Re-evaluating the comparative development experience in Tanzania and Kenya?


Awaiting final election results with some concern about transparency, but Tanzania seems to have avoided any major strife over the situation. Why? One interesting blog post by Jimmy Kainja says that “Tanzania Thrives on Julius Nyerere’s Legacy” at AfricaOnTheBlog: (H/T to Dibussi Tande in Pambazuka News):

Indeed. Nyerere’s emphasis on national building over personal interests, “UJAMAA”, which can loosely be translated as familyhood (Swahili speakers may translate this better) – one person for another. This formed what has come to be know as African Socialism; an ideology that has never been popular with most westerners, whose idealism and economic model(s) Nyerere objected. Consequently, Nyerere is mostly portrayed in negative terms: a socialist dictator. His association with communist China only cemented his reputation as “anti British” and “anti European.”

As explained here, Nyerere took strong international stands on African economic and political independence. In particular, he supported freedom struggles in South Africa, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Angola and Mozambique. He dared to speak against the CIA-backed corrupt dictator, Mobutu Seseko and sought a better a administration in Mobutu’s Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo). Nyerere also picked fights with IMF as they sought to impose free market economic policies on Tanzania.

These were “crimes” Nyerere committed. He stood up for his country and his African folk. Interestingly, Tanzania faired far much better, politically, socially, and economically, under Nyerere than his critics would have the world believe. According to Raya Dunayevskaya (1973)

“…Tanzania achieved the highest literacy rate in Africa (83%) and also experienced major advances in health care. The single party system Nyerere founded under the Tanzania African National Union (TANU) was hardly undemocratic, since open debate and competitive candidacies were permitted. Nor did Tanzania experience the pervasive corruption of so many post-independence African states.”

They say “bad news is good news.” This rings true on how African affairs are covered in the western mainstream media. This cliche may well explain lack of coverage for Tanzania elections. The elections are devoid of tribalism and ethnic tensions, which would qualify it as “newsworthy”. Given that tribalism has been a constant feature in the region’s (east African) elections, Kenya and Rwanda, in particular, the lack of ethnic tensions in Tanzania is an interesting development – a development that would interest not only media organisations but historians and social scientists alike. Therefore this is a genuine story, a newsworthy material. Kudos to the BBC for their attempted coverage.

The real problem with this story is that it is difficult for much of the international community to highlight these ethnic tension-free elections without giving credit to Julius Nyerere. Meanwhile, Nyerere remains dear to the hearts of many Tanzanians; whether one likes it or not, Tanzania today thrives on Nyerere’s legacy.

Twenty years after the end of the Cold War Tanzania is a favored African country in American diplomatic and aid officialdom. President Bush visited Tanzania during the Kenyan post-election crisis and it is a Millennium Challenge Corporation compact country. Relatively few Americans now would have much notion or recollection of the ideological issues among Nyerere, Kenyatta and the United States. The Soviet Union is no more and while there are signs of potential future competition and tension between the U.S. and China in Africa, this takes place in a context of overall U.S. policy which has been a consistent pattern over more than thirty years of cooperating in and facilitating the rise of China as a major power, while still under strict Communist Party rule without any significant opening toward democracy. While there has been a massive recalibration of the Chinese economic system, it is far from a “free market”. So in many respects we have moved on and we are obviously ideologically ambidextrous. On the other hand, there are American politicians who care very much about ideology in specific foreign countries in pretty much the same way that we did during the Cold War.

If there are lessons to be learned by reconsidering some things that “turned out” better in the long run in Tanzania than in Kenya maybe we can take a fresh look now that we are freed from the obligations of facing off against the Soviets?

*So why does the Veterinary Department of the Kenya Ministry of Livestock Development have a golf club in the first place?

*“African aid fears amid cheerful tears” Comments from various observers in South Africa on the possible impact of the U.S. midterm elections on U.S. aid budget for Africa. (H/T Africa Center for Strategic Studies).


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