Tanzania in the 1960s: A hopeful decade

Askari Monument in Dar es Salaam. PHOTO | FILE


  • Tanzania of the 1960s was one filled with grand visions and ideas. This was exemplified by what Mwalimu Julius Nyerere framed as the task for the new government: “The question before the new nation, therefore, was not whether to change, but what kind of change it would have.

In a few weeks’ time, it will be sixty one years since Tanganyika gained her political independence. The celebrations to mark the event over the years have come to be something of a ritual, with little to no creativity and minor variations from time to time. Regardless, they do very little to connect new generations with the past they never experienced or remind the decreasing number of those who lived through history, about their experiences.

What should one make of the 1960s Tanzania?

By most accounts, they were dizzying times with many giddy moments to a young country. The decade dawned with self-rule, and from there independence was fast-tracked. In a year since independence, the country became a republic. Euphoria swept through the country.

To the country’s west were troubled lands. The vast land that was Congo-Kinshasa (presently D.R Congo), was going through political turbulence which ended up with the charismatic prime minister in Patrice Lumumba being deposed by Mobutu Sese Seko whose regime perpetuated the decline and fragmentation of the country and fought many wars to keep it from breaking up. Rwanda and Burundi achieved independence even as the domestic political scene became increasingly poisoned by ethnic politics which led to too much bloodshed right from the outset.

Up north, Kenya which achieved her independence after a bloody struggle for independence was chained by legacy of colonialism through ethnic divisions. Milton Obote’s Uganda was trying her hand at a variation of African socialism as the country struggled with providing an answer to the Buganda question. To the east, the Isles of Zanzibar had achieved independence in the early 1960s but a revolution a few weeks later led to a political Union with Tanganyika, leaving behind a disputed legacy about its heroes and villains; its main characters and supporting ones.

Down south, only Mozambique was kept waiting through the sixties with war over independence waging as Zambia and Malawi achieved political independence.

Despite the many differences and different paths these countries picked at independence, some things were common: the mistake of introducing one-party states in the name of unity and the emergence of individual, personalised rule throughout the region.

Other than that, Tanganyika and later Tanzania of the 1960s had that wonderful smell which covers the villages in the morning. The party that delivered political independence had succeeded in relatively uniting the people, a mutiny in the army led to fundamental reforms which did away with the army inherited from the colonial government. Some historians have argued that the early sixties built the foundation for a peaceful nation.

The country’s staunch Pan-Africanist foreign policy and its unwavering supporting for liberation movements especially in southern Africa turned Dar es Salaam as the place to be for any bonafide pan-Africanist. The country was to pay a heavy price for this principled approach including being bombed to the south and sending its sons to other lands where they dedicated their sweat, blood and lives. There was even an attempt at regional integration.

The mid sixties saw young people, especially at the largest university become disillusioned with the direction the country was taking, and to show their dissatisfaction, they had increasingly become militant. The Arusha Declaration, which put the country on the path of African socialism through its focus on Ujamaa na Kujitegemea was part of the response to such political and social discontents where critics had argued that classes were developing in the country. For the remainder of the sixties, the efforts to achieve an egalitarian society through this policy were voluntary, the ruling party and its leaders were patient, trusting that the rest of the country will see the realization of that lofty vision on their own with guidance from the party and the government.

In other words, Tanzania of the 1960s was one filled with grand visions and ideas. This was exemplified by what Mwalimu Julius Nyerere framed as the task for the new government: “The question before the new nation, therefore, was not whether to change, but what kind of change it would have. The nation had to decide whether this change was to be deliberately chosen and implemented, or was to be merely a side effect of development elsewhere. In other words, one of the first issues which the newly independent people, through their Government, had to settle, was whether to use their acquired decision-making power to initiate, lead and control changes in the society. The alternative was to remain fairly passive while the society absorbed changes initiated from outside, like a sponge absorbing water.”

With all its troubles and challenges through the sixties, Tanzania was living the ‘African dream’ of many newly minted independent countries. The many countries which had gained political independence during the ‘Year of Africa’ went on to witness such horrors before the sixties were out; some have remained at war with themselves and their neighbours ever since.

For Tanzania, the sixties were the most hopeful years the country has ever seen. The seventies would never be so kind.