and art, the latter two reflecting social
aspirations and judgements.  The intervention of Western culture
subverted the traditional aspects of our culture; for example, by
introducing new relations such as those between town and country.

"As the material culture of the West directly disrupted our
material culture, it in turn disrupted the other two aspects of
our culture, namely, the institutional aspect and the aspect of
values.  As a result of that, our social institutions underwent
considerable changes: class differentiation appeared, social
mobility was encouraged.  Old ranks and positions of prestige
were replaced by new ones based on the criteria of new skills.
Education was now designed so as to encourage the pursuit of
material ends and to create individuals suitable for colonial
administration. These new relations have created the new elites
of administrators and businessmen, far removed from the masses,
and even more isolated because of the absence of a middle class
able to bridge the gap between the upper and the lower strata.
The old ruling class has become irrelevant or redundant, although
more than 90% of the population still carry on the traditional
African way of life, untouched by foreign influence. The
introduction of industries has favoured the towns in
infrastructure and other developments and created inequalities
between urban and rural life.

"To avoid future class conflicts of the kind experienced by the
West, the new African governments are urged to make a choice:
either they must remain as elites and become alien to their own
people, just as the colonialists were, and complete the
deculturalization of Africa started by colonialism and substitute
cultures which have no roots in Africa; or they must ally
themselves with the 90% of Africa's population whose roots are
securely planted in the traditions of African culture. African
politicians and statesmen are urged to avoid the development of
class antagonisms by judiciously grafting new aspirations on to
old traditions in an attempt at striking a harmonious social
equilibrium.  Class struggle as such is said to have no meaning
in terms of African culture, and the conditions for its presence
allegedly do not exist.

"In early African societies, according to President Nyerere of
Tanzania, there was an innate feeling of brotherhood within the
community, sustained by the principle of love among men (and
women), and the right to work and to share equally the fruits of
labour. These were the principles which kept the community (and
indeed the whole society) together and they must be safeguarded
if the community is not to destroy itself.

"People appointed leaders to power democratically on the
principle that all were equal and that there were built-in ways
within the community for restraining these leaders from abusing
their powers. There was a moral distaste for private ownership of
property, and although such private ownership did exist in a
minor way, the dispossessed had expectations of sharing it on the
principle of brotherhood. With the advent of foreign
intervention, however, and alien concepts of individual ownership
and the monetary economy, communal traditions were gradually
subverted.  Individualism encouraged the acquisitive instinct,
which had hitherto remained dormant.  This resulted in economic
inequalities, which reduced people to master and servant
relationships and thereby robbed them of their attribute of
equality.  This whole process poses a threat to the survival of
society since it encourages the splitting up of family units and
may well lead to social clashes and upheavals, even wars.

"Since these traditional principles (the argument goes), which
kept the family and the community together, are thus demonstrably
desirable for the maintenance of social order and the well-being
of the community, they must be made part of the educational
system of the present just as they were part of the educational
system of the past.  In consequence, as these values have thus
become desirable in themselves, they must be presented as general
aspirations as a matter of policy, and *any expression of
opposite views to these principles must be suppressed*. For such
opposition would be tantamount to approval of economic
inequality, which destroys the sacredness of man.  The danger to
society if it abandons these principles is that it will
degenerate into the pursuit of ends which undermine man himself.
So we must seek our salvation in these principles, of course
somewhat modified to suit the current situation.

"At the height of the struggle in Kenya in the 1950s, Elspeth
Huxley, the one-time arch-enemy of Kenya's independence, used
almost the same kind of argument in order to woo the so-called
'loyal Kikuyu' away from supporting Kenyatta. She accused
Kenyatta of introducing 'alien', 'communist' methods in Kenya by
forcing the Kikuyu into a war with the white man. In her campaign
against Nkrumah, she wrote:  'African tribes had evolved, before
the European advent, an elaborate and most effective system of
curbing the abuse of power by the rulers through councils, elders
and priests,' and so on, and so forth. Strange that this same
argument should now be used by our own people in an attempt to
curb the rise of the new generation by forcing them to abide by
archaic customs totally unsuited to the present day.

"The basic error in this approach lies in the one-sided petty-
bourgeois world outlook. Deeply influenced by Judeo-Christian
metaphysics, Western scholarship's view of the world is
dualistic. Dualism is the philosophical concept which defines
human nature by two opposing sets of qualities--good versus evil,
egoism versus altruism, vice versus virtue.  According to the
Christian view man is inherently sinful, and only through
religious salvation can he be saved from his sinfulness. Thus
such attributes as egoism, evil, vice are always present in man
and the slightest encouragement or temptation by evil forces is
enough to bring them into free play. From this standpoint, our
petty-bourgeois intellectuals view past African societies as
having been innocent and virtuous, and foreign intervention as an
evil influence which undermined their innocence and distorted
their virtues.  The task before each of us, according to this
view, is therefore to struggle against these evil influences in
order to return to our innocent and virtuous life.  This is
obviously an idealistic view of the world and has little
relevance to the real world today as it exists outside our
consciousness.  It is a subjective outlook, not objective; and if
it is not checked it may lead to serious social malpractices, not
excluding tyrannical practices.

"On the other hand, the objective world outlook takes as its
starting point the real, factual world, not the world of our
consciousness. .... "

Babu then goes on to demonstrate that the virtues attributed to
African societies are common to all subsistence societies, "are
really *human* qualities which find expression when a community
is at a certain level of productive capacity.  When a  community
does not have the capacity to produce *social surplus*, there is
simply no means of becoming unequal.  The sense of *brotherhood*
which is common under such conditions is essential for the
survival of a community which is permanently being threatened
either by natural forces, which they cannot explain, or by
hostile invasion. A similar feeling of brotherhood may be
manifested in times of war or natural calamity even today."

Babu goes on to demonstrate that towns and class division are
not, in fact, a purely "Western" import into Africa.  He points
to the similarities between the proponents of *Ujamaa* and its
sister doctrines in other parts of Africa and the idealization of
the peasant *Mir* by 19th century Russian populists.  I would go
further and state that this sort of thing is the common currency
of cultural nationalists and conservatives the world around.
A.P.R.A. in Peru had (has?) a similar line on the indigenous
communities of the Andes.  You can find someone complaining about
the theft of ancient Celtic virtues in any Irish bar in the
English-speaking world.  The Islamic fundamentalists want to go
back to the good old days. The U.S. militia movement harks back
to the ancient Anglo-Saxon values, etc., etc.  All of these
virtues are threatened in the nationalist and religious view not
only by world capitalism, but by such alien doctrines as marxism,
feminism, etc., etc.

All of these quotes are from A. M. Babu, _African Socialism or a
Socialist Africa?_, published in 1981 by Zed Press in London and
Tanzania Publishing House in Dar es Salaam.

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.

I realize this got a bit long ... I meant to just quote a
paragraph or two, but wasn't feeling alert enough to coherently
bridge them.

Tom Condit
Tom Condit
<tomcondit at igc.apc.org>
1801-A Cedar Street
Berkeley, California 94703
510-845-7251


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