Julius Nyerere – ‘Ujamaa: The Basis of African Socialism’

Julius Nyerere, Ujamaa: The Basis of African Socialism (Dar Es Salaam, 1962)

Julius Nyerere published Ujamaa: The Basis of African Socialism in 1962 soon after Tanganyika gained independence from Britain. Meaning ‘family’ in Swahili, the text set out the basis for the new country’s economic and social development. Ujamaa villages were a central component of this programme.

Socialism – like Democracy – is an attitude of mind. In a socialist society it is the socialist attitude of mind, and not the rigid adherence to a standard political position, which is needed to ensure that the people care for each other’s welfare […] Defenders of capitalism claim that the millionaire’s wealth is the just reward for his ability or enterprise. But this claim is not borne out by the facts. The wealth of the millionaire depends as little on the enterprise or abilities of the millionaire himself as the power of a feudal monarch depended on his own efforts, enterprise or brain. Both are users, exploiters, of the abilities and enterprise of other people […] The production of wealth, whether by primitive or modern methods, requires three things. First, Land. God has given us land, and it is from the land that we get raw materials which we reshape to meet our needs. Secondly, Tools. We have found by simple experience that tools do help! So we make the hoe, the axe, or the modern factory or tractor, to help us produce wealth – the goods we need. And, thirdly, human exertion – or Labour. We don’t need to read Karl Marx or Adam Smith to find out that neither the Land nor the Hose actually produces Wealth. And we don’t need to take degrees in Economics to know that neither the Worker nor the Landlord produces Land. Land is God’s gift to Man – it is always there. But we do know, still without degrees in Economics, that the axe and the plough were produced by the labourer. Some of our more sophisticated friends apparently have to undergo the most rigorous intellectual training simply in order to discover that stone axes were produced by that ancient gentleman ‘Early Man’ to make it easier for him to skin the impala he had just killed with a club, which he had also made for himself!

In traditional African society everybody was a worker. There was no other way of earning a living for the community. Even the Elder, who appeared to be enjoying himself without doing any work and for whom everybody else appeared to be working, had, in fact, worked hard all his younger days. The wealth he now appeared to possess was not his, personally; it was only ‘his’ as the Elder of the group which had produced it. He was its guardian […] it is too often forgotten, nowadays, that the basis of this great socialistic achievement was this: that it was taken for granted that every member of society – barring only the children and the infirm – contributed his fair share of effort towards the production of its wealth. Not only was the capitalist, or the landed exploiter, unknown to traditional African society, but we did not have hat other form of modern parasite – the loiterer, or idler, who accepts the hospitality of society as his ‘right’ but gives nothing in return! Capitalistic exploitation was impossible. Loitering was an unthinkable disgrace.

[…] Our first step, therefore, must be to re-educate ourselves; to regain our former attitude of mind. In our traditional African society we were individuals within a community. We took care of the community, and the community took care of us. We neither needed nor wished to exploit our fellow men. And in rejecting the capitalist attitude of mind which colonialism brought into Africa, we must reject also the capitalist methods which go with it […] We, in Africa, have no more need of being ‘converted’ to socialism than we have of being ‘taught’ democracy. Both are rooted in our own past – in the traditional society which produced us.