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8. Tanzania: Imperialism, the state and the peasantry

Imperialism and rural development
Rural development policies in Tanzania: Post-independence
Social consequences of rural policies
Failure of villagization projects

Henry Mapolu


In 1973-74, the government, after experimenting with a variety of 'rural development' policies, launched a 'villagization' programme for the entire mainland countryside. Basically, the programme consisted of replacing the traditional system of rural settlements, in which households are located in small isolated pockets, with the creation of large villages. This entailed moving millions of people into new areas in a relatively short time.

There has been considerable debate on the merits and demerits of the programme, and particularly on the way it was implemented. The programme's stated purpose was to facilitate the provision by government of essential social infrastructure to the rural areas -particularly water, medical services, and primary education. Whether large settlements are a necessary prerequisite for the provision of these facilities, and whether Tanzania had the resources to provide them are debatable questions.

But there has been little disagreement on the performance of rural production since 'villagization'. Agricultural output has declined in many cases and only in a few has output shown some minor increase. This poor performance may be due to many causes: climate, world commodity prices, for example. Coulson, however, has indicated that food shortages for instance cannot be ascribed to drought conditions as rainfall figures for the decade do not bear this out. Furthermore, Tanzania is a vast territory with diverse ecological zones capable of complementing each other in terms of variety of output.

Virtually every crop known to agriculturalists will grow in one or more of these [ecological] areas. Wheat, coffee, tea, potatoes, and pyrethrum in the cool mountains. On the island plateau grow maize, rice, sorghum, varieties of millet, cotton, and tobacco, as well as sisal... Coconuts, cashew-nuts, rubber, cocoa, cloves, and a wide variety of spices grow on the coastal strip or on Zanzibar and Pemba. Each ecological unit produces its own fruits and vegetables.

Nevertheless, not only have food imports risen but production for export (on which the government puts strong emphasis) has also declined. In 1972-80 overall growth of food crops was 5% per annum, that of exports crops 3% per annum.

I would argue that the root causes for this poor performance lie not in natural conditions but rather in the state's social economic policies; the strategies intended to raise agricultural production have rather proved to be the fetters. Most independent African countries have elaborated policies for change in the rural areas, but Tanzania has laid particular emphasis on this aspect of development and the many policy statements regarding rural changes have stimulated considerable debate both within and outside the country.

It is, however, my contention that in substance these policies have hardly differed either from policies elsewhere in Africa or from earlier attempts by the British in colonial Tanganyika, and elsewhere.

Imperialism and rural development

The colonial powers' primary economic task was to integrate the African people into the worldwide capitalist market. As most of African colonies were considered essentially as sources of agricultural raw materials, this task basically consisted of compelling the population to produce those commodities required by European industry: sisal, cotton, tea, rubber, and so on. The methods to attain this objective generally differed from colony to colony, but usually involved coercion. Such methods led, at times, to rebellions. In German East Africa, for instance, attempts to compel the people to grow cotton led to the celebrated Maji Maji Wars of 1905-7, and in most colonies this resistance to exploitation continued despite brutal methods to stamp it out.

Force was not, however, the only form of the people's resistance. Depending on local conditions and historical experience, they devised various tricks: in colonial Tanzania, for example, they knew that boiling cotton seeds prevented germination.

With the expansion and intensification of commodity production social differentiation became inevitable and divergent vested interests began to emerge. Thus, different segments of the rural people resorted to different forms of struggle, and certain segments acquired vested interests in the new system of commodity production and exchange.

It should be noted that in each colony it was the colonial state that played the key role in these endeavours to subjugate the local inhabitants and integrate them into the world capitalist system. For example, laws were enacted compelling villagers to cultivate particular crops, the state formulated policies for all sectors of the economy' and so on.

By the time of independence this task of integrating the rural people into the capitalist market had largely been accomplished. Socio-economic structures had been built to ensure a more or less permanent flow of agricultural raw materials from Africa to Western Europe and North America and a firm dependence on the world market. Nevertheless, nowhere had the integration of rural peoples into the market economy been fully accomplished. Rural communities, often residing in inaccessible areas, or engaged in productive activities not easily penetrable by the cash nexus, continued to lead traditional communal forms of life more or less free of commodity production and exchange. In Tanzania, for instance, only in the mid-sixties did government 'discover' the Hadzape people in Singida region.

By the end of the colonial period, however, even those people who, by and large, had accepted commodity production and exchange, frequently returned to subsistence economy when it suited them. Naturally, peasants generally produce their subsistence needs outside the production of commodities and, if cash crop production endangers subsistence then more and more resources will be transferred to subsistence production. Price incentives play a key role in the movement between cash crop and subsistence production. Thus colonial rulers had the problem of maintaining low prices for raw materials while simultaneously ensuring their maximum production; this problem remains unsolved by independent governments.

Colonial rulers applied various strategies in an attempt to increase rural output vis--vis resources- from ambitious resettlement schemes managed directly by appointed officials, to more modest efforts to provide villagers with technical advice and assistance. In general, these strategies constituted the colonial governments" entire 'rural development' policies. But it has become clear that by ignoring the people's wishes experience, and interests, these policies proved fruitless in terms of increasing productivity in rural Africa. Specifically, the resettlement schemes were a fiasco practically everywhere.

The fundamental problems inherent in these colonial policies, may be summed up in Cabral's words, as 'the negation of the historical process of the dominated people by means of violent usurpation of the freedom of development of the national productive forces'. Hence, the wish to rapidly increase African peoples' productivity while shackling them to colonialism was contradictory, and colonial governments" efforts to resolve this contradiction by enforced politico-economic measures only intensified it. At independence, governments inherited this contradiction.

Africa is overwhelmingly rural, and a first priority was to formulate policies for rural areas. In addition. Western aid donors, upon whom Africa is increasingly dependent, have constantly urged African governments to adopt strategies to increase agricultural exports (naturally in the interest of donor countries themselves). Governments have, therefore, formulated 'rural development' policies - that 'development' has been minimal is, of course, another matter. But African governments are themselves anxious to raise agricultural output, as that alone can significantly contribute the necessary funds to run the state apparatus.

Experience has shown, however, that with few exceptions' African governments have not done much better than their predecessors: in some cases, they have repeated the same mistakes and committed the same blunders; furthermore the economic relationship between Africa and imperialism is fundamentally unchanged, while the development of the productive forces remains stifled. Consequently Africa is becoming increasingly dependent on food imports and only in Africa is food production declining (see Table 8.1).

Table 8.1
Index of Food Production (1961-65 = 100)

  1972 1973 1974 1975 1976
Africa 99 92 98 96 97
N&S America 106 107 107 112 114
Europe 101 101 104 103 111
Asia 103 106 105 109 109

Pressure both by internal and external factors to improve production has resulted in constant policy changes on the part of some governments, of which one is Tanzania's.

Rural development policies in Tanzania: Post-independence

Shortly after independence in 1961, government stressed the importance of rural areas in its development efforts. Emphasis was to be placed on increasing production and on the living standards in the countryside where more than 95% of the population lived. As a result of World Bank recommendations' two approaches were adopted: 1) improvement and, 2) transformation. The former basically consisted of efforts to gradually raise output within existing rural households through extension services: the latter sought to radically transform agriculture through the resettlement in special schemes of pre-selected villagers who would then engage in 'modern' farming under the supervision and direction of officials. By the end of 1965 there were 23 such schemes with some 15,000 acres of crops and about 3,400 farming families.

These early policies demonstrate an obvious bias toward export crops. In the improvement approach concentration was almost entirely on those cash crops that had become traditional - cotton coffee, and so on. In the settlement schemes' emphasis was on those crops that needed greater technical supervision, especially tobacco, with greater official control of what was to be cultivated totally planned by government agencies appointed for the purpose. With hindsight, it can be seen that as a result of both approaches' this was the beginning of a de-emphasis on the production of foodstuffs, and the increasing attention devoted to export crops leading to Tanzania becoming a food importing country. Grain imports have been increasing over the years currently and stand at about half-a-million tons per year.

Furthermore, the basic orientation of 'development' was resettlement of the peasants into new, larger villages, as it was considered that only 'villagization' could, in the long rum result achieve progress. I would argue, however, that the substance of 'villagization' is control, Tanzania's population density is relatively low. According to the 1978 census, there are 2.82 hectares per capita in the country - and for the rural economically capable population alone there is an average of 7.27 hectares per capita of 16.97 hectares per household. Density from region to region varies, but the vast majority of people live in areas with relatively low density: 30% with less than 15 persons per square kilometre, and half the entire population in areas with less than 20 persons per square kilometre. This is not to say that there is no pressure on the land as, despite the relatively vast landmass only a small proportion is habitable, with, at present, the entire smallholder cultivation occupying only 5% (495,0332 kilometres, out of a total of 883.987).

This means that the peasantry is concentrated in small pockets but has considerable leeway for manoeuvre - they can and do move a great deal, opening up uninhabited areas for cultivation. During the colonial period many rural areas continued to use the shifting method of cultivation despite attempts to stamp it out. Both colonial and post-colonial governments have emphasized containing the peasantry in official settlements in order to enforce agricultural policies.

Thus, the first phase in the formulation of rural development policies in Tanzania was a logical continuation of the colonial rural policies. By assembling the peasantry into sufficiently large settlements to facilitate government supervision and control, by greater involvement in the cash economy and greater dependence on the foreign market, for their products and for their inputs. Tanzanian rural dwellers became part and parcel of the worldwide economic system.

Social consequences of rural policies

The initial manifestation of this external integration was the growth of social differentiation in the rural areas. The 'transformation' approach was explicitly intended to give birth to a landed class with vested interests in the employment of labour. But, ultimately, even the 'improvement' approach would inevitably bring about class differentiation in the rural areas by its emphasis on the 'progressive' farmer in the provision of extension services. In other words, the end result of this rural development policy was the formation of classes that would become the social basis of imperialism.

By 1966, however, it became clear that the 'improvement' approach was not producing substantial results. Although the area under cash crops production tended to increase over the years, output continued to fluctuate more as a result of climatic conditions and prices than as a result of the extension services provided by government agencies. As to the 'transformation' approach, government soon realized it was incurring enormous expense to establish and run the settlement schemes whose production continued to be minimal. It emerged that the resettled peasants tended to see themselves as government employees rather than independent farmers receiving government technical assistance. But this was by no means a matter of mere appearance, in fact there was a real change in social relations. A peasant on his own farm had control over resources- land, tools, seeds, and so on - but under the scheme, all these resources were controlled by the government agencies which had planned all production activities and called only on the peasant's labour. Furthermore, on their own farms the peasants decided on the disposal of the harvest, but under the scheme officials disposed of the harvest and paid the settler peasant whatever remained after deducting costs for all inputs (for example, chemicals, seeds, social infrastructure).

The participants in the settlements were more or less semi-workers. Not surprisingly, some often resorted to withdrawal of labour-power as a form of protest. Peasants who considered themselves underpaid often left the settlement; such protests usually forced some changes in the amount deducted prior to paying the workers. Some participants in the scheme were successful: employing labour to a greater and greater extent and thus becoming small rural capitalists dependent on, at least, seasonal labour. (Recently this group has tended to branch out into trade and come to dominate the less creditable face of business in the rural areas.) The specific relationship of the domestic to the external economy, however, militated against any but minimal discernible 'rural development'. Little could be expected from exporting raw materials from an agriculture essentially dependent on the hand-hoe.

In general, then, initial attempts to radically change the rural scene in Tanzania largely failed. In the 1960s agricultural output did register some growth, but this, as we have seen, could hardly be ascribed to the specific policies or programmes then pursued. Further, it must be noted, that as a result of many changes in the country as a whole, policy changes were becoming inevitable towards the end of the 1960s.

At independence, the reins of government were largely in the hands of the petit bourgeoisie: the intelligentsia, traders, bureaucrats, and rich peasants. The aftermath of independence saw ever increasing struggles between these elements and the predominantly Asian commercial bourgeoisie that controlled the economy at the local level. Steps taken by the petit bourgeoisie soon after independence included replacing private buyers of agricultural produce by government controlled agencies and co-operative organizations, launching of government trading institutions, and suchlike. The culmination of these endeavours came in 1967 with the proclamation of the Arusha Declaration, which led to the nationalization of all 'commanding heights' of the economy. By the end of the decade one could correctly refer to the existence of a state bourgeoisie in Tanzania - a class which, by virtue of its position in the state, controlled the major means of production in the country. Obviously, however, due to the nature of the economy itself and its relation to the world capitalist system, this bourgeoisie was, and is, a dependent bourgeoisie.

In the rural areas, the state bourgeoisie's efforts to consolidate its position in the economy began, as we have seen, with taking over the middleman's role: the purchase and sale of agricultural produce. But to attain full control of the agricultural sector required taking over at the level of production. Thus, by the end of the 1960s, with the demise of the 'improvement' and 'transformation' approaches, new strategies had to be evolved: the policies of 'state farms' and 'ujamaa villages'. State farms, due to lack of resources, were inevitably limited: ujamaa villages conceived of as agricultural producers' co-operative institutions. Government did, however, have a considerable role in these apparently independent institutions: initiating the villages, planning and executing activities, and so on, were ail to be under the direction of government officials seconded to the villages.

At the time, ujamaa villages' policy appeared quite novel and a great deal of resources were made available to implement the policy. The political campaign for setting up this programme was more intense than any previous exercise for the rural areas and, in the late 1960s, a substantial number of ujamaa villages were launched in each region. Both party and government machinery were resolutely mobilized towards campaigning for 'ulamaa', and the President himself frequently spent weeks in villages working, directing and advising. By 1973, according to official figures, more than 5.000 ujamaa villages had been established throughout the country, with some two million people.

Failure of villagization projects

Despite considerable enthusiasm for this policy, after some five years there were few convincing signs of a rapid breakthrough in the rural areas as a result of the ujamaa villages. Some showed signs of economic growth and expansion, but others, completely mismanaged, would clearly collapse. Furthermore, the ujamaa sector constituted only a small proportion of total rural economy, and there was little indication that in time this would change, since, although more new villages were started, a considerable number of the old ones died. The organization, leadership and degree of communality in the villages varied a great deal; and in some cases they were merely front organizations for kulak operations.

In themselves, co-operatives cannot guarantee rapid socio-economic development in the rural areas. Unless they are part of a larger strategy of both rural transformation and industrialization, producer co-operatives in undeveloped countries simply become another instrument for continued imperialist domination of the country. Thus by 1972-73 interest in the ujamaa programme began to waver, not only among the people but in official circles too. The earlier policy of 'improvement' and 'transformation' was officially withdrawn in 1966, but the ujamaa villages policy is still officially operative. Yet, since 1973, emphasis has radically changed from communal production to village settlement. In 1973 the Tanzania government launched the largest and most ambitious programme for rural mobilization ever undertaken in the country, and its impact has been greater and more far-reaching than any other previous programme.

The villagization programme was aimed at resettling the entire rural population into large, planned centres by replacing the traditional peasant households (frequently shifting cultivation from area to area to balance resources and requirements) with fairly large settlements each comprising at least some 250 families. Between 1973 and 1975 as many as nine million rural inhabitants were shifted and by 1976 it was declared that practically all rural Tanzanians were living in these new 'development' villages.

In 1970, 531,000 Tanzanians, less than 5 per cent of the mainland population, were living in 1956 villages. These communities had an average occupancy of 271 people. By 1974, following the persuasion and inducement campaigns and after several local operations, the villagised population had grown to about 2.028,000 - 14 per cent of the population - living in 5,628 settlements with an average membership of about 360. After the first full year of compulsion, approximately 9,150.000 people' or about 60 per cent of the mainland population' were living in 6.384 villages with an average occupancy of about I.433. At the conclusion of Operation Tanzania in 1977 an estimated 79 percent of the 1978 mainland population and 90 percent of all rural dwellers - more than 13 million people- were living in 7.300 villages with an approximate average membership of 1,849.

The government explained that the villagization programme's main objective was to enable the rural population to be provided with essential social services: arguing that only by gathering the people into large settlements would it be possible to provide schools, dispensaries and water facilities for all.

The way the programme was implemented left a lot to be desired. In some cases, violence was used, in others the settlement sites chosen were unsuitable, or the planning process was deficient, or too many people were settled in one village. Above all, the whole exercise was carried out too hastily. In 1973 there were 5.628 villages with a total population of 2.028.164, by 1976 the number of villages totalled 7,684 with a total population of 13,087,220.

All these factors brought about widespread resentment among the rural population, and sometimes open opposition to the party and government. Millions of people had been resettled old homes were destroyed and new ones built, people accustomed to living in isolated homesteads now found themselves in mini-towns with, in many cases, closely built houses in straight lines. Overall, tremendous changes had occurred in the rural areas: whether these changes were for the better is questionable.

The significant factor in this programme, however, is its class character. Villagization marked the apex of the bourgeoisie's efforts to put rural production under its control. If the 'commanding heights' of the economy had been 'won' by the end of the 1960s, clearly smallholder production, in which almost 90% of the population participated, had to be tackled. But this could not be done effectively through nationalization measures. Resettlement in chosen localities with government officials to oversee production processes was the logical strategy to be adopted. Villagization can therefore be seen as the culmination of the colonialist efforts to restructure rural economic life in order to facilitate exploitation and domination of the rural masses by international capitalism. The nature of petty commodity production renders it resistant to domination, and thus resistant to exploitation of the producers; only the existence of centralized institutions that directly control the peasants can achieve those objectives. Attempts to create settlement schemes during the colonial era and the early days of independence aimed to create such institutional structures, because those participating in the schemes would be controlled directly by government agencies and yet still remain outside wage employment. In this way, capitalism, in this particular context of under-development, exerts its domination over petty commodity production.

The 'tobacco schemes', perhaps an extreme form of state control over the peasantry, exemplify the general trends. Because numerous technicalities are involved in the proper husbandry of tobacco, officials both of government and the tobacco industry make all, even the most minor decisions; the villagers' role strikingly resembles that of a worker. Officialdom decides how much land should be under tobacco, when and how to plant, weed, harvest and cure the leaf; supplies seeds, fertilizers, and insecticides, grades and, of course, markets the tobacco. The villagers provide only the labour power. Finally, officialdom decides what proportion of the turnover should be paid back to the peasant. Obviously, the largest proportions go to those who supplied the technical inputs, the administrative services, and those who marketed the crop. The villager, with virtually no control over the production process or the product of his labour, is inevitably the loser.

In the 1970s, apart from the villagization drive itself. Tanzania introduced a number of other fundamental changes to existing rural institutions. Almost all the local institutions with grass-root level participation were overhauled and new bureaucratic institutions, with direct central control, established in their place. In 1972, in accordance with an American consultancy firm's recommendations, district and town councils were abolished and central administration was devolved into the regions and districts to assume all the roles formerly played by the local government bodies. Until then these councils were directly elective with a degree of autonomy from central government. With the 'centralization' measures all powers were transferred to the central government bureaucracy, which was grossly expanded for the purpose.

In 1975, the marketing co-operative movement - then one of the most advanced in Africa - was demolished. Peasants had marketed their crops to co-operative organizations which were answerable to their members - the peasants themselves. The crops were then marketed to the appropriate government agencies which had monopoly in the export of agricultural produce. With the abolition of co-operative societies, government agencies were empowered to buy produce directly from the peasant, but the peasant is in no way involved in the activities of these agencies. Consequently the peasants have begun to suffer from yet another form of exploitation: non-payment for crops collected. For various reasons almost all government agencies are today unable to pay cash for peasant produce and instead offer promissory notes. Actual payment is very much delayed and in some cases, due to mismanagement, the peasant is either not paid at all or paid only in part.

The process of integration and control of the peasantry has finally been accomplished. In the final analysis this control and domination is most advantageous to the international division of labour characteristic of world capitalism: it ensures that peasants cannot resort to their traditional tactic of withdrawing from market forces to pursue subsistence agriculture.

These changes have not only firmly integrated the peasantry into the world market but have intensified its exploitation. Prices of primary products from underdeveloped countries bear no relation to their values: the socially necessary labour time spent on their production. Multinational companies continue to amass huge profits from the trade of raw materials from underdeveloped countries. Within the country, however, a greater and greater proportion of the peasant produce is appropriated by the state bourgeoisie. Indeed, the abolition of local government and co-operative institutions was objectively a means for ensuring this exploitation.

For example, the state has throughout paid the peasant only about 40% of its receipts from the sale of cotton, and despite occasional improvements in cotton prices on the world market, the proportion finally reaching the cotton cultivator has tended to decline.

In Tanzania, maize (the staple food) and other grains are purchased from the producers by the National Milling Corporation (NMC) - a state institution. It stores and processes the grain and sells the flour to consumers via wholesalers and retailers. The state, acting as middleman, siphons off most of what is produced and the producer is paid only about one-third of the ultimate consumer price.

The relation between the state bourgeoisie and the peasantry is one of exploitation facilitated by the existence of institutional structures that regulate the activities of the peasantry and its production: villagization has created such structures. It would, of course, be misleading to imply that in these developments the state has always had the upper hand: there has been intense opposition on the part of the peasantry. We noted earlier that peasants constantly resorted to simply leaving establishment settlements, to sabotaging official regulations and so on, and what took place during the colonial period has undoubtedly continued although in ever changing forms. It is well-known that, for example, in coffee growing regions peasants have uprooted coffee trees to plant food crops, have stopped weeding cashew-nut growing areas and instead have burnt the trees, and in most areas have been selling food crops on the black market.

A clear indication of peasant resistance is that the rural economy has been steadily declining over the years. Production of both export and food crops has at best stagnated and at worst declined absolutely. There was a small but gradual increase in the early 1970s, but production of the major export crops (cotton, coffee, sisal, tea, cashew-nuts, pyrethrum, and tobacco) has been on the decline since the villagization measures of the mid 1970s. Sisal and pyrethrum have shown the sharpest decline but even crops such as coffee and cotton have generally tended to decline. As a result of this downward trend institutional changes have had to be made, and in 1984 both local government and co-operative organizations were to be reintroduced.

Food crops have fared no better- particularly those marketed through the official system. Purchases of the main food crops have been on the decline ever since 'villagization': for example. 223,000 tons of maize for 1978-79 decreased to 105,000 tons in 1980-81; rice from 52,000 to 5.000 tons: and millet and sorghum from 40,000 and 58.000 tons respectively to nil in both cases for the same years. The result has, of course, been the now annual food crises in the urban as well as in some rural areas. In turn food imports have become essential every year.

There may be many reasons for this general decline of agricultural output, but in my opinion a kind of go-slow among the peasants is probably the key factor. Professor Mascarenhas, who praised the villagization programme as one of 'the most outstanding indigenous rural development policies in African cannot but agree that 'the present agricultural picture is one of a peaceful revolt, an unwillingness to produce, or to become part of the wider system. There has been a turning back to the small farm/small plot for survival-level farming'.

At the social and political levels, institutional changes in the rural areas together with economic malaise have contributed significantly to instability in those areas. In many regions social unrest is a permanent feature, replacing the stability and social cohesion based for so long on traditional relations.


I have argued that neo-colonial situations entail the continuation of colonial policies, and that such policies represent an attempt to incorporate the peasantry firmly into the ambit of world capitalism. In countries such as Tanzania, where feudalism in any real sense has never existed, and where uninhabited land is still largely abundant the process of integrating the peasants into the world market is long and arduous.

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