Dodoma: The making of the nation’s capital (Part 1)

Sir George Kahama. PHOTO |COURTESY

What you need to know:

According to Sir George, in 1959, the issue resurfaced again at the Legislative Council and after a lengthy debate on the merits, it was agreed that Dodoma was ideal for the location of the capital.

Nearly five decades have passed since the idea of   making Dodoma the capital city of Tanzania was conceived. However,  the realisation of this dream took several decades.

Real progress of relocation of government activities was only realised during the fifth phase government (2015-2020) of the late President John Magufuli when state offices were finally moved to Dodoma.

The relocation started with an announcement by President Julius Nyerere in October 1973, the then ruling party, TANU (later CCM), unanimously decided to transfer the capital from Dar es Salaam to Dodoma.

 This was a historic decision; Tanzanians had decided to build their own capital city, a city that would reflect their own political aspirations.

 Dar es Salaam was chosen by the colonial powers to facilitate commerce. The development of the hinterland did not matter to the Europeans while they had Dar es Salaam as their capital and chief harbour.

However, to Tanzanians, the development of the whole country was their basic objective and the decision to transfer the capital was yet another demonstration of that firm commitment.

The main reason for the choice of Dodoma as the capital was because it was seen as a more economically viable alternative than attempting to reorganise and restructure Dar es Salaam.

It was also idealised as a way of diverting development away from continued concentration in a single coastal city that was seen as anathema to the government's goal of unity and development.

Reports say that by 1973, Dar es Salaam had almost reached the limit of expansion unless large sums were to be spent on reorganising and restructuring the city. There had been substantial industrial growth and a surge in the population especially due to rural urban migration.

 The original commercial life of Dar es Salaam had continued and the city had also become a focus for tourism, the scene of international conferences, and an academic centre as well.

In his memoirs titled ‘Sir George’ – A thematic History of Tanzania through His Fifty Years of Public service, which was published in 2010, Sir George Kahama narrates of how he was tasked with leading the nascent Capital Development Authority (CDA).

President Kikwete launches, Sir George Kahama's biography, looking on is President Mkapa, Sir George Kahama and the author Joseph Kulwa Kahama

The biography which was authored by his son Joseph Kulwa Kahama captures how the plan was conceived right from the German Colonial days until when the vote was cast in 1973 and the problems that it encountered.

The development of Dodoma as the capital of the United Republic of Tanzania can be seen by many as the greatest success of George Kahama’s career and to a certain extent, also as his greatest failure.

Though to some it was more of a fantasy, the idea of an inland capital for Tanzania was something that dates way back into the German colonial era.

Having chosen Dar es Salaam as the seat of the government in 1891 over Bagamoyo, the Germans later considered moving the capital to an inland location. 

The outbreak of the First World War made this need even more pressing forcing the colonial administration to move to Tabora.

According to Sir George, in 1959, the issue resurfaced again at the Legislative Council and after a lengthy debate on the merits, it was agreed that Dodoma was ideal for the location of the capital.

“The idea was, however, shelved due to the high costs of transferring all the government departments to a new location,” recollects Sir George.

In 1966, a motion was tabled in parliament by the President’s brother Joseph Nyerere suggesting a phased transfer of government to the new location.

Sir George expresses his doubts on the source of the motion, saying he believed the idea of a phased transfer had come from the president himself.

“It is inconceivable that the president would not have known of the suggestions that his brother made in the debate. Although it didn’t see much of day light, it was now clear that both the issue of the new capital and Dodoma as a favoured site would not disappear that easily,” he writes.

Six years later in 1972, the subject resurfaced when a suggestion was submitted that Tanganyika African national Union (Tanu) headquarters be transferred to Dodoma.

The proponents of the movement had three reasons to back their suggestion, first was the central location, security and the fact that Dodoma was one of the most backward areas in the country despite its good infrastructure.

They believed that the transfer of Tanu’s headquarters would boost Dodoma’s development by providing a substantial local market for food, goods and services.

The proposal, according to Sir George, was not an isolated one but part of an overall party strategy.

“Earlier that year government had invited three international companies to submit proposals for the location of a new capital and an initial plan for its creation,” recollects Sir George in a biography whose foreword was written by Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete.

In the corridors of power both in government and the ruling party Tanu there were signs that the time for the new capital had come.

“Although the debate was about the transfer of party headquarters to Dodoma, it was clear that it was a surrogate for the debate for the transfer of the capital since the party, government and the state were effectively one at the time.”

It was, therefore, not surprising that by the time issue was put to vote before Tanu members, it was evident that they were voting for the transfer of the capital and new location of the party headquarters.

As Tanu’s Chairman, President Nyerere’s role in directing the referendum was quite significant and as head of state, he kick started and approved the feasibility study on the move to Dodoma.

When the subject was put to vote, Tanu delegations of 18 regions voted in favour of the proposed move and three including Dar es Salaam voted against.

In October 1973, the decision was approved by the 16th biennial Party conference and with that the die was cast.

Even as highly elated were the party cadres that a decision had finally been made, President Nyerere cautioned that it would be wrong to take the decision to move the capital on short term and temporary grounds.

Speaking on radio on the day of the endorsement he said that although there would be temporarily high and short-term costs involved in moving to Dodoma, the new capital would be permanent.

The planning of the new capital adopted novel, modern and appropriate concepts to shape the city, starting with the garden city form of the 1976 master plan by Canadian firm PPAL to the ‘cities’ concept of 1988.

The government had envisaged that the transfer would take 10 years to complete, this was not to happen.

Quotes are all from Sir George’s biography which was published in 2010 (Next we look at the creation of the CDA)