Category Archives: Party of the Revolution (Tanzania)

Nyerere was ruthless, though not quite monstrous

Exploring the subject of the failure of post-colonial regimes in Africa — failure even of those that were established without much in the way of violent struggle — Dalrymple writes:

The first generation of post-colonial leaders were taken by the prestige and perhaps by the glamour of revolution, and sometimes went in for utopian schemes.

Julius Nyerere, for example,

was bitten by the bug of utopianism, caught in part from socialists at the University of Edinburgh, calling the sole permitted political party in Tanzania the Party of the Revolution.

In the name of creating a just and equal society,

he forcibly removed at least 70% of the population from where it was living and herded it into collectivised villages. This was an economic disaster, famine having been prevented only by large infusions of foreign aid, but it served the interests of members of the Party.

Tanzania was saved from being much worse than it was partly by the peaceful nature of the Tanzanian people. Also,

there was no ethnic group that could have become dominant, so ethnic antagonism could not be added to the witches’ brew.

A blueprint for all that was most harmful to development

The currency was called ‘pictures of Nyerere’

Julius Nyerere’s Tanzania, writes Dalrymple,

illustrated best and most clearly the politicisation of life that foreign aid promoted.

It was regarded by silly Western intellectuals as

a beacon to Africa, if not to the world. Mwalimu, or Teacher, was admired because of his apparently modest manner and lifestyle. Because of the uncritical high regard in which he was held, the economist Peter Bauer called him ‘St Julius’.

What had Teacher taught, and what were the miracles that St Julius had wrought? The country

was impoverished, with young men walking around in Western women’s coats, sent out in bundles by charities from Europe. There was nothing to buy. The currency was called ‘pictures of Nyerere’. Everyone was thin except for members of the Party of the Revolution, who were inclined to be portly. You could tell a party member in the countryside by his girth.

Party of the Revolution

Dalrymple explains that every 10th household had a 10-cell leader,

a man whose certificate of political reliability it was necessary to secure even for a child to continue beyond a certain age at school. This became a system of bribery that reached into the tiny interstices of life. It created, in conditions of penury, a cadre who were not only the eyes and ears of the régime, but loyal to it for the small advantages it gave them. (One thinks here of Freud’s phrase, the narcissism of small differences.)

Nyerere

was adept at talking the language of left-wing European intellectuals, while blinding them—in all conscience, not a very difficult thing to do—to the natural consequences of the forcible collectivisation of peasant agriculture and the removal of millions of people from where they were living, on the supposition that it was only thus that equal and equitable development could take place while the government provided the population with its inestimable services.

The maintenance of this system required tyranny and corruption even on a micro-level. Dalrymple had a patient, an Indian trader,

who had contracted tuberculosis in a Tanzanian prison, to which he had been sent for six months during one of Nyerere’s so-called economic crackdowns, conducted by the army to search out people who had supposedly dealt on the so-called black market (which Bauer would have preferred to call the open market). My patient—one of a class of admirable people, small merchants who had begun their careers by bringing a few simple consumer goods to remote rural areas where it was still possible to be attacked by a lion, and who had gradually reached a modest prosperity—had been found to be in possession of six cups and saucers for which he did not have a receipt.

Foreign aid paid for this iniquity. (Dalrymple also was a small beneficiary of the aid, buying his first house from the proceeds.) The collectivisation

was predictably such a disaster, economically, that there was only one solution: more foreign aid. 90% of the people lived on the land, but still the population could not feed itself, and produced practically no cash crops, they being subjected, if grown, to forced requisition by state marketing boards.

Nyerere recognised the nature of his system when he explained why he refused to devalue the currency.

Such a devaluation would have destroyed his powers of political patronage, for access to foreign currency to favoured persons was a way of ensuring their loyalty. ‘And I would lose everything I have,’ were Nyerere’s precise words.