Tanzania

In darkness that smelled of tar and curry, I arrived at Dar es Salaam, and the first sight my eyes were carried to by a flight of swallows outside my window next morning was a beautiful celadon-green liner at rest in the harbor. It could have been a cruise ship; among the pretty, childish insignia such vessels are decked out with was the Red Star. The Chinese have always known the way to Africa. Their maps first charted the route in A.D. 1200; but it is only in the second half of our century that there has been any suggestion that, belatedly following the example of half the world, China might come again, and hope to stay.

President Julius Nyerere’s acceptance of China’s money and manpower for Tanzania, in particular to build a railroad the West refused to build, is seen by most Westerners as evidence that his nonalignment is alignment with the Communist world. He sees Chinese or other Communist cooperation as part of the means of redressing the imbalanced legacy of colonial times—political, economic, and cultural ties all weighted entirely toward the West. So far, and so far as mainland Tanzania is concerned, he has made it no less clear to China than any other country that Tanzania is not for sale, not even to those with whom she may share a broad ideology.

It is difficult to feel out that velvety diplomatic concept slipped over all sorts of sinister ironmongery, from gunboats to atomic missile stations: a foreign “presence.” There are about 20,000 Chinese in Tanzania now; 16,000 are at work with 36,000 Tanzanians and Zambians on the Tanzam railway, the biggest engineering project in Black Africa after the Volta dams in Ghana. “Why should the number of Chinese alarm anyone? The proportion is exactly that of Italians when they came to build the oil pipeline from Dar to the Zambian copper belt,” one of the dedicated but sometimes priggishly defensive whites who work with the Tanzanian government said to me. Americans, Scandinavians, and other Europeans as well as Italians have been or are engaged in development projects, but none, since the pipeline, involves much imported manpower.

The $400-million, 1058-mile railway is being constructed to link Zambia and Tanzania. It will provide Zambia with an outlet to the sea that will end her need of routes through the hostile “white” southern alliance—South Africa, Rhodesia, Mozambique — for export of her copper, and Tanzania with infrastructure for the development of one of her most important agricultural areas, Kilombero. With the track already a year ahead of schedule, many railway workers are far from Dar es Salaam, the capital, where it begins. But there are two hundred Chinese at the huge railway workshop there, and others round about involved in curiously Gandhi-ish self-reliance training programs, such as shoemaking, for young Tanzanians, while scattered through the 365,000 square miles where Tanzania once had only one doctor to every 30,000 people are some hundreds of Chinese barefoot doctors.

Yet to a visitor of inquiring mind in Dar es Salaam, the Chinese presence scarcely became either more pervasive or more approachable than that ship anchored out across some yards of deep water. The railwaymen are, after all, soldiers, from the engineering and signal corps of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, whom one might expect to find seeking traditional soldiers’ pleasures. But the sociable bars were empty of Chinese faces; and nobody knows what they do about women. (Perhaps—how could it occur to us, Europeans and Africans!— they practice continence?) They were not to be seen in the Indian shops that sell handsome cotton cloth made by the Friendship Textile Mill, which their compatriots built and set up in successful production, and scented toilet soap that was one of the few signs of the “flood” of Chinese consumer goods the West says will be dumped along with the railway’s interest-free loan.1

Just once, walking at sunset under the coarse-leaved flowering trees and palms of the waterfront, I met two middle-aged, comfortable-looking men in serge pants and white shirts, on which their Chairman Mao badges might, from the polite distance at which they stepped aside for me, have passed as those I’ve seen worn by convention delegates in the Holiday Inns of Chicago or Atlanta. The Friendship Bookshop, opened in a building owned by Formosan Chinese, had only the voice of the muezzin in the mosque across the street to disturb the solitary peace in which I contemplated mounds of the Little Red Book curling at the edges—remaindered? In the ordinary bookshops of the town, it is the writings of Nkrumah and not Mao, Marx, or Lenin that are on display beside those of Julius Nyerere.

The Chinese not only bring from China all equipment and material for the railway that Tanzania cannot herself supply; they requisition supplies for their personal needs. It is not apocryphal that the Minister of Agriculture recently queried an item: “Birds’ nests? But surely we’ve got plenty in Tanzania?”

Birds’ nests from home must be the only luxury at the wood-andiron village where the Chinese of the railway workshops in Dar es Salaam live. The workshops themselves, not yet completed, supply material and are training about three hundred Tanzanians plus some Zambians. A Vulcan’s palace of vast sheds skeined by track houses cranes, repair pits, and forges; all machine tools have inscriptions in Chinese, and locomotives and coaches are inscribed in Chinese and English. One of the sheds was doubling as a classroom the day I was there; an elderly Chinese speaking fluent if gap-toothed Swahili was teaching elementary geometry to about fifty alert trainees.

It is strange for Europeans or Americans, who are pulling up their tracks, to think of a railway as a symbol of great progress to any people. But in Africa a railway may still mean what it did when the Great Northern or Canadian Pacific was built. The Tanzanians refer to theirs as the Great Uhuru (Freedom) Railway, and it excites public imagination in a way that a world already bored with moon landings cannot conceive. For it does mean very real freedoms to them: in the national sense, freedom to open up uncultivated land, and in the panAfrican sense, which is important to Tanzanian thinking, the beginning of freedom for southern central Africa from white South Africans, Rhodesians, and Portuguese. This was dramatically demonstrated by Ian Smith’s closure of Rhodesia’s borders to Zambia in January, 1973.

The Great Uhuru Railway is within a hundred and fifty miles of the Zambian border with a railhead only a hundred yards from the main Zambia-Dar es Salaam road. This steely lifeline, coming nearer every day, is what has made it possible for President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia to vow that, whatever his present difficulties, his country will never again resort to the Rhodesian trade route, although Smith has reopened it. While MPLA and FRELIMO (the increasingly successful Angolan and Mozambique liberation movements) had to consider Zambia’s dependence on the Beira (Rhodesia-Mozambique) and Benguela (Angola) railways, they had to hold back from more than token attacks on these prize targets. Now that the Beira railway is not being used by Zambia, restraint in respect to this line will no longer be necessary; and it is vulnerable to the Rhodesian freedom fighters as well as FRELIMO. When the Great Uhuru Railway is finished in 1975 (or sooner, with the drive of Zambia’s economic needs behind it), and Zambia no longer depends on the Benguela railway, a real assault on the white South could begin.

Two freedoms

Liberation knocks twice in Africa. First, for release from white man’s rule; again, for the creation of a new life in which the peasants may eat, and look up from the hoe.

The first summons has proved comparatively easy to answer, outside Algeria and the white South. Peasants and educated elite have risen to it in one accord. The second goes unanswered in most states. Black elite replaces white; through industry financed and owned by foreign investors, a small section of the population becomes urban middleclass, for industrial workers are privileged people rather than proletarians in the African context. The majority continues to scratch the soil for the scrawny returns of the inevitable raw material crop.

Tanganyika won independence of the last of her foreign masters— Arab, German, British—in 1961, and became the Republic of Tanzania after union with Zanzibar in 1964, and a one-party state in 1965. Tanzania is led by a man who has been aware from the beginning that the second summons is one that must go on battering through history until an answer equal to it is found. In this sense, Julius Nyerere has always been radical, and those who once approved him as a “moderate” and now deplore him as having gone Chinese Red have been mistaken once and may be so again. With the Arusha Declaration in 1967, he committed one of the poorest countries in Africa to trudge up to the door at the second knock in the only way he believes it can be done: with a form of socialism homogenized on African soil.

This socialism, unlike the European prototype—he has written in an early pamphlet—is neither born of the agrarian and industrial revolutions nor based upon class conflict, since Africa has had neither the “benefit” of the two revolutions nor the problem of conflicting classes. Its basis is the traditional African social system of the extended family, visualized as extended to the wider society of the nation. “ ‘Ujamaa’—familyhood [in Swahili, the official language of Tanzania]—then, describes our socialism,” Nyerere says. “It is opposed to capitalism, which seeks to build a happy society on the basis of the exploitation of man by man; and it is equally opposed to doctrinaire socialism which seeks to build its happy society on a philosophy of inevitable conflict between man and man.”

Public ownership of the means of production under state control would, of course, be one of its methods. As a country where paucity of minerals means that more than 90 percent of the population is, and has no choice but to remain, rural, agriculture was to be accepted as the base of development, with industry taking second place.

Within six days of the Declaration, words became deeds. Ujamaa started out, anyway, with the conventional socialist move of nationalizing (with compensation) foreign banks, food mills, insurance corporations, and import firms. In the six years since then, the government has acquired controlling interest in breweries, tobacco, shoe, and cement companies, and the sisal industry, formed a State Trading Corporation which controls all external and wholesale trade, nationalized rented property, opened retail stores, and taken over hotels. Its National Development Corporation is the third largest in the world, after Britain’s and Pakistan’s.

Public take-over is a popular move with a poor people; and the established entrepreneurial group among Tanzania’s 12.3 millions is not African but the European and Asian minority. But Nyerere was quick to remind the jubilant citizenry that public ownership of a bank doesn’t mean the country suddenly finds itself rich. In fact, the most revolutionary aspect of the Declaration was its hammered insistence on the practical acceptance, for Tanzania, that “people, not money, are development.” Nyerere said bluntly: “We have made a mistake in choosing money—something we do not have—to be the instrument of our development. We are making a mistake to think that we shall get the money from other countries; because even if we could get all we need, such dependence upon others would endanger our independence and our ability to choose our own political policies.”

The noose of incongruity between economic independence and political nonalignment had already shown itself ready to be tightened round the country’s neck at a jerk from its benefactors. Tanzania had sacrificed vast sums in British aid because of Nyerere’s decision to break diplomatic relations with Britain when Britain seemed prepared to betray the principle of no independence before majority rule in Rhodesia (diplomatic relations were reestablished nearly two and a half years later), and in aid from West Germany because of the opening of an East German Embassy in Zanzibar. This does not mean that Tanzania forgoes all foreign aid. She takes it from both East and West, but only for vital projects (the railway loan, for example) and only in line with the kind of development she wants.

The most outstanding eclectic political and economic program to have grown out of the realities of a poor country in tropical Africa (the famous Western agronomist, René Dumont, has claimed that its concepts of education by self-reliance and its agricultural policy are inspired by his book False Start in Africa), the Arusha Declaration was also an ethical code for international relations and—bolder to enforce, harder to take — at home. There it introduced “leadership qualifications” that forbade cabinet ministers, members of parliament, and all officials, civil servants, and TANU office-bearers (Tanganyika African National Union, the single political party) to hold directorships or shares, own houses for rent, or receive two or more salaries. The measure’s overt purpose was to cauterize corruption; it was also socialist obstetrics — to abort the growth of a class of company directors and businessmen, a dream of most black independent states. What Nyerere envisaged through the Arusha Declaration was not a take-over but a make-over, even of such dreams.

Up from the past

Known deposits of coal, copper, and iron in Tanzania’s southwestern regions may become exploitable through the new railway; but the policy of agricultural development, not by means of private farms or even state-run “factory” farms but in the form of village collectives involved also in cottage industry, is planned all along the line. In the end, it is on this type of development that the validity of the Arusha Declaration stands or falls. Although a third of Tanzania receives sufficient rain for intensive agriculture, only a tenth is under cultivation, and no legal titles to the country’s farming land have ever been granted. Land tenure should not be a basic problem for Ujamaa collectivization. Yet it is.

Two million peasants in more than four thousand Ujamaa villages already in existence represent the country’s greatest effort—on its own, in accordance with the most severe of Nyerere’s principles of self-reliance—to toil its way up from the past. Their success or failure so far has followed predictably out of the varying circumstances of their foundation. Where poor and landless people with nothing to lose are given land on which to live and work collectively, their shared benefits in terms of material welfare and dignity are greater than anything they experienced individually. Where social misfits are banded together to form such a community, it founders. Where, as among the Sukuma—a tribe of over a million who grow most of the country’s cotton— the Chagga, big coffee producers, and the Hehe, cultivators of much of its exportable maize, individual farmers are successful on their own land (owned in the traditional African sense: tribally allotted or inherited), they stand to experience much smaller benefits living collectively than they are accustomed to as individuals. They are employers of landless laborers, a perpetuation of the white colonial system the Arusha Declaration wants to wipe out. Their opposition to sharing their land with these people on a basis of common ownership is strong.

Can Nyerere succeed by moral persuasion whereas Lenin failed by force, the Chinese have succeeded only by force, and the Israelis seem in danger of seeing the collective become a museum piece? Again and again he urges that people must seek to “live Ujamaa” out of the realization that it is the most fully human way, in terms of a poor people seeking ultimate personal fulfillment through social responsibility, and that forced resettlement cannot achieve this.

Apart from the psychological factor, the success of Ujamaa villages depends heavily upon other cooperative or state-run enterprises. While I was there, the cashew nut crop of a number of villages threatened to rot in bags in the rain because the marketing cooperative, in turn dependent on the transport corporation, was short of trucks.

It is not easy to get to visit an Ujamaa village. There’s nothing sinister about this. Africa is no longer a spectacle. These are not those “model” tribal villages offered in colonial times as a glimpse of “primitive” life to coin-scattering tourists. The one I saw was off the road to Bagamoyo, once the slave export center from which Livingstone ventured into Africa. The same road led past a beach where, looked back upon across the sea from a coral reef, a beautiful building shimmered like a mirage from the coast’s past—a hotel built in the style of the thirteenth-century palace of Sultan al-Hasam ibn Sulaiman.

The Ujamaa village was not altogether typical, since it was founded on an existing plantation, while most start on virgin land. The villagers have built themselves ironroofed houses instead of the traditional palm-leaf ones of the area. An improvement? They looked sturdy but hot. Each family has a oneor two-acre shamba for growing its own food; Nyerere has urged, again, that collectivization should not proceed roughshod and this anachronism should be tolerated when, as here, villagers prefer it. They cultivate their cash crops together-pineapples, bananas, 525 acres of cashew trees, and 350 acres of coconut palms—and the profits go into the village’s bank account.

There was a solid new school building financed by it, far better than anything country children could hope for in ordinary villages. There is an annual cash share-out; in even the most prosperous Ujamaa village it does not amount to more than about $45, but the per capita income in Tanzania is only $97, and the village has its own humble shop and dispensary operated on a nonprofit system. Under a big shed, women and children (school hours are flexible when there’s a crop to be dealt with) squatted, chatting while they peeled cashew nuts. In a factory consisting of half a dozen small buildings, there were simple installations for washing, decorticating, and toasting, and this was being done with the full complement of male village labor. It was odd to recognize the familiar taste of the finished product so far from any cocktail party. (Tanzanians also distill from cashews a delicious “brandy,” if one is to respect the ambitious derivation of its Swahili name, konyagi.)

The barefoot chairman of the council of fifteen which runs village affairs left his work in the factory to show me around. The council, centered on the TANU ten-house cell, is responsible for housing, water supply, education and adult education (day’s-end literacy classes are usual in Ujamaa villages), health, defense, and the settlement of disputes, including—this said with a smile that didn’t need the interpreter’s translation — husband-andwife quarrels.

Host

Tanzania is host to nearly every liberation movement in sub-Saharan Africa. Up rotting stairways and in tiny shops in the oldest part of Dar es Salaam are the offices where many of Africa’s political exiles are based. Most represent organizations dedicated to ousting white regimes: the ANC and PAC from South Africa, ZANU, ZAPU, and FROLIZI from Rhodesia, FRELIMO and MPLA from Mozambique and Angola. Quietly sheltered somewhere less public, there is also Milton Obote, ousted President of Uganda. And he represents opposition to a black regime, that of General Idi Amin, President of neighboring Uganda, one of the two countries (Kenya is the other) to which Tanzania is bound in the East African Community (EAC), sharing with them services such as mail and telecommunications.

These “guests” represent problems to President Nyerere, who abandons the ultimate working ideal of African unity as little as he abandons his friends. They affect and even endanger the country itself. In 1972 Amin’s army dropped bombs on Tanzania, and the two countries almost went to war. There was an abortive attempt to fly Obote back into Uganda to topple Amin. That this was done with Nyerere’s blessing is clear; the fact that the aircraft used belonged to the airline owned jointly by the EAC countries led to an embarrassing EAC Council inquiry, which the Ugandans were somehow persuaded to drop. As one Tanzanian blandly put it: “We must contrive to stay friendly with the Ugandans until they get rid of him.” In the meantime, his expulsion of Ugandan Asians has made Tanzania’s Asians, still shopkeepers to the nation although the wholesale trade has been taken out of their hands, extremely nervous. Emotional letters to the newspapers show the extent of the average African’s anti-Asian feeling, roused from the oblivion to which Nyerere has vociferously consigned racism.

FRELIMO (Front for the Liberation of Mozambique) has its headquarters in Tanzania, and all arms for its guerrillas pass through the country. FRELIMO’s successes against the Portuguese in Mozambique which threaten the great Cabora Bassa dam (a PortugueseSouth African enterprise) and rail routes from Smith’s Rhodesia to Beira, plus a recent resurgence of guerrilla attacks in Rhodesia in which FRELIMO and ZANU (Zimbabwe African National Union), as well as ZAPU, are believed to have acted together for the first time, mean that Tanzania has very real reason to expect “search and destroy” raids from the Portuguese, backed by Rhodesia and South Africa. The economic warfare enjoined originally by Rhodesia’s closure of her borders to the passage of Zambian trade in retaliation for Zambiabased guerrilla raids does not make this less likely.

Tanzanians’ sense of unease is complicated by constant rumors of some strange but not impossible alliances among their enemies. Oscar Kambona, Nyerere’s former Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, who went into exile after trying unsuccessfully to make political capital through opposition to the Arusha Declaration, has appeared lately in Lisbon and traveled on a Portuguese passport. He was said to have been offered £50,000 sterling for a coup against Nyerere—by South Africa. It seems unlikely, if for no other reason than that his success would be unlikely; but then one has to remember that he has also been a guest of Uganda since Amin took over. And that brings full circle the list of people who would like to see Julius Nyerere go.

President Nyerere would also seem to have, if not a Cain, a Caliban in the national “family.” To one who has lived in Tanzania for even a short time, the idea that Zanzibar should be one with it becomes daily more bizarre. The historical logic is there: under the Imams of Muscat in the Persian Gulf, Zanzibar was sovereign over the East African littoral from Mogadisho to Mozambique. Why should not the tail that once wagged the dog still be part of it? But Zanzibar’s savage interpretation of that “doctrinaire socialism which seeks to build ... on inevitable conflict between man and man,” which Nyerere has condemned, is so far from the humanity, decency, and self-critical tolerance that Ujamaa is struggling for. As a young Irish girl working there said to me of Tanzania: “This is a sane place.”

The difference between mainland and island was for me best summed up by the most popular resolution at Zanzibar’s first Afro-Shirazi Party Congress to be held since the 1964 revolution: individuals proved to have been “implicated” in the assassination of Sheikh Abeid Karume, the island’s President, in April, 1972, should be “executed in public by firing squad.” This refers to— along with others detained on Zanzibar itself—the twenty-three people including the former Tanzanian Minister of Economic Affairs, Abdul Babu, and Mrs. Kessi Salim, Commissioner of the Girl Guides, who have been held in custody on the mainland since Karume’s death. So far, Nyerere has refused to hand them over to Zanzibari “justice.” By contrast, four of Kambona’s followers given a life sentence in an open treason trial in Tanzania a few years ago have already been quietly released.

Complex motives for Karume’s murder conjecturally include the revenge of the Arabs against the Africans who made the 1964 revolution. The murder, anyway, did not bring the Arabs back to domination. Under Aboud Jumbe—Karume’s associate and the new President—I was told, the clove island is marginally better off than under Karume. Going to see for myself whatever can be seen in a one-day visit, I found it as sinister, if in a different way, as when I visited it in the last months of colonial times. Then its dreadful, languid beauty lay indifferently over the wretched living conditions of the blacks and the beautiful Arab houses which parasitical American and English lotuseaters were renting for twelve dollars a month. Now there is some decent housing for workers built by East Germans, the Chinese are building two ugly hotels, and those romantic streets of the old town are at many turns blocked by the decay of silent, empty houses where thousands of Arabs and Indians were murdered.

Now, as it was then, the tourist showpieces are the sultan’s palace, built with the profits of the slave trade, and the iron rings in the slave market itself. Zanzibari metalwork used to be famous. I bought a small brass snuffbox. It has turned out to be made of a hammered bullet-shell, and the neatly chased design is the manufacturer’s half-obliterated lettering; country of origin unknown. An appropriate memento, after all, of an island whose history has been that of suffering sweetened with the scent of cloves.

How does Nyerere tolerate this appendage (population 355,000)? It can be only as a peculiar token of the pan-African unity which, although shelved by events of contemporary African history, he believes to be the continent’s one hope of emancipation from have-not status.

“Trusting people”

Tanzania, like Chile, has a special significance for the world because both, in their different ways, represent an attempt to create what in Europe in the 1960s was ridden over with armored cars: socialism with a human face.

Whether, within the economic resources of the Third World, this is possible at all is in question. Whether the fortitude and patience of the Tanzanians will be equal to a noble try is another matter. Are they going to give Nyerere time to do it? Recently the two English-language newspapers in Dar es Salaam were merged under government ownership. In them the debate on the theory and practice of TANU’s Arusha Declaration policies often falls into the stalest rhetoric of doctrinaire socialism. I even read, presented as statement rather than opinion, that there is “no such thing as African socialism,” but only one true socialist path, and so on. (It was almost—not quite — as discouraging as opening the East African Standard that comes in from Kenya every day, and seeing socialpage pictures of white amateurs in Nairobi performing Hello, Dolly!, just as if the British had never left.)

Can Nyerere go fast enough, in his own way, the way of Ujamaa, to carry with him the young doctrinaire socialists? And slowly enough for the man who complains, through “Readers’ Views,” that khanga cloth, which clothes both his wife and her baby, is more expensive in nationalized shops than it used to be in Indian-owned ones?

“A man who has inherited a tumbledown cottage has to live in even worse conditions while he is rebuilding it,” President Nyerere has said with his headmasterish candor. During the past two years, the depth and acceleration of social change have brought inevitable hardships and a growing trade deficit. Fourteen of the twenty-one companies operating as subsidiaries of the National Development Corporation did not show a profit in the early 1970s. There have been sporadic food shortages caused by mismanagement in government or cooperative takeovers. And there has been a certain stagnation in the economy caused by poorly planned industrial projects and the occasional conflict of those projects with consumer conditions brought about by political policy. For example, the government invested in a tire factory shortly before the austerity ban on the import of new cars. These are problems of inexperience; and they are not concealed. On the credit side, the public sector increased its overall surpluses considerably in 1971, and an increase of 40 percent for the lowest wage earners has been approved.

The big task for 1973 is going to be decentralization of government, with the existing TANU party structure in mind—according to a plan made by McKinseys, the American management consultants. (Are they shaking their heads in the East and saying Nyerere’s going capitalist?) The struggle against bureaucracy in a socialist system makes decentralization essential, and this is complicated by underdevelopment and backwardness. Yet “decentralization means trusting people,” Nyerere says. He himself has already delegated some of his important responsibilities, including (and some think unwisely) foreign affairs. It is said in Dar es Salaam that he may even do again what he did in 1961: resign the presidency temporarily and go into the savanna, the highlands, and under the coconut palms live among the real Tanzanians and make flesh of the words of TANU and the Arusha Declaration where it really matters most—at the level of the hoe.

-NADINE GORDIMER

  1. In 1967, Chinese imports were 3.1 million Tanzanian shillings (the Tanzanian shilling is worth 14 U.S. cents); exports to China were 2.8 million. In 1971, imports were 601 million—of which the vast proportion can be accounted for by the railway. The rise in exports to 84 million is therefore impressive by any measure. Repayment of the railway loan is to be shared equally by Tanzania and Zambia over thirty years starting from 1983, and may be in convertible currency or export goods.