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What can you learn from a book about a historical policy in Tanzania?

- August 21, 2015

Statue of Julius Nyerere, Tanzania’s first president and an architect of African socialism, in Tanzania’s capital Dodoma. (Pernille Bærendtsen/Flickr)
I’ve never nurtured a critical opinion of Tanzania’s first president Julius Nyerere. During the summer I spent in Arusha in graduate school, I learned to refer to him with honorific titles like Mwalimu (teacher) or Baba wa Taifa (father of the nation).
In my class on African politics, I devote one lecture to teaching about the Arusha Declaration (1967), written by Nyerere and the most prominent political statement about African socialism. Nyerere saw self-reliance and agriculture – not foreign aid and industrialization – as key to Tanzania’s development. The Arusha declaration strikes a chord with my young and idealistic students, who are moved by its principles and vision. The truth of how Nyerere’s ideas were ultimately implemented, however, is not so inspiring.
A critical component of Nyerere’s vision was rural development and his government adopted a villagization plan known as Ujamaa vijijini (socialism in the villages). Through villagization, thousands of Tanzanians were relocated to Ujamaa (socialism) villages. Although villagization in Tanzania was originally optional, over time the government began to use force to compel compliance.

Leander Schneider's new book, Government of Development: Peasants and Politicians in Postcolonial Tanzania" (Kim Yi Dionne/The Monkey Cage

Leander Schneider’s new book, Government of Development: Peasants and Politicians in Postcolonial Tanzania” (Kim Yi Dionne/The Monkey Cage)

Concordia University political scientist Leander Schneider closely examines villagization in Tanzania in his new book, “Government of Development: Peasants and Politicians in Postcolonial Tanzania.” He considers villagization as “perhaps the most famous case of ambitious economic and social engineering in post-independence Africa” (14).
I chose Schneider’s book for this summer’s series because it examines a historical case of policy designers disregarding the opinions of people for whom policies and interventions were designed to benefit. In my own work, I examine the disconnect between decision makers and “intended beneficiaries” in the ongoing fight against AIDS in Africa and argue it’s critical that policymakers consider the opinions of beneficiaries, or their interventions will fail.
Schneider’s subject is different, however, because in the case of villagization, the government went so far as to force their development project on resisting beneficiaries. In his book, Schneider asks what would drive state officials to resort to force in implementing a development policy. His study draws on multiple archival sources as well as interviews with participants in villagization’s history (15).
The book might initially seem to be a challenging read for a non-academic. The introductory chapter and some of Chapters 4 and 6 use a good deal of jargon – precise language to situate the book’s argument in the academic literature. Still, the meat of the book is accessible to an average reader, and some parts – particularly the political jockeying and suspicions chronicled in Chapters 2 and 5 – are even exciting to read. Images drawn from Schneiders’s work in the archives are nice complements, especially in Chapter 4, which includes village plans and maps of land use.
“Government of Development” is a rich resource – arguably the most thorough – for anyone wanting to learn more about this famous case of social engineering. Throughout its six chapters, the book chronicles the birth and death of villagization. The first chapter closely examines the model that inspired the policy and the translation of that model into a policy. Chapters 2 through 5 chronicle how villagization failed and the forces behind its failure.
Schneider’s close analysis of statements made by President Nyerere on villagization is compelling. Schneider shows the evolution of Nyerere’s opinion of how villagization should be implemented. Originally, villagization “projected a vision of development in which authority would be dispersed and vested in local communities, and governing would work through peasants’ free decisions” (44). But disappointed with the reluctance of people to move to Ujamaa villages, Nyerere blamed peasants for being stubborn and ignorant, in need of learning: “There is only one way in which you can cause people to undertake their own development. That is by education and leadership. Through these means – and no other – people can be helped to understand both their own needs, and the things which they can do to satisfy these needs” (79).
Ultimately, villagization failed in Tanzania. Schneider enumerates its negative impacts: disrupted agricultural production; loss of houses, agricultural land, and infrastructure that ultimately contributed to a food crisis; and increased pressure on land contribution to soil exhaustion (89). Villagization also bred resentment and opposition among many Tanzanian citizens, and in some places resistance developed into drawn-out battles (91).
Read posts of related books in this year’s African Politics Summer Reading Spectacular:
This book will change the way you think about cash transfers for the poor
What are the drivers of Nigeria’s ‘ups and downs’?
‘Protest is always hopeful’: Examining the third wave of popular protest in Africa