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Ujamaa revisited: Indigenous and european influences in nyerere's social and

Discussion in 'Habari na Hoja mchanganyiko' started by MziziMkavu, Mar 25, 2010.

  1. MziziMkavu

    MziziMkavu JF-Expert Member

    Mar 25, 2010
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    The debate over the indigenous versus the European roots of `African democracy' has regained importance recently. Using the critical tools of cultural anthropology, the social and political thought of Julius K. Nyerere from Tanzania is examined for its African and European sources. The most recurrent themes in his writings are `traditional African values' and the centrality of `the traditional African family'. They constitute the core element of Ujamaa. The aim of this article is to show that Nyerere's statements on African socialism and on African democracy are not merely rhetorical devices employed by an aspiring politician. Nor are they the romantic appeal of a Westernised university graduate to a mythological or even `invented' African past. Nyerere presented his own specific version of `traditional' African values because he was socialised in a non-hierarchical `tribal' society. He sought to synthesise these `traditional' values with Western elements in order to create a Tanzanian identity that would cut across ethnic lines. In those cases when African and European value systems collided, however, Nyerere's politics became problematic.
    Le debat entre racines indigenes et racines europeennes de la "democratie africaine" a recemment regagne de l'importance. Usant des outils critiques de l'anthropologie culturelle, cet article etudie les sources africaines et europeennes de la pensee sociale et politique du Tanzanien Julius K. Nyerere. Les themes les plus recurrents de ses ecrits sont "les valeurs africaines traditionnelles" et la centralite de "la famille africaine traditionnelle". Ils constituent l'element central de Ujamaa. Cet article tend a montrer que les propos de Nyerere sur le socialisme africain et sur la democratie africaine ne sont pas de simples moyens rhetoriques employes par un politicien ambitieux. Ils ne refletent pas non plus l'attrait romantique d'un diplome d'universite occidentalisee pour un passe africain mythologique, voire meme invente. Nyerere a presente sa propre version specifique des valeurs africaines "traditionnelles", ayant ete lui-meme socialise dans une societe "tribale" non hierarchique. Il a cherche a faire une synthese entre ces valeurs "traditionnelles" et des elements occidentaux pour crier une identite tanzanienne faisant abstraction des frontieres ethniques. La politique de Nyerere devient problematique cependant chaque lois que s'opposent les systemes de valeurs africain et europeen.
    How `African' are African socialism and African democracy? Since the romanticised approach prevalent in the 1960s and 1970s (see, e.g., Mazrui, 1967)(1) lost its lustre the debate over indigenous versus European roots has regained a great deal of momentum. In this context, questions related to the provenance of socialism and democracy on the African continent are once again being seriously raised (see, e.g., Cohen and Goulbourne, 1991; Nyang'oro, 1995; Shivji, 1998 passim). Moreover, contemporary politicians and scholars ask whether indigenous forms of accountability can be scaled up to the level of the modern state.
    The subject is, clearly, too large to be dealt with in a single article. What I propose to do instead is take up the thought of a single, centrally important personality whose name is regularly linked with the `indigenous' school: Julius Kambarage Nyerere. Nyerere makes it clear, frequently and insistently, that his social and political thought is very substantially related to `traditional' African values. Using the critical tools of cultural anthropology, I wish to explore the degree to which his unique visions of African socialism and democracy can, indeed, be accounted for by his own `tribal' background. More specifically, which elements in his thought are predominantly African and which, by contrast, can be traced to European influences?(2)
    The article is in three parts. First, I take up the socio-political structures of the acephalous Zanaki society into which Nyerere was born and socialised until adolescence. In this section, changes in Zanaki society related to colonial policy will be dealt with as well. I end with a brief biographical sketch. The second part examines Nyerere's own political world view.(3) In the third I explore the relationship between his political thought and his cultural roots. What kind of relations between his Zanaki background, his later European education and his ideological vision can reasonably be postulated and credibly defended? In other words, what peculiar mix of European and African sources best accounts for Nyerere's political world view? My fundamental thesis is that autochthonous roots--the values he imbibed from his own natal society--were indeed a significant element in the development of his thought.(4) No one has made this claim more dramatically than Nyerere himself. In an early essay entitled `Ujamaa--the basis of African socialism' (1962) he wrote, `We in Africa have no more need of being "converted" to socialism than we have of being "taught" democracy. Both are rooted in our past--in the traditional society that produced us' (in 1967: 170).(5)
    Nyerere was born in 1922 in Butiama, a small and remote village some 50 km from Musoma, on the east shores of Lake Victoria. His description of the Zanaki village of his youth is quite idyllic: `I grew up in a perfectly democratic and egalitarian society.'(6) To enquire into the accuracy of Nyerere's account requires an analytical description of the `traditional' Zanaki people, their social structures, the way political power was apportioned and economic wealth distributed.(7)
    There is very little ethnographic literature on the tribal society in which Nyerere grew up. Oscar Baumann was, apparently, the first European to visit the Zanaki region in 1882. He travelled through the Zanaki provinces to the coast of Lake Victoria and described the land as hilly and fairly fertile. At that time the plains around Butiama were well known for their abundance of zebra, buffalo and elephant, hence hunting was of considerable economic importance (Baumann, 1894: 199).(8)
    The basic facts of Zanaki existence are easy enough to relate. The Zanaki had and retain a mixed economy; they cultivate the soil, keep cattle, goats and donkeys. Hunting, however, is no longer a viable source of sustenance. Cattle rearing is a central element in the Zanaki economy; indeed, cattle ownership is perceived as a sign of family prosperity. In Zanaki life, as in many other East African societies, the religious and symbolic significance of cattle is enormous (Bischofberger, 1972: 15).
    Zanaki families live in homesteads spread over the countryside--usually several hundred metres apart from each other. The number of houses in a homestead cluster depends on the number of the proprietor's wives as well as on the number of married although not yet independent sons. Although less so today than in the past, the Zanaki practise polygyny and, in accordance with their patrilocal residence regulations, married women take up residence in their husband's compound.
    On a more structural level, the cultural anthropologist Otto Bischofberger emphasises the importance of erisaga, a form of traditional `social security' association, in Zanaki life. The inhabitants of several adjacent homesteads--not necessarily belonging to the same clan--form a distinct community or erisaga that works co-operatively in times of harvest and house building. They also gather for recreational activities (Bischofberger, 1972: 14). The Tanzanian sociologist Benjamin Mkirya attributes great importance to the erisaga, an institution he describes as a kind of a voluntary association for mutual aid established in order to deal with recurrent conditions of uncertainty (1991: 85). For example, in periods of endemic insecurity such as planting and harvest--especially since rainfall is never reliable in the Musoma hinterland--reciprocal help constitutes a form of `life insurance' that can sometimes spell the difference between flourishing and disaster.
    The right to use land as well as access to resources was determined by the lineage, which, in this context, is another way of saying that the land was communally `owned'. Traditionally the elders of the various descent groups were entitled to allocate land use, that is, they determined which individuals had the right to cultivate specific pieces of land. Individual ownership in the Western sense, including the right to sell land individually for cash, was unknown among the Zanaki. Nyerere echoes this practice when he explains, `I do not believe in land ownership as you Europeans do; land cannot be "owned" in the same sense as you own a T-shirt, or as I own my sandals. You can only have the right to use it.'(9)
    Early European travellers also noted that the Zanaki traditionally had no chiefs; they maintained what Baumann spoke of as `a pure republican form of government' (1884: 202). In this regard the Zanaki fall into that important category of African societies lacking central authority headed by supreme leaders. Following Evans-Pritchard and Fortes's pioneering studies, they can be classified as an `acephalous society', a non-state-organisational order.(10)
    The smallest political unit in Zanaki society is the lineage, i.e. the unilineal descent group(11) spoken of as the hamati. The hamati is not necessarily locally based like the erisaga. It may include members who live in different homesteads, even in different provinces. The hamati constitutes the primary loyalty group among the Zanaki. Faithfulness to its authority and determinations is a critical requisite of `traditional' Zanaki life. In the past the hamati catalogue of rights and duties was well known and conclusive. Conflicts were mediated and crimes were punished in the context of the hamati. The hamati leaders, traditionally male elders thought to be wise and charismatic, individuals who had distinguished themselves by exceptional debating skills, served as the leading mediators and judges. Bischofberger (1972: 18) for example, tells of a murderer who sought asylum in the rainmaker's compound. Immediately the hamati elders were called upon to reach a settlement together with the rainmaker so that the criminal might be able to return home. The traditional method of resolving conflicts and moderating the threat of hostilities was lengthy and exhaustive discussion among the elders, the object of which was a consensual resolution of the problem. Nyerere describes this method starkly: the elders `talk till they agree' (see, e.g., 1960; 1961, in 1967: 104; in Pratt, 1976: 74; 1995: 89). Indeed, one of Nyerere's biographers recounts that Nyerere's father was often visited by elders and rainmakers from different clans, even from neighbouring ethnic groups like the Ikuzu. The young Nyerere would sit silently listening to the elders discussing, at great length, what were often very controversial tribal matters (Hatch, 1976: 5). However, the assumption that unanimous decisions through consensus-finding were typical of pre-colonial societies is misleading--as Moore has noted with regard to the Chagga. One must raise the possibility that the ostensible political unanimity--`they talk till they agree'--might also be a self-serving image (one later utilised by Nyerere quite frequently). Consensus-finding can thus be more a matter of style and of performance than of substance--what Moore (1977) called `the simulation of unanimity'.(12)
    Ideally, the resolution of conflicts involved a compromise in which each of the contending parties felt that its position had been seriously considered and the justice of its claims had been fairly taken into account. In serious cases, however, decisive and severe punishment could be meted out. When an individual repeatedly violated the rules of the generation class system (on which more below) the offending individual could be expelled from his or …
  2. Waberoya

    Waberoya Platinum Member

    Mar 25, 2010
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    Can you describe this statement? "Nyerere's politics became problematic"

    and kindly brief me how is this essay is critical?
  3. Companero

    Companero Platinum Member

    Mar 25, 2010
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    Mzizimkavu umeiandika wewe? Kama ndio, bravo! Naomba utuwekee mada yote au unitumie.