This 1985 interview with Julius Nyerere, still calls for some food-for-thought and debate

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This 1985 interview with Julius Nyerere, still calls for some food-for-thought and debate

On his appointment as Chairman of the OAU, with his Presidential term drawing near to an end in Tanzania, Julius Nyerere spoke to New African’s Anver Versi. Here Africa’s greatest philosopher and theoretician gives his clear and frank views on such tricky subjects as the IMF, the OAU, Ujamaa, the food crisis, the Nkomati accord and much more.


NEW AFRICAN: What is the OAU doing about Africa’s food crisis, particularly Ethiopia’s crisis?

JULIUS NYERERE: The OAU can do very little. I am told there are 36 African countries with varying degrees of need for food. Tanzania is one of them. The needs of some of the countries, like Ethiopia and Chad, Mali and Mozambique are immense. They cannot be supplied from Africa. They can only be supplied from outside Africa.

This does not mean that Africa cannot do anything about it. What can be done by Africa ought to be done and I hope we are going to do it. We were able to make a modest contribution to Ethiopia – in fact we have established a fund. But whatever Africa can do will certainly not answer the immediate problem. People are dying and there is food in the world. I hope the international community has been sufficiently aroused to make this food available.

What is the long term solution?

To produce enough food; and most countries can produce sufficient food. Africa can produce enough for itself and more. When we have a shortage of food in Tanzania it is not because of lack of rain but because of primitive agriculture. For four years we have had food shortage even though we have had sufficient rain. If our farming had been sufficiently advanced, southern Tanzania would be producing enough food for the deficit areas and more.

This year, if I can give the peasants fertilisers and insecticides they will be able to produce all the food they need. But if I don’t then we shall have to import food next year.

What is your verdict on Ujamaa?

Our problem is that farming is primitive and backward. There are only two ways in which you can improve farming. If you are going to introduce modern methods and farm on a large scale, the peasants have to work collectively, they cannot afford modem methods of production individually. The farmer on his one hectare can stil. produce sufficient for himself but if you want more he has to do more than that. Farming has to be more advanced. And it can only be more advanced if it is organisec co-operatively.

Is Ujamaa a failure?

Have you been around?


Then go around.

Is there resistance to the Ujamaa policy within the country?

There is a belief in the world that Tanzania has collective farming. This is not true. But I have always believed that collectivization should be done voluntarily and is therefore a slow process. Actually, had we collectivised, we would not have had the problems we now face because all the villages that have collectivised are doing very well. We have not forced collectivization at all.

Are you satisfied with the state of the economy?

No I cannot be satisfied when we cannot feed ourselves. Our farming is backward and we must improve it to achieve, at the very least, self-sufficiency. How can I be satisfied with the economic situation when we cannot afford even the basics like medicines in our dispensaries?

What are your problems with the IMF?

Naturally, if we go to the IMF and say we want a loan from them, and for the past five years we have been wanting a loan from them, we don’t write down the conditions and ask them to sign; similarly they cannot write down the conditions and expect us to sign. What we expect is to negotiate and agree on conditions which we judge to be acceptable. For more than the past four years we have been struggling to try and agree but all the time the conditions they have put to us have proved unacceptable. But we are still negotiating. The IMF has been working for many years in our countries. They go out and make conditions and say “If you follow these examples your economy will improve”, but where is the example of an economy booming in the Third World because they have accepted the conditions of the IMF?


Do the Mexicans agree? No I don’t think so. When we say this, you think we blame the IMF. We are not blaming the IMF. It was established in 1944 to deal with the problems of developed countries. And they established the rules. Their rules are to do with the imbalance of trade between developed countries.But then we came in. And the IMF never sat down and said these rules were never intended for the poor world. They did not admit that it was not just a problem of trade, but one of development – a structural problem. They never changed the rules.

They come to us and say “Devalue, Mr Nyerere” and I say, “Supposing I devalue what will happen?”

“You will export more.” Export what?” More coffee? I do not have coffee lying around because the value of the Tanzania shilling is too high! This is utter nonsense.

But you have devalued all the same?

Of course, because I found good reason to devalue —but not the IMF reason that somehow I would increase exports. This proposition is simply not true and the IMF rules are not applicable. The rich countries know intellectually that these rules were never intended for the poor countries. They enow that. But they have discovered that the IMF is a very good instrument for controlling the economies of the Third World and so they maintain the rules. They never really meant the IMF to be an instrument of control —but they discovered it and are not going to change the rules.

Is it true that you refuse to make any changes in your economic policy, especially changes suggested by the IMF?

Every government has its own economic policy and there are changes going on all the time. Sometimes you increase subsidies, sometimes you remove them, a t times you raise wages, at other times you freeze them, we are doing this all the time.

But no responsible government will sign on the dotted line. Only very corrupt governments will do so because some of the money will go into private accounts in Switzerland. But a serious government in the Third World will ask serious questions before it signs.

I cannot simply sign and then have riots in the streets. We are a very poor country but we are also very strong politically. The IMF may be economic experts, I am the political expert in my country. I am not going to sign and then have the police of Tanzania turn against the people of the country – this has never happened here since we became independent.

There has been some criticism that your government interferes too much in the economy?

What government in the world does not influence the economy in one way or the other? Can you say that the Reagan Administration is so detached that its activities have no impact on the economy? The huge deficits that now pervade the economies of most of Western Europe are a government decision. Would you say that Mrs Thatcher’s policies do not affect the British economy?

In Tanzania we do a little more than they do but this is partly historical, partly ideological. When the British left, who was there to run the economy? Nobody!

We had to organise the industries and take control of the economy ourselves.

What IMF conditions do you particularly object to?

They say reduce the government deficit and I agree but there is a limit to how much I can raise taxes and cut expenditure.

They say liberalise imports and this I find rather unrealistic. How can we liberalise imports when we don’t have enough money to import essentials in the first place?

In 1977, when coffee prices were good and we had a surplus, they came and said, “These surpluses are embarrassing, liberalise your imports”. So we did and got into trouble. We are still in trouble.

And they say increase the bank rate because then the peasants will save more! I tell them this is ridiculous but they counter that it works in America so it must work in Tanzania. “When Reagan increases the bank rate, capital flows from Western Europe to America”, they tell me, “so if you increase the bank rate in Dar, money will flow in from the peasants.” This is stupid but the IMF cannot be stupid so we argue.

What is the answer?

One day it will dawn on the poor countries as it dawned on the workers of Europe. They will have to struggle. It will dawn on the poor countries that an instrument like the IMF has become the substitute for a colonial Empire. It is now an instrument for an economic empire — controlling their economies. And it will dawn upon the Third World Countries one day that they are not free. And when what happens they will begin to find the methods of struggling.

What do you think about the Nkomati accord?

For South Africa it has been absolutely wonderful. And the Americans think it is a tremendous example of the success of . . . what is that policy called? – Ah yes! “Constructive engagement”! They keep on saying how wonderful it is. We think it is a humiliation. We don’t want any more Nkomatis. It is the success of the South African policy of destabilising the frontline states and it is assisted in this by the USA. And it is proper that we should view it completely frankly. It is a defeat on our part. We understand why Mozambique had to look for some accomodation at Nkomati but they haven t even got the minimum they thought they could get out of it. But we understand why they did it, because there was a promise that South Africa might stop supporting the MNR and Mozambique decided they needed peace to start some development in their country. But they have not even got that. From the very beginning, South Africa never meant to honour that agreement because during the very negotiations the South Africans were actually sending in more armed men. They were breaking the agreement before they had signed it! Even after the agreement they continued sending people and are still doing so.

What is the future of the OAU?

The organisation was founded with two main objectives, first, to continue the liberation of the continent. In this we have been reasonably successful. We have had some setbacks in Southern Africa and problems in Namibia and South Africa itself.

It is a problem that is painful at present, but historically it should not worry us very much because quite clearly Namibia will become independent – nobody can prevent it. When you have a superpower like the US blocking independence it will succeed for a while – but there is no superpower that can prevent a country like Namibia winning its independence eventually. So historically we are optimistic. And in South Africa apartheid is going to be wiped off the face of the earth.

So we have now reached the hard core’ of the liberation struggle. We shall continue.

The other objective is unity. Most of the founding fathers had in mind the true political unity of Africa —a United States of Africa; I didn’t know how we would have made it initially, but we had in mind a united Africa. Some of us were quite clear that this was not going to be easy. To unite sovereign states is very difficult. The problem was that once we had been “parcelled out”, we could not come together before we were independent.

We started out as national states and it was the national states which formed the OAU. I still believe that the ambition of making Africa one political entity is a very remote undertaking. We will have to leam the negative lesson of the nation state that the Europeans have learnt. It is very slow process, even for Europeans to begin to come together. So I hope that Africa can achieve the maximum amount of co-operation while keeping the goal of continental unity in view all the time. In the meantime we must do what is possible when nation states, with all their limitations, decide to work together. We will achieve total independence. The other objective of making ourselves economically independent is going to be difficult, but less difficult than actually getting Africa to unite politically to form the United States of Africa such as Kwame Nkrumah had in mind.

What are your short term objectives?

With the withdrawal of Morocco we have not solved the problem of Western Sahara. It is still here. Morocco wanted to incorporate Western Sahara, the Saharwis don’t like being incorporated and therefore the problem persists. Admitting the Sahara to the OAU does not solve the problem. But it has been removed from the OAU as a divisive issue. It’s gone. But as a problem of Moroccan expansionism, is still there.

What about Chad?

Chad is an internal problem. We can try to help them but frankly it depends upon the Chadian people themselves to stop killing one another. That is one part of the problem. The other part is the Libyans and the French and we hope they will keep out and allow the people themselves to reach some sort of a reconciliation. We have passed a resolution to this effect and we will try to help them. But the decision will have to come from the Chadians themselves. All we can do is put them together in a room to say “stop fighting”. That’s all we can do.

As a socialist country, what are your policies on foreign participation in Tanzania?

There is one tyre factory in Tanzania that is a joint venture between us and an American company. We entered into this agreement after the Arusha Declaration. We do enter into economic agreements with private companies from all over the world.

But now there are lots of them. There are rumours that we may have oil so we are signing agreements with many companies. There are also rumours that we may have minerals so more companies are coming in.

There have not been many foreign companies here not because of our policy but because there was nothing for them. The capitalists will come when they discover there is something to come for.

You do not regard that as going against socialist principles?

I believe the saying: “Use the capitalist if you want to develop socialism”.


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