Mwalimu Nyerere’s ideas on land
2009-10-13, Issue 452
cc K MuurlingNg’wanza Kamata critically reflects on Nyerere’s foresight on the land issue. To Nyerere, he notes, “land cannot, under any grounds, be transformed into an item for sale in the market.” That is why he advocated for a leasehold system instead of a freehold one that would create a perpetual class of landlords and tenants. However, he laments, Nyerere’s government did not go one step further to abolish the colonial Land Ordinance’s tenet of vesting land in the control of the state and not the people. As a result bureaucrats “were and are able to evict people from their lands.” Kamata thus recalls Nyerere’s earlier clarion call for the masses to resist a method that enables a few people to claim ownership of what belongs to all – land.
Mwalimu Nyerere’s thoughts on land can be understood at two levels. The first level is his perception of land which is based on African traditions. The second level is his belief that land is the basis of development but equally, if not checked, the basis of differentiation, inequality and consequently political instability, especially in poor and underdeveloped societies like Tanzania. It is around these two levels of perceptions that we explore and discuss Nyerere’s thoughts on land.
LAND IS A FREE GIFT FROM GOD
Nyerere’s views on land begin with his rejection that land is a commodity. As such land cannot, under any grounds, be transformed into an item for sale in the market. A related view is that land cannot be privately owned, i.e. land is and cannot be a private property. The first time his views were articulated comprehensively was, perhaps, in 1958 when he published a pamphlet entitled Mali ya Taifa (National Property), which was a comment on the colonial government proposal for a new legislation regarding land holding. In this pamphlet he discarded any idea which attempted to commodify or privatise land. The basis for his position is his belief that land, like water and air, is the gift of God to his living creation. Humans do not create or add to land, they are born to find it there and die to leave it there.
All human beings, be they children brought up in poor or rich families, or belonging to sinners or saints, or even those whose parents are either slaves or free men, were born to find land in existence. They can neither add to it or reduce its extent. It is God’s gift, given to all His creation without any discrimination ... (Nyerere 1974: 53).
Nyerere underscores this point later on in his Ujamaa-The Basis of Socialism. Here he argued that “... we don’t need to take degrees in Economics to know that neither the worker nor the landlord produces land. Land is God’s gift to man-it is always there” (Nyerere 1977: 4).
One observation can be made about Nyerere’s worldview on land. First, his views are in many ways similar to those of Karl Polanyi on what he calls fictitious commodities. Polanyi differentiates between real and fictitious commodities. For him, a commodity is something that has been produced for sale on a market. By this definition, land, labour and money are fictitious commodities because they were not originally produced to be sold on a market (Polanyi 200: xxv). But Nyerere, unlike Polanyi, misses the point that under certain conditions of production systems both land and labour may be transformed into commodities. The commoditisation of labour, land, and money, Polanyi explains is a result of “the development of a factory system” (Polanyi 2001: 79) which is organised “as part of a process of buying and selling”. He further notes that:
[L]abor, land, and money had to be transformed into commodities in order to keep production going. They could, of course, not be really transformed into commodities, as actually they were not produced for sale on the market. But the fiction of their being so produced became the organizing principle of society (Polanyi 2001: 79).
It is important here to note that for labour what is actually transformed into commodity is labour power, not labour; and for land to be transformed into capital, it must first be transformed into commodity. The process that transforms both labour and land into commodities begins, as Karl Marx noted, with the complete separation of the labourer from the means of production. Marx wrote:
The capitalist system pre-supposes the complete separation of the labourers from all property in the means by which they can realise their labour. As soon as capitalist production is once in its own legs, it not only maintains this separation, but reproduces it on a continually extending scale. The process, therefore, that clears the way for the capitalist system, can be none other than the process which takes away from the labourers the possession of his means of production; a process that transforms, on the one hand, the social means of substance and production into capital, on the other, the immediate producers into wage-labourers (Marx 1974: 668).
The process Marx is talking about began during a period he refers to as that of primitive accumulation of capital. But under the neoliberal era even money itself becomes a commodity, as Polanyi alludes to. Originally money (M) in possession of a capitalist would be used to buy capital goods (C) and at the end of a cycle of production process the capitalist would have earned more money than originally invested (M1) and hence Marxist formulation of M – C – M1 where M1 is greater than M. Under neoliberalism, because of the shift from economics of production to economics of speculation, money buys money and hence the formulation M – M – M1. This has been part of the gambling (casino capitalism) economies dominating the neo- liberal economic practices.
On the basis of the foregoing observation, Nyerere is right, that by its nature, land is not a commodity. But this can only be true under certain conditions and systems of production and distribution of wealth in society. It cannot be true in all conditions and systems of production. “Just as labour, by nature, is not a commodity”, writes Issa Shivji, “so land, by nature, is not capital” (Shivji 2006: 8). Under capitalist both land and labour becomes commodity and capital respectively. The conditions upon which land becomes capital include the establishment of “a monopoly of access to land called ownership”, and negotiability (Shivji, ibid).
There is a point in which Nyerere seems to understand the conditions upon which land may become a commodity. His understanding, however, is a bit ambiguous. It is first considered alien to Africa introduced by the colonialists, and secondly it is a “capitalist attitude ... foreigners introduced – the concept of land as a marketable commodity” (Nyerere 1977: 7). Here Nyerere is completely oblivious of the dialectical connection between colonialism and capitalism. It is correct that the system of land tenure the colonial government wanted to promote was alien to a non-capitalist society, which, as Walter Rodney would say, was following an independent path of development. But obviously the system was not alien to capitalism and its imperial interests in the colonies. It was thus not just an attitude of mind of capitalism, as Nyerere tries to suggest, but a historical outcome of the process which brought into being private property, commodification, and expropriation of the masses within the capitalists countries and overseas.
For lack of this understanding, Nyerere’s rejection of the idea of land as a commodity was but based on moral appeal. And as Fred Block suggests, such moral appeal suggests that “it is simply wrong to treat nature (land) and human beings (labour) as objects whose price will be determined entirely by the market. Such a concept violates the principles that have governed societies for centuries” (in Polanyi 2001: xxv). The basis of Nyerere’s morality is the African tradition life, which in itself would not prevent capital transforming land into a commodity and a private property.
LAND CANNOT BE PRIVATELY OWNED
Apart from the moral appeal Nyerere had other concerns regarding privatisation of land. This was with respect to what would happen in Tanganyika if land was to be made private property. On this he said:
[I]f people are given land to use as their property, then they have the right to sell it. It will not be difficult to predict who, in fifty years time, will be the landlords and who the tenants. In a country such as this, where, generally speaking, the African are poor and the foreigners are rich, it is quite possible that, within eighty or a hundred years, if the poor African were allowed to sell his land, all the land in Tanganyika would belong to wealthy immigrants, and the local people would be tenants. But even if there were no rich foreigners in this country, there would emerge rich and clever Tanganyikans. If we allow land to be sold like a robe, within a short period there would only be a few Africans possessing land in Tanganyika and all the others would be tenants (Nyerere 1974: 55).
Nyerere’s fear of having all land alienated to non-natives was expressed as early as 1955, at the 15th Session of the Trusteeship Council of the United Nations. He said:
We shall also welcome immigrants who come to our country for the purpose of setting up specific industries or for doing business with us ... But we are opposed to the farmer class of immigrant, which is largely European, and the general class of immigrant, which is largely from Asian ... Vast tracts of land have been alienated to non-Africans. We have never advocated that those non-Africans should be deprived of this land. But we have insisted that the period of ninety-nine-year leases is too long; that in those ninety-nine years the population of the country will have more than trebled itself; and that therefore leases ought, from the very beginning, to have been granted for shorter periods of thirty-three years; and that before being renewed the needs of the indigenous people should be considered first ... (Nyerere 1974: 38).
There is no doubt that land was being alienated in Tanganyika during that time. One classical example that Nyerere referred to in passing just after his statement above is that of the famous Meru Land Case. The Report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Land Matters shows that some 2.3 million acres were alienated between 1949 and 1957 (Tanzania 1994: 15). This was done under the powers vested to the Governor who, Under the Land Ordinance of 1923, was “empowered to dispose of land either to a native or a non-native ... In practice, this power was used almost exclusively to alienate land to non-natives” (Tanzania 1994: 13). If this was to continue unchecked, and later on this, according to the proposal, was to be converted into freehold, it was obvious who would be the landlord and who the tenant.
Nyerere’s opposition to land as a private property was also based on two other considerations. The first is a possibility of social differentiation, class contradictions, conflicts and bloodshed. He was troubled by the very fact that freehold would cause the emergence of “a small group of landlords and a large group of tenants”. This would create “antagonism among peoples” (Nyerere 1974: 56). He drew experiences from other countries where such developments caused violent conflicts. The most recent experience is the Zimbabwe land question and reform process and classical one is the Mau Mau struggles for land in Kenya in the 1950s. On this regard Nyerere is right and his ideas echoes those of Polanyi and others before and after him who believed that commodification of fictitious property would be resisted.
The second consideration is exploitation. In a society like Tanzania, which he deemed to be classless, and where he envisioned building a socialist based on African Traditions, which was a non-exploitative society, private ownership in land would defeat this goal. In a freehold system he lamented: “We will get a group of people working to fulfil God’s law of earning one’s living through one’s own labour. But there will be another group of idle people who will not be doing any work but will simply be waiting to exploit the energies, and suck the blood of the poor workers. And these bloodsuckers will not even allow the poor workers to earn fair wages for their labour” (Nyerere 1974: 56). This is a class that exploits because it owns land, and in the Arusha Declaration nomenclature this is the class of the makabaila (landlords).
He also feared that the freehold system would create a parasite class, a class surviving on speculation on land markets. To him these “exploiters will rob the workers of everything they raise from their labours by charging exorbitant land rents, leaving them only what is barely adequate for a hand-to-mouth existence, and for keeping them fit to continue serving the masters” and as a result one “group will therefore reap what it did not plant, and the other group will plant but will not reap anything” (Ibid). The logic behind his opposition to this speculative practice is succinctly captured in the following illustration:
I could take a few square miles of land, call them ‘mine’ and then go off the moon. All I had to do to gain a living from ‘my’ land was to charge a rent to the people who wanted to use it. If this piece of land was in an urban area I had no need to develop it at all; I could leave it to the fools who were prepared to develop all the other pieces of land surrounding ‘my’ piece, and in doing so automatically to raise the market value of mine. Then I could come down from the moon and demand that these fools pay me through their noses for the high value of ‘my’ land – a value which they themselves had created for me while I was enjoying myself on the moon! (Nyerere 1977: 7)
The consequences of privatisation or of letting loose private interests on land are indisputable. Ten years after his death land disputes and cases of displacement of masses of people are common in Tanzania. This is a logical consequence of liberalism. One could, however, argue that even under his rule this happened. The case of Basuto and Mulbadaw villages in Hanang districts versus the then National Agricultural and Food Cooperation (NAFCO) attests to what happened. However, the difference is that land under Ujamaa was acquired for what was regarded as ‘state’ farms, and today, it is ‘grabbed’ for private interests, particularly a group known as ‘wawekezaji’ (investors).
Moreover, what is happening today has its roots in the colonial past. Much as Nyerere was opposed to privatisation, and believed that land should be controlled by the people, he embraced the colonial Land Ordinance of 1923 unchanged. The Ordinance ‘statised’ land in Tanzania, and established the basic principle of land tenure. These were not changed even after the 1999 land laws reforms. It would appear that Nyerere’s major problem with the colonial system was freehold, and not that the ordinance vested land into the state, which was an alien state. He seems to have believed that once freehold is abolished, as it was done in 1962, and leasehold is introduced, and once the state was no longer alien land will remain under the control of the people. On this he was wrong, as government’s bureaucrats replaced the people, and the laws, such as the Land Acquisition Act of 1967, allowed it. This way they were and are able to evict people from their lands.
RESISTING AND PREVENTING PRIVATE INTEREST ON LAND
What then should be done to prevent privatisation and commoditization of land? In his thoughts Nyerere ascribed a special role to people’s Government, the people themselves, and in the establishment of leasehold instead of freehold.
Throughout history people have resisted expropriation of their lands and other rights to resources. People have fought wars, and excessive forces have been used to evict the masses from their means of production. This was rampant in colonial Tanganyika. But it was evident that alienation did not go down well with the people as the Meru case exemplified. In 1950s Nyerere was arguing that the Meru land should be returned. He stated:
But there is one case of already-alienated land where nothing can satisfy my people except the complete return of the land to the people concerned. I mean the Meru land. I realise the delicacy of this matter, and therefore I do not intend to dwell upon it. I only want to emphasize that we are opposed to the purpose and the manner in which this land was alienated, and we hope that it shall be returned to the people concerned (Nyerere 1974: 38).
In the 1970s Nyerere, as President of Tanzania, was faced with a more or less similar situation. The manner in which the land in Hanang was alienated was brutal and unjust. But his reaction to it was completely different from how he reacted to the Meru case. A witness to the Mulbadaw Village Case had this to say when they went to see Nyerere and other leaders:
We complained to Government and party Leaders in Babati, Arusha, Dodoma and Dar es Salaam. We were not given any help. We were told “poleni sana”. ... We said we had become like chicken – when the NAFCO farms are harvested we follow behind like chicken and pick up left over wheat. They told us that as the case was in Court we would be helped there. We met His Excellency the President himself. He said he did not want to make any decision as the matter was in Court.
The judgement for this case was delivered on 3rd December 1984, a year before Nyerere stepped down as president. NAFCO appealed to the High Court and the judgement was delivered in June 1985, eight months after Ali Hassan Mwinyi became president. The land did not go back to the people, and even after NAFCO failed, the land was privatised.
When the land in Hanang was alienated the people resisted and Nyerere’s government sent the police to evict them by force. Somewhere in his ideas he seems to suggest that people should not be ready to voluntarily accept enslavement. This in our view suggests that people need to – and should – resist. On refusing enslavement Nyerere wrote:
When a lot of people accept the introduction of a method which will enable a few people to claim ownership of a thing which is actually God’s gift to all His people, they are in actual fact, voluntarily accepting slavery. It is not necessary to be bought in order to be someone’s slave. You can be a slave of whoever is able to rob you of the products of your labour on the pretext that you are using his land … any country which allows this practice by law is accepting voluntary slavery (Nyerere 1974: 56).
The context of this statement was colonialism and the state was nakedly alien. Thus it was obvious and easy to convince the masses who would be the master and who the slave. But this could happen and might be happening now; of course the state is not nakedly alien. Yet it is headed and run by citizens of a comprador class who might be leading their people and their countries in ‘voluntary’ enslavement. It would appear to us that Nyerere would be surprised if the masses would let this happen. The underlying clarion call on the quotation above is for the masses to resist and fight against this. This is despite the fact that he could withstand the masses resistance himself.
The other solution to freehold system was to put in place a leasehold system. Nyerere was of the view that this is the only way to refuse to distribute land on a freehold basis as did our forefathers (Nyerere 1974: 56). Leasehold gives land to everybody who needs land. However, those given land do not own it but have a usufruct right to use land under certain conditions stated in the leasehold agreement, which would lay down instructions to be followed by one using and maintaining that land. This system, according to Nyerere, “gives a person three things; sufficient land, security and a way of raising capital”, meaning he has the right to use land as security to raise a loan (Nyerere 1974: 56&57). Land, though, remains a property of the public and a leaseholder will return the land to the public immediately when he stops using it. This way will also “prevent greedy people from accumulating land for themselves without being able to use it” (Nyerere 1974: 57).
Nyerere however, recognises the right for persons to claim compensation for land, which under certain circumstances, has to be disposed of to the public for other use or users. The basis of this claim is, in his view, the labour invested in clearing and developing a piece of land. He argues that: “when I use my energy and talent to clear a piece of ground for my use it is clear that I am trying to transform this basic gift from God so that it can satisfy a human need” (Nyerere 1974: 53). He elaborates this point further in the following way:
But it is not really the land itself that belongs to me but only the cleared ground which will remain mine as long as I continue to work it. By clearing that ground I have actually added to its value and have enabled it to be used to satisfy a human need. Whoever then takes this piece of ground must pay me for adding value to it through clearing it by my own labour (Nyerere 1974: 54).
A more solid view along these lines is that of Vandana Shiva, who dismisses the Western conception of property which respects only capital investment and not the fact that conception of non-western indigenous communities and cultures recognise that investment can also be of labour and nurturance“ (Shiva 2001: 44). Although Nyerere held this view, in practice his government acted to the contrary. Like the colonial state before him, more and more land, especially of the pastoralist communities was alienated. This was based on:
The misconception that pastoralists wander randomly gives rise to the belief that pastoral claims to particular land are fluid and temporary. This and the supposition that land not grazed at any one time is ‘free’, have resulted in the pastoralists losing a great deal of land without receiving compensation (Lane 1998: 155).
Finally on the Government. Nyerere hoped that a government of the people would be the custodian of land on behalf of all. We have discussed that. But one point that needs to be emphasised here is that as long as land continue to be controlled by the state (and its bureaucracy) the majority would be robbed of their lands. In no time the consequences Nyerere predicted some fifty-one years ago may happen. It has been suggested in Tanzania, and it is important to reiterate that suggestion, that land especially that which belongs to the people, should be vested in the people and the people who depend on land live in village communities. The body which represents them all is the village assembly, so legally village land should be vested in this organ.
LAND AND DEVELOPMENT
One of the immediate tasks of the independent government was development. After five years of a development path which heavily relied upon foreign aid/assistance the government realised that it had to rethink and redefine its path to development and the means of achieving that. The attempt to redefine the path and means of development came in 1967 in the form of the Arusha Declaration (AD). The AD placed a lot of emphasis on land and thus agriculture as the way to development, and development defined in terms of meeting the needs of the majority. The AD categorically stated that there are four prerequisite for development which are (i) People; (ii) Land; (iii) Good Policies; and (iv) Good leadership (Nyerere 1977: 29).
Why did Nyerere put a lot of emphasis on land? The answer rests on two reasons, first his abhorrence of a tendency, after independence, of heavy reliance on money as the basis of development. The AD makes it clear that money was not the basis of development:
[I]n the past we have chosen the wrong weapon for our struggle, because we chose money as our weapon. We are trying to overcome our economic weakness by using the weapon of the economically strong ... by our thoughts, words and actions it appears as if we have come to the conclusion that without money we cannot bring about the revolution we are aiming at. ... It is as if we have said that ‘money is the basis of development (Nyerere 1977: 18).
This tendency, however, did not go away completely with the pronouncement of the AD. Tanzania continued to receive even increasing foreign aid after 1967. Mwesiga Baregu (1987: 3) shows that in 1967 Tanzania dependency on foreign aid was nearly 26 percent and it stood at nearly 70 percent in ten years after the AD. This suggests that the “question of aid dependency was never really quite resolved” (Baregu, ibid: 5). The tendency has survived not only the AD but Nyerere himself as the leadership which succeeded him shamelessly parade to foreign countries proudly holding their leaking begging bowls.
The second reason why land was given a central place is that dependency on money, especially through foreign aid, would endanger the country’s independence. This is because since the country could not raise all the money it required for its development then it had to seek for foreign aid. The reason why this was wrong is because, on the first hand, “independence means self-reliance, that a country cannot really be independent if it depends on other nations for its development” (Nyerere 1977: 23), and on the other hand “even if we could get all that we need, such dependence upon others would endanger our independence and our ability to choose our own political policies” (Ibid, p. 25). There is no doubt about this but to really be able to address this question it was not enough to disqualify the need for foreign aid without addressing and restructuring the dependent economy, a survival of the colonial economy, designed to serve imperial interests. It is partly because of failure to address structural dependency that Tanzania was brought to its knees by the World Bank and the IMF in the 1980s for it was compelled to adopt Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs). The reason was the Government could not survive without foreign aid.
To avoid the problems related with money, Nyerere saw the route to development being the rural area, land being the basic means towards it. He was convinced that this was possible because Tanzania had good land for producing a variety of crops for food and export, and for grazing cattle, goats and other stocks (Nyerere 1977: 29).
His conception of development was centred on meeting the needs of the majority and of this food came first. He also believed that apart from food all other needs could be realised if more efforts was placed on food production:
And because the main aim of development is to get more food, and more money for our other needs, our purpose must be to increase production of these agricultural crops. This is in fact the only road through which we can develop our country – in other words, only by increasing our production of these things can we get more food and more money for every Tanzanian (Nyerere 1977: 29).
From this there is another point he is introducing, and that is land based production was the basis for capital accumulation. In other words, industrial development and development in other sectors would be based and dependent on the growth of agriculture. This point is further elaborated in the following statement:
Because the economy of Tanzania depends and will continue to depend on agriculture and animal husbandry, Tanzania can live well without depending on help from outside if they use their land properly. Land is the basis of human life and all Tanzanians should use it as a valuable investment for future development (Nyerere 1977: 33).
For “future development”, Nyerere meant industrialisation and ‘modernity.’ However, he envisaged some undesirable outcome if ‘national development’ (industrialisation and modernity) would depend on rural areas. This is what he described as “exploitation” of the rural areas by the urban areas. This was based on his analysis that neither industrialisation nor foreign aid could be paid up by people other than those engaged in agriculture, the rural people. He was aware that if Tanzania was to industrialise the capital would come from agriculture, and even if the money was a loan from external sources its repayment would not be made from “urban and industrial development” but from the rural areas (Nyerere 1977: 27). To prevent this he discouraged industrialisation. His argument was that industrialisation should be an outcome of development not the means for development. The reason is the “mistake we are making is to think that development begins with industries. It is a mistake because we do not have the means to establish many modern industries in our country. We do not have the necessary finances or the technical know-how” (Nyerere 1977: 26).
Nyerere held very strong views against land commoditization and privatisation. This augured well with his vision for building Ujamaa – African Socialism – in Tanzania. Unfortunately though, he did not manage to put in place mechanisms which would prevent what he did not desire from happening. There were many positive reforms on land which he made while in power, but did not manage to transform the major issues whose legacy would have helped in ensuring that land was, and remained, under the control of the people. Out of power Nyerere looked back and reflected. The good thing is that he knew where he went wrong or he did not do enough. In an interview with Ikaweba Bunting in 1998, Nyerere was asked:
“What were your main mistakes as Tanzanian leader? What should you have done differently?”
And his response, which concludes our discussion, was:
There are things that I would have done more firmly or not at all. For example, I would not nationalize the sisal plantations. This was a mistake. I did not realize how difficult it would be for the state to manage agriculture. Agriculture is difficult to socialize. I tried to tell my government that what was traditionally the family's in the village social organization should be left with the family, while what was new could be communalized at the village level. The land issue and family holdings were very sensitive. I saw this intellectually but it was hard to translate it into policy implementation. But I still think that in the end Tanzania will return to the values and basic principles of the Arusha Declaration (Bunting 1999) (emphasis added).
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* Ng’wanza Kamata is a political science lecturer at the University of Dar es Salaam and the board chair of the Land Rights Research and Resources Institute (LARRRI/HAKIARDHI).
* This article will be a contributing chapter to a forthcoming Pambazuka Press book entitled 'Nyerere's Legacy', edited by Chambi Chachage and Annar Cassam.
* Please send comments to email@example.com or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Bunting, Ikaweba (1999). “The Heart of Africa. Interview with Julius Nyerere on Anti-Colonialism” New Internationalist Magazine, issue 309, January-February 1999
Baregu, Mwesiga (1987). “The Paradox of the Arusha Declaration”; The African Review; Vol. 14, No. 1 & 2.
Civil Appeal No. 3 of 1986; National Agriculture and Food Corporation Versus Mulbadaw Village Council and Others.
Civil Case No. 10 of 1981; Mulbadaw Village Council and Others versus National Agriculture and Food Corporation
Lane, Charles R. (ed.) (1998). Custodian of the Commons; Earthscan Publications; London.
Marx, Karl (1981). Capital; Progress Publishers; Moscow.
Nyerere, Julius, K. (1974). Freedom and Unity; Oxford University Press; Dar es Salaam & Addis Ababa.
Nyerere, Julius, K. (1977). Ujamaa: Essays on Socialism; Oxford University Press; Dar es Salaam & Nairobi.
Polanyi, Karl (2001). The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origin of Our Time; Beacon Press, Boston.
Shiva, Vandana (2001). Protect or Plunder: Understanding Intellectual Property Rights; Zed Books; London and New York.
Tanzania (1994). Report of The Presidential Commission of Inquiry Into Land Matters; Ministry of Land, Housing and Urban Development and The Scandinavia Institute of African Studies; Tanzania and Uppsala Sweden.
Shivji, Issa G. (2006). Lawyers in Neoliberalism: Authority’s Professional Supplicants or Society's Amateurish Conscience; Valedictory on the occasion of formal retirement from the University of Dar es Salaam