The Arusha Declaration at Fifty: A Return to its Praxis?
“But I still think that in the end Tanzania will return to the values and basic principles of the ArushaDeclaration” – Mwalimu Julius K. Nyerere
It had been thirty years since the Arusha Declaration on Socialism and Self-Reliance was a primary subject of national and international symposia. After its proclamation in 1967, it became both an ideological and intellectual ritual to commemorate the Declaration after each decade. Mwalimu Julius Nyerere who was instrumental in its formulation initiated this practice in 1977 when he issued ‘The Arusha Declaration –Ten Years After’, a publication that received much scholarly attention to the extent that it was republished in several academic journals. Scholars from the University of Dar es Salaam and other institutions also gathered in Arusha and London on the eve of 1987 to reflect, critically, on twenty years of its implementation. In 1997 and 2007, however, such gatherings were conspicuous by their absence. What has happened since then to make 2017 as a year of convening such reflective commemoratives of the virtually discarded Declaration in Arusha, Nairobi, Dar es Salaam and Edinburgh?
In this paper, I attempt to address that question of ‘why now’ as I reflect on my own journey of making sense of the history of the Arusha Declaration. My starting point is Mwalimu Nyerere’s prediction, or rather a ‘deathbed wish’, about its future. After acknowledging his mistakes in implementing it to Ikaweba Bunting in 1998, he affirmed that he thinks that the country will return to its values and basic principles. My paper is thus divided into four sections that reflect on the extent to which Tanzania has returned or is returning to those values and principles ideologically, politically, legally and socioeconomically, respectively. In practice these arenas of engagement are entangled; however, for theoretical clarity, I hereby disentangle them.
I was born a year after the commemoration of ten years of the Arusha Declaration. As I came to learn later, the country was at a critical juncture. It was at war to ouster Dictator Idi Amin from Uganda. The East African Community had collapsed. Some regions had experienced draught and plague of locust whereas production in other areas dwindled. Productivity in the industrial sector had also hit a record low. Hence the economy that had shown some signs of improvement was on the brink of a crisis.
As such, I was raised at a time when the government was attempting to come up with a workable economic recovery programme. The only childhood memory I have of the difficult economic conditions is having to eat a slippery cornmeal from a yellow flour known as ‘yanga’ in Kiswahili that the country received as food aid. Oblivious to me was that fact that the ruling party and the government were going through an intense struggle over the tenets of the Arusha Declaration. In hindsight, one sees that this obliviousness was partly due to what we were taught in nursery and primary schools.
The songs we sung in school were carefully chosen to inculcate the values and principles of the Arusha Declaration. For example, we committed to memory a popular poem on a dying father whose final words to his sons is about the importance of farming together. Although my primary school was in an urban area, it also had a school farm for collective farming. However, in contrast to the primary school in my grandmother’s village, we did not spend half a day or so tilling the land collectively.
It is thus interesting to observe – and indeed participate – online in collective recollections of the late 1980s and early 1990s with my generation. We were the last cohort of Tanzanian schoolchildren to read 9 volumes of a textbook on Kiswahili entitled ‘Tujifunze Lugha Yetu’ i.e. ‘Let us Learn our Language’. Published in 1971 and republished between 1980 and 1982, these volumes contained chapters that were primarily concerned with ensuring that we understand and embrace the Declaration.
For instance, chapter 11 of volume 9 is entitled ‘Mji wa Arusha’ i.e. ‘The Town of Arusha’. Out of more than 20 regions in the country, the Ministry of Education opted for this particular one because of the Declaration. This is how its second paragraph describes it:
Kwa wanasiasa mashuhuri duniani jina la Arusha lawakumbusha mahali ilipotangazwa siasa ya Ujamaa na Kujitegemea iliyo lengo la maendeleo ya Watanzania. Siasa hii ilikubaliwa na kupitishwa katika kikao cha Mkutano wa [Tanzania African National Union] TANU uliofanyika mwaka 1967. Katika kikao hiki Watanzania wameamua kukomesha kila aina ya unyonyaji, ukabaila na ubepari na kusisitiza usawa wa binadamu [For prominent politicians the name Arusha reminds them of where the political ideology of Socialism and Self-Reliance, which is the target of the development of Tanzanians, was declared. This ideology was embraced and approved by TANU's General Assembly that was held in 1967. In this Assembly Tanzanians decided to stop all forms of exploitation, feudalism and capitalism hence upholding human equality.]
The same volume also contains a chapter on ‘Usawa wa Binadamu’ i.e. ‘Human Equality.’ Interestingly, chapter 22 of Volume 5 is entitled ‘Azimio la Arusha’ and it concludes with a poetic dialogue between a brother and a sister in which one of them asks what the Declaration is all about and the other explains its role in ending exploitation. It is important to note that we read these impressionist materials between the tender age of 7 and 13, so, one can imagine their ideological imprint on our minds.
Incidentally, I completed my primary school education in 1991 – the year of the Zanzibar Declaration that delivered a coup de grâce to the Arusha Declaration. By allowing political leaders to accumulate private wealth while in public service, the new resolution was an assault on the principle of equality. As I started my secondary education in 1992, the country returned to multiparty politics and soon ‘Civics’ replaced ‘Politics’ as a core subject in both primary and secondary school. This change, as Hilda Mushi recalled on 22 February 2017 at the Nyerere Resource Centre’s commemoration of fifty years of the Arusha Declaration in Dar es Salaam, shifted our attentions from it. We stopped learning about it in school and started focusing on the discourses of governance from the likes of Plato and David Ricardo.
Little did I know then that the country was on a neoliberal turn that did not only cause the change in our curriculum but also in how we access social services such as education. We started asking our parents for school fees even though I went to a public school. As one of our teachers, Peter Mashanga, led a massive protest in 1995, I hardly understood the shift from the Arusha Declaration that had promoted free social services to the Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) that imposed user fees. This is the context that led Nyerere to utter these words about a trip he made in the US:
I was in Washington last year. At the World Bank the first question they asked me was ‘how did you fail?’ I responded that we took over a country with 85 per cent of its adult population illiterate. The British ruled us for 43 years. When they left, there were 2 trained engineers and 12 doctors.This is the country we inherited. When I stepped down there was 91-per-cent literacy and nearly every child was in school. We trained thousands of engineers and doctors and teachers.In 1988 Tanzania’s per-capita income was $280. Now, in 1998, it is $140. So I asked the World Bank people what went wrong. Because for the last ten years Tanzania has been signing on the dotted line and doing everything the IMF and the World Bank wanted. Enrolment in school has plummeted to 63 per cent and conditions in health and other social services have deteriorated. I asked them again: ‘what went wrong?’These people just sat there looking at me. Then they asked what could they do?I told them have some humility. Humility – they are so arrogant!
Twenty years since then, the conditions have not improved significantly. As we shall see in the socioeconomic below, the steady growth of the economy at an average rate of 7 percent for over a decade has not trickled down to the majority of the people. It is thus not surprising that there is nostalgia about the aborted promises of the Arusha Declaration. Young people are starting to ask questions about its whereabouts. Intellectuals across the left-right divide are also going back to the drawing board to reflect on it. When one such intellectual, Honest Ngowi, searched for “Arusha Declaration” in Google Scholar on 9 June 2007 he got a total of 2,930 hits. Today, on 24 February 2017, the hits are 5,920 with inverted commas and 16,600 without them.
Another intellectual, Issa Shivji, has been instrumental in renewing the debate on the Arusha Declaration. I had the privilege of working with him in reprinting 2000 copies of the Declaration in 2010 when he was the Mwalimu Professorial Chair of Pan-African Studies at the University of Dar es Salaam. These copies were distributed to participants of the second annual Nyerere Intellectual Festival Week. More significantly, copies were also sent to students at Makongo, Perfect Vision, Manzese, Azania, Tambaza and Jangwani secondary schools and uploaded on the World Wide Web. The generous support from HakiElimu, a leading civic organization advocating for educational rights, in reprinting it is a testament to its recent relevance.