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  • Top-Down Democratization in Tanzania
  • Göran Hydén (bio)

A little over 30 years ago, Julius K. Nyerere, Tanzania’s first president, issued his “Arusha Declaration,” launching an experiment with an African form of socialism that he called ujamaa. The country underwent a major political and economic reorientation, and for many people—inspired by Nyerere’s eloquence and his personal incorruptibility—Tanzania came to serve as a model of development for African and Third World countries. Only when the utter economic failure of the country’s socialist experiment became too evident to deny did the Tanzanian model lose its luster.

Today the United Republic of Tanzania (formed when Tanganyika united with the islands of Zanzibar in 1964) has begun to attract attention from another source—those who are looking for investment opportunities. This year, the Washington-based international financial institutions have declared Tanzania to be the best macroeconomic performer in Africa, based on such indicators as economic growth, inflation, and public expenditures. After South Africa and Ghana, Tanzania is Africa’s third-largest gold producer. The mining of diamonds and precious stones is another important source of foreign-exchange earnings. Great un-tapped opportunities for development also exist in the natural gas and tourism sectors.

At the same time, equally significant developments are occurring in the political sphere in Tanzania. With a democratic transition that has progressed steadily for almost ten years, Tanzania has emerged as a [End Page 142] country to watch in Africa. While it has not reached the level of democratization that now exists in South Africa, it is clearly one of the better performers in Africa with respect to democratic governance. If this achievement is not generally well known, that is primarily because good news does not travel very far in the international media. Since Tanzania’s transition to democracy has been neither rapid nor dramatic, few observers have had the patience to record it. Yet as someone who has followed political developments in eastern and southern Africa—and Tanzania in particular—since the early 1960s, I believe that the time has come to draw attention to the political transition in that country.

“Creeping Democratization”

Two aspects of Tanzania’s democratic transition stand out as especially significant in the African context. The first is the great distance that the country has had to traverse in its efforts toward becoming a liberal democratic society. The second is that Tanzania has managed to make this progress without the ruling Revolutionary Party of Tanzania (Chama cha Mapinduzi, or CCM) losing power to the opposition.

Because Tanzania had been more successful than other African countries in institutionalizing a socialist economic order bolstered by a constitutionally embedded one-party system, undoing the state monopoly in economic and political affairs has been especially difficult. Tanzania’s success in doing so is especially remarkable because: 1) Tanzania was one of the last countries (in 1986) to accept the structural adjustment and financial stabilization measures recommended by the Bretton Woods institutions; and 2) the country has achieved this economic and political transformation without the upheavals that have been associated with democratic transitions elsewhere in Africa, Eastern Europe, and the former Soviet Union.

For Nyerere and his followers in the 1970s, who believed that socialism was about to defeat capitalism as a world economic system, the only thing that counted was the transition to socialism. Banks were nationalized and the means of production socialized. Even land was placed under state ownership. In rural areas, over five million farmers (about a quarter of the population at the time) were forcibly resettled into communes known as “ujamaa villages.”

These economic reforms were accompanied by a similar overhaul at the political level. Nyerere’s Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) had gone unopposed in the preindependence elections in 1960. This de facto one-party system was later enshrined in the constitution in 1965. Before the socialist policies were introduced in 1967, however, the system was much more open and competitive. In each constituency [End Page 143] there was competition among different candidates, all of whom appeared on the TANU platform. The first postindependence elections in 1965 were exciting, with a number of new leaders defeating veterans of the...