Nyerere Outlines Socialist Policy in the Arusha Declaration Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

In his Arusha Declaration, Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere articulated a socialist state based on self-reliance, equality, and national economic development and industrialization using Tanzania’s own resources. Although Nyerere’s African socialism, which also included a rural community development program called ujamaa, ultimately failed, Tanzania’s people became united and thus avoided the ethnic divisions and other disasters that plagued the neighboring regions of the African continent.

Summary of Event

On January 29, 1967, the United Republic of Tanzania (formerly Tanganyika and Zanzibar), independent of British trusteeship since December 9, 1961, proclaimed its commitment to socialism and self-reliance enshrined in the Arusha Declaration (Azimio la Arusha). The declaration officially was published on February 5. The author of this document, Julius Nyerere, was the founder of the Tanganyika African National Union []Tanganyika African National Union (TANU), the nationalist political organization of colonial Tanganyika (1954), and the first president of independent Tanzania. Nyerere envisioned socialism more as an attitude of mind than a well-defined political system, and it involved equality but also self-reliance on the part of every citizen. Socialism Economic systems;socialism Arusha Declaration (1967) Tanzania;socialism Economic policy;Tanzania Postcolonialism;Tanzania [kw]Nyerere Outlines Socialist Policy in the Arusha Declaration (Feb. 5, 1967) [kw]Socialist Policy in the Arusha Declaration, Nyerere Outlines (Feb. 5, 1967) [kw]Declaration, Nyerere Outlines Socialist Policy in the Arusha (Feb. 5, 1967) Socialism Economic systems;socialism Arusha Declaration (1967) Tanzania;socialism Economic policy;Tanzania Postcolonialism;Tanzania [g]Africa;Feb. 5, 1967: Nyerere Outlines Socialist Policy in the Arusha Declaration[09170] [g]Tanzania;Feb. 5, 1967: Nyerere Outlines Socialist Policy in the Arusha Declaration[09170] [c]Social issues and reform;Feb. 5, 1967: Nyerere Outlines Socialist Policy in the Arusha Declaration[09170] [c]Government and politics;Feb. 5, 1967: Nyerere Outlines Socialist Policy in the Arusha Declaration[09170] [c]Political science;Feb. 5, 1967: Nyerere Outlines Socialist Policy in the Arusha Declaration[09170] [c]Economics;Feb. 5, 1967: Nyerere Outlines Socialist Policy in the Arusha Declaration[09170] [c]Agriculture;Feb. 5, 1967: Nyerere Outlines Socialist Policy in the Arusha Declaration[09170] Nyerere, Julius

Two years before independence, Nyerere had preached the significance of uhuru na kazi (freedom and work). After uhuru was reached in 1961, Nyerere resigned as the prime minister of independent Tanganyika in January, 1962, and began a massive drive for promoting kazi, which was redefined as “self-reliance.” As early as 1959 the World Bank had produced a report on the region’s development problems and potentials. One of its major recommendations was to modernize Modernization Tanganyika’s traditional farming methods by making more productive use of the land without depleting its fertility and thereby encouraging capital investment in agriculture. Acting on this recommendation, Nyerere embarked on a village settlement program in 1962, but the program failed dismally. In 1964, he appointed the Village Settlement Commission, Village Settlement Commission, Tanzanian which launched its Five-Year Plan (1964-1969) to revamp and carry out the failed venture of 1962. The commission succeeded in setting up five settlements, but, reportedly, the peasants who settled on the schemes had failed to become responsible and self-reliant.

The government, however, did not give up. President Nyerere spent the beginning months of 1967 touring rural Tanzania (Tanganyika and Zanzibar had united in 1964 to form Tanzania). By this time, the five-year-plan period was almost half over. Recurrent expenditures had gone up at an annual rate of 13 percent—well in excess of the 6 percent planned rate—while investment proceeded at 65 percent of the planned rate. Government corporations made investment only one-third of the planned level. Between 1962 and 1966, employment declined and per capita purchasing power in the rural areas did not register even a 5 percent rise above the pre-independence level. Even though Tanzania’s major crop sisal showed a declining output, cotton and coffee production maintained a steady growth.

Meanwhile, in October, 1966, the government had made it obligatory for graduating university students to enter national service for two years in exchange for their government scholarships. This measure provoked protests from the students, who felt the emoluments attached to the service inadequate; the government retaliated by expelling them from the university. Fearing the growth of a new educated and ambitious bourgeoisie, the president implemented a drastic cut in the salaries and perquisites of all government employees, including the president himself.

Independent Tanzania’s problems as perceived by Nyerere were those of a postcolonial society that had spawned a class of Western-educated bureaucratic elites. As early as 1963, Nyerere had publicly declared his commitment to “a philosophy of African socialism,” predicated on “the principle of human equality,” and he was determined “to prevent the growth of a class structure” in Tanzania. However, his dilemma until 1966 was that the educated elites, whose oligarchic tendencies he sought to control, were also the means for promoting equality in society. A solution to this predicament was his articulation of a socialist ideology in the TANU with a view to providing a blueprint for his projected Tanzanian polity. This blueprint became the Arusha Declaration of 1967.

This five-part document proclaimed Tanzania a socialist state, providing equal rights and opportunities to its citizens, state ownership and control of the means of production, and good leadership. The declaration highlighted its most important agenda in its third part, titled “The Policy of Self-Reliance,” which enjoined Tanzanian peoples to harness their energies and efforts to use the nation’s own resources for development. It was a call for self-respect and a new paradigm of development without foreign aid and industrialization. The novelty of this paradigm consisted in its recognition of the history, culture, and geography of Tanzania.

The Arusha Declaration was followed in March, 1967, by a program of self-help education based solely on Nyerere’s directive,“Education for Self-Reliance.” "Education for Self-Reliance" (Nyerere)[Education for Self Reliance] This program was to help the majority of the population complete primary education and enter a farming career. Kiswahili was to be the medium of instruction in rural schools, each of which was to have a farm.

Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere.

(Library of Congress)

Nyerere’s other major policy declaration, “Socialism and Rural Development,” "Socialism and Rural Development" (Nyerere)[Socialism and Rural Development] was issued in September of 1967. His vision of socialism was predicated on the African concept of familyhood or extended family, a concept represented by the Kiswahili word ujamaa Ujamaa and aimed at fostering self-help by following three principal tenets: recognition of mutual involvement, communal ownership of property, and a personal commitment to work. Though never explicitly mentioned in the text of the Arusha Declaration, ujamaa was launched by organizing ideal rural communities having equal access to education and medical facilities for the inhabitants to practice collective farming on the Chinese model. Ujamaa was intended to preempt the formation of a class system (employers and workers) by developing “rural economic and social communities where people live together and work together for the good of all.” This collectivization program involved nearly ten million Tanzanians.

Unfortunately, Nyerere’s sincere and well-intentioned socialist project ran into trouble in the late 1970’s, and the Tanzanian economy was in shambles. The goal of attaining self-reliance was never realized, and the country continued to depend on foreign aid. The ujamaa villages turned out to be instruments of state control of agriculture, the benefits of which went into the pockets of the bureaucrats. Consequently, production suffered and numerous peasants (the so-called uncaptured peasantry) found ways and means to abandon their village communes and set up their own subsistence-farming practices. The economic crisis worsened with the rapid decline in exports and the country’s inability to import the basic consumer goods. By 1977-1978, the collectivization program had come to an end.

Unable to meet its debt obligations, the government of Tanzania was forced to abandon its socialist policies at the insistence of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. This situation was exacerbated by the global oil crisis of the early part of the decade and by Tanzania’s declaration of war in 1978 against neighboring Uganda, then under the violent dictatorial regime of Idi Amin. Though Tanzania won in April, 1979, it was a Pyrrhic victory, as the country’s military expenses stood at the rate of U.S. $1 million per diem for more than twelve months. In his farewell speech on November 5, 1985, the day he resigned, President Nyerere acknowledged the shortcomings of his ujamaa policies.


Doubtless the ujamaa program proved to be more utopian than utilitarian. Nevertheless, it resulted in raising the country’s health and education standards. Also, Nyerere’s judicious implementation of Kiswahili as Tanzania’s national language and his one-party state (Chama cha Mapinduzi, formed in 1977 by merging TANU with the Afro-Shirazi Party of Zanzibar) went far in unifying his country and thus avoiding ethnic divisions and disasters that plagued the neighboring regions of the continent. Socialism Economic systems;socialism Arusha Declaration (1967) Tanzania;socialism Economic policy;Tanzania Postcolonialism;Tanzania

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ahluwalia, Pal, and Abebe Zegeye. “Multiparty Democracy in Tanzania: Crises in the Union.” African Security Review 10, no. 3 (2001). A competent critique of Nyerere’s socialist experiment and of Tanzanian government in the post-Nyerere era.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cliffe, Lionel. “The Arusha Declaration: Challenge to Tanzanians.” East African Journal (March, 1967). A contemporary analysis and prognosis.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hydén, Göran. Beyond Ujamaa in Tanzania: Underdevelopment and Uncaptured Peasantry. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980. A balanced critique of Tanzanian socialism by a noted American political scientist.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">McDonald, David A., and Eunice Njeri Sahle, eds. The Legacies of Julius Nyerere: Influences on Development Discourse and Practice in Africa. Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press, 2002. Explores Nyerere’s work in the context of development issues in Africa.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Nyerere, Julius K. Freedom and Socialism/Uhuru na Ujamaa: A Selection from Writings and Speeches, 1965-1967. New York: Oxford University Press, 1968. A fairly comprehensive collection of Nyerere’s major policy papers, including the Arusha Declaration.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. Ujamaa: Essays on Socialism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1968. Written in lucid English. An important primary document.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Pratt, Cranford. The Critical Phase in Tanzania, 1945-1968: Nyerere and the Emergence of a Social Strategy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1976. Though somewhat dated, this study remains an authoritative assessment of the socialist regime of Julius Nyerere by an expert possessing firsthand knowledge of the president and Tanzania.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sadlier, Ronald. Tanzania: Journey to Republic. London: Radcliffe Press, 1999. A personal assessment of Nyerere’s personal life and his public life as a statesman by an erstwhile colonial official, who knew the president intimately.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sil, Narasingha P. “Rhetoric and Reality of Socialism in the Third World: A Review of African Experience.” Africa Quarterly 27, nos. 1-2 (1987). Analyzes the historical and cultural context for the reception of a socialist model of development in postcolonial Africa.

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Categories: History