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Socialist Aspirations and Inspirations

D 20 janvier 2015     H 05:05     A     C 0 messages

Many socialists feel dismayed to see Africa regarded as simply a place of war, disease and hunger, a sick entity deserving pity and sustenance and all help possible. On the surface the continent may seem so but a socialists looks deeper beyond outwardly appearances. Socialists are frustrated by having Africa viewed as squalid and inept, a basket case for which rock music celebrities feel compelled to raise funds. The flourishing inhabitants of the continent are more attuned to contemporary norms and more advanced and sophisticated than has been presented.

Ralph Ibbott wrote “Ujamaa : The Hidden Story of Tanzania’s Socialist Villages”.

Julius Nyerere, the leader of Tanzania’s independence movement had seen how a welfare state could protect people from some of the effects of capitalism. He told Tanzanians that they had to reject exploitation of the many by the few. He proposed ujamaa : African socialism. In the village, all worked and all benefited. Decisions were made by consensus. He had “grown up in tribal socialism”. Although traditional society was generally presumed to be backward, Nyerere saw its social and economic possibilities for overcoming backwardness. Rural people, 96% of the population, could adapt the communalism they already knew to modern needs and aspirations. It was socialism without money, rooted in the native soil ; a strategy for a poor country determined to pull itself out of poverty and remain sovereign. People working communally ­ without bureaucratic interference, would themselves develop while solving problems.

In Litowa, the first ujamaa village they ­created, organising production, distribution, housing, health and education. Others came to join and were encouraged to form new villages. The Ruvuma Development Association was formed, with its Social and Economic Revolutionary Army, to help new villages to establish themselves. By 1969, the association had 17 villages. Several times a week the villagers had communal meals at which they made decisions. The women were encouraged to speak – a slow process – and their interests were considered. Housework and childcare counted as part of the village workday. Piped water ended fetching and carrying by women and children. Spare cash from the sale of surplus crops was divided equally among all, including to elderly and disabled people, who contributed by scaring wild animals from “sharing” food crops, or working in childcare facilities. Child mortality plummeted. Pupils at the self-governing Litowa school came from all the villages, boarding at Litowa during the terms. They were trained to develop their exciting, caring rural society. Domestic violence almost disappeared and women’s status was rising.

Ujamaa was about to mushroom into a mass movement. By 1963 about a 1000 socialist villages had been set up with very little government support. Many failed but in Ruvuma in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania 17 such settlements, making up about 500 households, prospered and became an enormous success. It was, to quote Ralph Ibbott :
“ an organisation completely built up by the people who were in it, who always made all decisions and controlled development”

They formed the Ruvuma Development Association (RDA) the organisation through which they could co-ordinate their labour, educate their children, sell their produce and develop their small scale industries. The RDA grew slowly by supporting existing villages and new settlements. Before a village was accepted it was made clear that the villagers should not expect to get rich overnight and membership would be deferred or refused if it there was uncertainty about a community`s commitment to co-operation. Villages belonging to the RDA became self-sufficient in food, improved the health of their residents, built a school, provided water supplies and set up village industries. They also created an outreach service called the Social and Economic Army (SERA), made up of experts in various fields who could provide support for member villages.

What went wrong ? It is important to stress that it did not fail despite the many practical difficulties and challenges that the people involved faced. It was killed off. The Ruvuma Development Association was destroyed by the greedy and ambitious new ruling elite. They hated the creativity of the people. Where was the power for them ? Regional Commissioners and most government officials could not accept a situation where the villagers were deciding the details of their own development. They could not sit down with and discuss with these village people as equals. In September 1969, it was announced that TANU – the ruling party – would run all Ujamaa villages and the RDA was declared a prohibited organisation. Their equipment was confiscated, the expatriate staff working with them left and the school was closed. Only one village managed to continue its communal activities and survives to this day.

Thus a great grass-roots development that might have changed the history of Tanzania and beyond tragically ended. Selma James of Women`s Global Strike at the King`s Cross Women`s Centre has presented it as an example of how it is possible for people to not only survive and dream of a better world when faced with the most challenging of circumstances but also manage to successfully create a thriving self-reliant community organisation, one that is even more relevant today as a model of development when we examine what our options are for the future in the face of unemployment, cuts in welfare and the looming threat of climate change.

However, Ralph Ibbott, a RDA technical adviser, continued the struggle in his own way. Ibbott, went to the United Kingdom and applied ujamaa principles as a community development worker in Greenock, one of Scotland’s most deprived areas. The tenants’ association and youth club persuaded the council to build a sports centre, which the youth ran. Much was accomplished by young people previously dismissed as troublemakers. Such communal effort can succeed anywhere if it is able to bypass or defeat those greedy for power and control.

[We may question the use of socialist...perhaps to be more accurate, the term socialistic should have been applied. - Socialist Banner]