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On the Tracks of Ujamaa: Vestiges and Memories in a Former Socialist Village in Southern Tanzania

Marie-Aude Fouéré
Traduction de Hugo Clarke et Nancy Sabatier

Notes de la rédaction

This article was first published in French as a chapter titled “Sur les traces matérielles du socialisme en Tanzanie: vestiges et mémoires dans un ancient village Ujamaa” in the volume Socialismes en Afrique / Socialisms in Africa edited by Françoise Blum et al. (Paris: FMSH Editions: 2021), 385-409 ( This version includes minor changes from the French version.
All translations of quotations originally in French were made by the translators of this article.

Texte intégral

  • 1 I am indebted to Jean-Luc Paul for inviting me to do research in 2013 in the Rufiji region of Tanza (...)
  • 2 For a critical overview of some of these scholarly works on Ujamaa, see Bjerk (2010).
  • 3 On past and present representations of Julius Nyerere in today’s Tanzania, see Fouéré (2015). Nyere (...)

1In 1967, Tanzania was a “poor and heterogenous country suffering from instability worsened by almost a century of colonialism, first by the Germans, and then by the British” (Martin 1988, 26).1 That same year, it set out on an economic and social development path that deeply transformed its historical trajectory: Ujamaa, in Kiswahili, or “African socialism” in its official English translation. The “Tanzanian experiment” of socialism (Lonsdale 1968) led to extensive academic literature. Some of these works were contemporaneous to the implementation of Ujamaa from 1967 until 1985 and to Julius K. Nyerere’s presidency. After 1985, this literature increased as it aimed to assess the successes and failures of the policies implemented under Ujamaa.2 The focus on the Tanzanian experiment was widely sustained by what were called “Tanzaphilia” (Mazrui 1967) and “Nyererephilia” (Martin 1973), two sentiments shared among European leftists and developmentalist movements. Julius K. Nyerere, the first president of Tanzania, was cast by his supporters as a “prophet” in his country (Jackson and Rosberg 1982, 219), the embodiment of the “philosopher-king” or a “moral teacher who is a political leader with a great deal of authority and power” (Pratt 1976, 256).3 Researchers predominantly addressed the rural component of Ujamaa, and particularly the villagisation programme. Tanzania’s villagisation indeed constituted one of the largest displacements of the rural population in Africa. It was first carried out on a voluntary basis, then relied on coercion and violence between 1973 and 1976 as a result of local resistance (Hyden 1980; Schneider 2004). In 1979, approximately 14 million Tanzanians, that is, 91% of the rural population, lived in Ujamaa villages (McHenry 1979). The critical assessment of villagisation, and more broadly of Ujamaa, was unequivocal in the early 1980s: “Never was there a more noble social experiment [than Ujamaa]; and never was there a more miserable failure” (Weaver and Kronemer 1981, 839). The reason, according to John S. Saul, an expert of Tanzanian economics and politics, was that “Tanzanian socialism was much too unregenerately petty-bourgeois – too lacking in an understanding of imperialism and of the nature of economic dependence, of class struggle and of the political imperatives attendant upon it – to stay the course” (Saul 1977, 336).

  • 4 See Lal (2015) as well as works discussing the experience of specific communities, for instance Tan (...)

2Such critical views have varied depending on particular generations of scholars, their academic perspectives, and the theoretical frameworks they used (see for instance Ibhawoh and Dibua 2003). However, most of these works tell us very little of Ujamaa as an experiment and as a representation, in the past and in the present. Recently, historical research has shed light on significant variations in the local experiences of a development path that varied tremendously from one region to another, from urban to rural areas, as well as with regard to age and gender.4 These studies provided an invaluable contribution to the literature on Ujamaa, which had predominantly adopted an economic perspective. Yet, by focusing on the conventional period of Ujamaa, they tend to stop their investigations in the mid-eighties, when the Tanzanian government turned its back on Ujamaa. However, the impact of a state development model that has already been applied for about twenty years rarely ceases abruptly, despite an almost radical shift in Tanzania’s official public policies and discourses that followed the demise of socialism. In consideration of this, history and anthropology have joined forces to reflect on “post-socialism,” defined as the “institutional legacies (…) socialism left behind” that still “inform current processes” (Pitcher and Askew 2006, 3). Contrary to what the proponents of a blackboard approach say—an approach that was often used in analysing the transformations of the former Soviet Bloc— the collapse of socialism, whether in Africa or elsewhere, has not “left a ‘blank state’ on which the story of ‘free market democracy’ can be written” (ibid., 3). Far from erasing the past, the prefix “post-” means that the ideological horizon of the socialist decades has not completely disappeared from the present time of a society. Practices and ways of thinking remain, sometimes driven by an explicit sentiment of nostalgia, and sometimes embodied in ethos and habitus (Fouéré 2011). Yet, the current understandings of the legacy of Ujamaa in Tanzania have been limited and only partially documented, with few studies relying on in-depth case studies (Edwards 1996; Askew 2008; Mann 2017). This is even more striking considering the many transformations which socialism brought about in Tanzania.

  • 5 See notably Scott (1998), Piot (2010), Rudnyckyj and Schwittay (2014), Lachenal and Mbodj-Pouye (20 (...)

3This article seeks to contribute to research on the traces of Ujamaa in today’s Tanzania by using grounded research and recent scholarly literature on the material remains of development projects.5 These remains are the results of various development interventions across time and from a range of actors. Such interventions, which their architects sometimes consider successes, also led to failures that often generated key, though unforeseen, transformations (Ferguson 1990; Li 2005; Schler and Gez 2018; Gez, Fouéré and Bulugu 2022). To study the tangible vestiges of European colonialism in former colonised societies, many recent scholarly works borrow the concept of “ruination” from Ann Laura Stoler (Stoler 2013). This concept refers to the causes and effects of all sorts of objects falling into ruins, but not yet ruins as such. Yet, socialism in postcolonial Tanzania was also a modernisation project in which reforms marked the physical and social spaces with its successes and failures. As a consequence, the study of socialism in Tanzania, conducted as closely as possible to its local microhistory and ethnography, allows us to understand the “social life” (Kopytoff 1986) of Ujamaa interventions, of the materialities that these interventions brought at the local level, and of the changes in the value in use and in the memorial presence of these materialities now falling into ruins.

4After providing a concise historical background of Ujamaa and defining it both as a doctrine and a policy, this article initiates a reflection on the tangible vestiges of Ujamaa and the memories associated with them in Kipo, a village located in the Rufiji region in southern Tanzania. Using a micro-level approach, it seeks to intersect local history and the present uses of the past from a place—defined as both a social and symbolised space—as well as from objects considered supports for practices and representations. The objective is to understand the role currently played by discernible vestiges of a former development policy. These vestiges, left in places and in objects, are appropriated in different ways, producing practices and memories about the present and the past simultaneously. According to Maurice Halbwachs in La topographie légendaire des Évangiles en Terre sainte ([1941] 2008) tangible vestiges are rarely inert matter. Halbwachs considers that what he calls the “stones of the city,” defined as a spatial and material arrangement, constitute a lasting reality where thoughts, affects, and memories are fixed. The ways in which people relate to the past practically, intellectually and emotionally are also transformed as these stones change and become ruins, and when the effects of time affect their apparent stability and immobility. Whether critical or nostalgic, disillusioned or hopeful, ephemeral or strategic, current references to the socialist past and villagisation in Tanzania have a practical and symbolic effectiveness and performativity. As this case study shows, the traces of the past are used: first, to claim local rights and uses, in particular those pertaining to land and property; second, to assert status and reputations; and finally, to foreground certain representations of the relationships between state and citizens. This article examines two specific types of ruins of villagisation, namely, the former boundaries of the housing plots set by the Ujamaa village layout, and the network of public taps, an infrastructure originally aimed at bringing a better life.

Ujamaa, “Dream of an Ideal World”6

  • 6 Coulson (1982, 140).
  • 7 “State-building” relates to the construction of the state apparatus, both as an intentional effort (...)
  • 8 Priya Lal reminds us that as early as 1962, during a conference on African socialism held at Kivuko (...)

5During the Cold War, most African countries were faced with the challenge of building states and nations7 at the crossroads of two global development models: communism and capitalism. Tanzania opted for reformism as a third way. Julius K. Nyerere conceptualised Ujamaa as early as 19628 and imposed it on his political party, the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU). It was adopted as a development programme at the Arusha Declaration on 5 February 1967 (Nyerere 1967a). According to Nyerere (1968, 71-2), Tanzanian socialism “is opposed to capitalism, which seeks to build a happy society on the basis of exploitation of man by man; and it is equally opposed to doctrinaire socialism, which seeks to build a happy society on the philosophy of inevitable conflict between man and man.” This version of socialism aimed at bringing “progress” to the country, that is, at facilitating “development” (maendeleo in Kiswahili) as a way of improving livelihoods and the economy, but it also envisioned social and moral change (Lal 2015; Ahearne 2016). Ujamaa was also a self-management type of socialism relying on what was named “self-reliance” (kujitegemea in Kiswahili). The French economist and agronomist René Dumont, a former adviser to Nyerere who travelled back to Tanzania in 1980, depicted a situation where there was “no imported luxury, one consumes Tanzanian goods (…) Tanzanians take austerity seriously” (Dumont and Mottin 1980, 177). However, relying on one’s strengths did not imply shutting oneself off from the rest of the world. Tanzania had to make “progress,” and “rapidly,” through freedom and work (uhuru na kazi), but also by relying on foreign aid. “We must run while they walk,” stated Nyerere (Smith 2011 [1973], 202), and realism and pragmatism then prevailed.

6The construction of the railway linking Dar es Salaam to Lusaka, the capital city of Zambia, is a good example of this pragmatic socialism (Monson 2009). The infrastructure sought to facilitate exports of Zambian copper and increase interregional trade. Nyerere stated that the project would go ahead thanks to those wishing to fund it: “I am determined that this railway should be built,” said Nyerere in July 1965, “and I am prepared to accept money from whoever offers it to see that it is built” (Smith 2011 [1973], 163). The Chinese Prime Minister, Zhou Enlai, visited Dar es Salaam in June 1965 and sent an engineering team to conduct a feasibility study. He offered his help as early as September 1965 to Tanzania and Zambia, while Western powers hid behind an ambivalent report from the World Bank to withhold funding. Nyerere had travelled to China a few months earlier, in February 1965, and had been impressed by the economic and social achievements of communist China. Fascinated by the apparent austerity, frugality, and sense of duty in China, he followed Mao’s policies and decided that government receptions would no longer serve strong alcohol, but only beer, tea, coffee, and sodas, and that official cars for politicians and civil servants would cost no more than 900 pounds sterling per vehicle (ibid., 13, 163). Portraits of Mao Zedong were displayed in shop windows in the capital city and on magazine covers. These changes demonstrated the ideological links and practices that had developed between China and Tanzania since 1965, leading to a “Sino-Tanzanian friendship” that raised fear among Western countries that Tanzania was “turning red” (ibid., 13). While not restricting the imports of basic commodities, the United States was reluctant to invest in Tanzania. The repercussions of American imperialism nurtured growing anti-American sentiments: “Our railway,” stated Nyerere, “could be built for what the Americans are spending in Vietnam every seven days” (ibid., 163).

7Tanzanian pragmatic socialism was also a local and agrarian version of socialism. The more radical transformations took place far from Dar es Salaam. An essay by Nyerere, Socialism and Rural Development, published in September 1967 (1967b) stated that “agriculture is the basis for development” and set out the cornerstones of the concept of villagisation (Ujamaa Vijijini in Kiswahili, literally, Ujamaa in the villages). The rural development programme moved scattered farmers into villages, establishing the collectivisation of land as well as collective labour for communal agricultural production. It also entailed the construction of essential economic and social infrastructures: drinkable water, schools, dispensaries, roads, etc. Implemented between 1967 and 1976, the “ordering of the countryside” (Martin 1988), which was Nyerere’s “idée fixe” (Meyns 2000, 163), aimed to have a knock-on effect on the whole Tanzanian economy. In 1978, the rural population accounted for 94% of the total population. However, agriculture only accounted for 5% of the Tanzanian GNP, because smallholders and subsistence farming dominated. Villagisation relied on agricultural cooperatives, which had started in the 1930s in some regions. It also relied on local experiences of the “Village Settlement Schemes” and the so-called self-help programme which, since independence in 1961, mobilised populations on a voluntary basis to promote local development and the building of the new Tanzanian nation (Jennings 2007).

8Finally, for the transition towards socialism, the adopted agricultural policy did not derive only from an objective and strategic reading of the initial socio-economic conditions. It was the result of “a pastoral version of socialist democracy” (Lal 2015, 8), combined with a modernist, centrally planned, and elitist vision of development (Scott 1998). For Nyerere, the village of today was the traditional community of the past, before colonisation. He describes it as a unit of production in which each individual is held in esteem and plays a vital role, and where the means of production are shared without creating too much inequality (Nyerere 1968). Ujamaa (literally familyhood) refers to the “extended family” or the “community.” The community (if not the broad African society) was, according to Nyerere, a “socialist society” that preceded European socialisms, which is why he explained that, “We, in Africa, have no more need of being ‘converted’ to socialism that we have of being ‘taught’ democracy. Both are rooted in our own past – in the traditional society which produced us” (Nyerere 1968, 12). The Ujamaa village represented the social and economic unit where a reinvented and idealised past could be recreated, while improving livelihoods and driving the economy forward. Paradoxically, Nyerere “does not believe in the additional value of the techniques developed from the locality (terroir). He was not enthusiastic about tractors and advocated the use of animals for traction (…). He was, in any case, following a European pattern of technical evolution” (Raison 1989, 416). This is why, according to the historian Priya Lal (2015, 11), the Tanzanian socialist experience was “simultaneously utopian and pragmatic, antimodern and modernist, populist and statist.”

Operation Rufiji, from Modernity to Ruin

  • 9 The fifth and last national census at the time this article was written dated from 2012 (2012 Popul (...)
  • 10 On agriculture and ecology during villagisation more generally, see Kjekshus (1977).
  • 11 Historian John Iliffe (1971, 71) underlines that the Rufiji delta was called “little Calcutta” due (...)
  • 12 Poaching as a way to make up for economic precarity in the Rufiji region has been documented, notab (...)

9Dar es Salaam is a rapidly growing city. While it had only 350,000 inhabitants in 1967, it reached 4.4 million inhabitants (out of a total 45 million inhabitants in Tanzania) in 2012.9 Flat screens, luxury watches, and SUVs are testimonies of a new consumerist opulence, far from the socialist austerity of the Nyerere years. The region of Rufiji, a hundred kilometres south of Dar es Salaam, is in clear contrast to these urban dynamics. Even though the urban and rural worlds intersect, due to the circulation of people, goods, and ideas, the city wealth remains inaccessible to villagers, most of whom depend on fishing and agriculture for their own consumption and for sale on the national market (Paul, Duvail and Hamerlynck 2011).10 The Rufiji region, named after the largest river in Tanzania, was one of the first regions in the country to implement villagisation. Under the name “Operation Rufiji,” launched at the end of the year 1968, people who previously lived in small villages and hamlets on the southern bank of the Rufiji River—which had been fertilised by floods and had sustained a diverse agriculture for centuries—11 were relocated to the northern bank, one not affected by floods. To justify the displacement of the population, public authorities brought forward a humanitarian argument: the population had to be protected from floods, which were considered “a plague” (Duvail and Hamerlynck 2007). At that time, the most recent flood, which had started in December 1967, had lasted more than eight months (Havnevik 1993, 68). Because of its very high volume, it had severely restricted travel and caused several deaths. However, the regrouping on the northern bank led to a worsening of livelihoods. The promises of Ujamaa were kept, at least for a while: roads were built to facilitate travel as well as schools, dispensaries to strengthen health coverage, and networks of taps to supply water to residential areas. However, the weather conditions on the sandy terraces of the northern bank restricted rice cultivation to the clay depressions where runoff water accumulated. For several years, this cash crop generated enough income to purchase necessary supplies in the local shops. However, in the early 1980s, the decline of the national economy, the fall in export prices, the withdrawal of the state and the loosening of authoritarianism—let alone successive droughts—worsened the lives of the Rufiji villagers. Many returned to their former fields in the floodplains to grow a greater variety of crops (rice, cotton, cashew, sesame, etc.).12

  • 13 The materials presented in this article were collected during research stays conducted in 2013, 201 (...)
  • 14 In 1977, TANU the only political party became Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM, Party of the Revolution).

10Kipo is one of the first Ujamaa villages established at the onset of “Operation Rufiji”.13 A large dirt road overlooking River Rufiji crosses the village and leads to the village of Mloka, located a hundred kilometres further west from Kipo, right at the entrance of the Selous Game Reserve (a large hunting reserve and national park). In the past, Kipo followed the standard layout of an Ujamaa village: aligned and adjoined housing plots (also called blocks) located on both sides of an all-weather road, with hexagon-shaped homes that were often built following the same layout. The fields, either private or communal, surrounded the village. The party office,14 as well as several shops, were located in the centre of the village, along the road, while schools, dispensaries, collective storehouses, and farming cooperatives were typically built on the outskirts. In Kipo, these features, which are still observable today, have changed dramatically since the village was created. The initial all-weather road, delineated by a row of mango trees on each side, was abandoned in favour of a route that runs closer to the river. With the new road, villagers who had deliberately chosen to live along the original road in the hope of benefitting from the road transit and the shops that were expected to be open there, found themselves on the outskirts and were aggrieved. Furthermore, the plot boundaries from the Ujamaa period are hard to discern today. The villagers built several homes on a single plot to house their adult children and their families. Some also built directly on the plot boundaries in some parts of the village, blurring the original boundaries. Other plots are no longer inhabited and sometimes there is no longer a home, as when owners have moved away but retain ownership of the land. Finally, the use of several side pathways created a maze which blurred the initial chessboard layout, totally reshaping the standard grid devised by the Ujamaa village planners. As for the original boundaries of the village, which were indicated by concrete border stones (Figure 1) and ditches dug by the inhabitants, they are hardly visible today, since they are either degraded, hidden by tall grass, or covered by sandy soil and the accumulation of vegetation residue.

Figure 1

Figure 1

One of Kipo's concrete border stones indicating the former boundaries of the village and dated 12 September 1968

Photo taken in October 2016 by Marie-Aude Fouéré

11Infrastructural facilities, built after 1969 and during the first years of the population regrouping in Kipo, are also falling into ruin. The case of the water supply network illustrates the end of the “dream of an ideal world” (Coulson 1982, 140) as imagined by Nyerere. Providing access to clean water had been set as a priority for the development of the country (Bender 2008). According to Nyerere: “Although a water point does not have a spectacular appearance, it can often be more important for the progress of the people in an area than an imposing building, or a factory, put somewhere else” (Nyerere 1973, 320). Technicians had come from Dar es Salaam to set up an underground pipe network to supply fresh water to the villagers through a system of public taps. The taps were installed in several key locations in the village and supplied fresh water from a nearby fish-rich lake, Lake Zumbi, thanks to a pump and a water tower. The villagers had provided help by transporting materials and digging underground gullies to allow pipes to connect. However, the entire network stopped working in the mid-1990s. Until the 1980s, the central government would deliver the necessary fuel and oil for the pump motor, ensure replacement of the fragile copper taps, and remunerate the network supervisor. According to the supervisor in post in 1989, Hamisi, who agreed to an interview, the pumping system broke down in 1993, at a time when administrative decentralisation compelled the villagers to fund it. A wealthy villager provided the necessary funding since the village was unable to do so. However, the pumping system broke down again a few months later, marking the end of a system which had been working since 1971. What remains of it today are half-broken concrete markers, dilapidated copper taps, and damaged water pipes breaking through the ground surface in places. The water tower (Figure 2) now a refuge for bats, while the shack by the lake, which housed the pump, shows only traces of the missing pipes (Figure 3). The construction dates are sometimes still visible, engraved in concrete. Thus, the water tap in the schoolyard, which is functional but not supplied with water, has the date “2 September 1974” (Figure 4).

Figure 2

Figure 2

Kipo's water tower

Photo taken in October 2016 by Marie-Aude Fouéré

Figure 3

Figure 3

Kipo's former water pump shed

Photo taken in October 2016 by Marie-Aude Fouéré

Figure 4

Figure 4

The damaged copper tap in the courtyard of Kipo's public school

Photo taken in October 2016 by Marie-Aude Fouéré

12The village today is a far cry from what it looked like in the first half of the 1970s. During an informal conversation, Salma, now in her seventies, described how much the village flourished during the first years of Ujamaa: “We had water, shops, maize milling machines. We had toilets whereas before we had to go in the bushes with a hoe!” She also mentioned food aid provided freely during the Ujamaa period, and which sustained a sense of having a better life despite the great changes in the Rufiji production system caused by the villagisation policy. However, from the 1980s, the villagers increasingly depended on fishing and agricultural resources to generate income (Paul, Duvail and Hamerlynck 2011). As a result of disastrous weather conditions caused by El Niño in 1998, the 2000s led to departures to flood-prone areas as well as to Dar es Salaam. In a conversation, Tatu, a woman now in her fifties who left the village in 2008 with her children, but who comes back regularly to purchase essential goods (soap, tea, sugar), told me: “I do not want to live in the village anymore. One needs money every morning to buy doughnuts (maandazi) for the children (…). I do not have the money, I prefer to live in the fields where we eat porridge every morning.” She is divorced and relies on small-scale food-crop production since income is mainly generated from fishing, an activity exclusively done by men. The bush has reached the outskirts of the depopulating village, progressively erasing the initial markings of the Ujamaa housing plan. The standardisation and the sequencing of the village physical space and the principle of regrouping, which James Scott refers to as “high modernist authoritarianism,” one rational and centrally planned (Scott 1998), lasted as long as several other conditions coexisted: the coercive practices used by the regime to support and then impose villagisation (e.g. control by the local party office, by the local, regional, and national authorities, and by women and youth groups, etc.); direct aid policies (through the distribution of food and other items); and finally, the villagers’ perception that they were benefitting from the new living standards (Lal 2015). However, as explained by Goran Hyden (1980), the Tanzanian farmers did not remain “captured” for very long, until disadvantages outnumbered advantages and when the party-state lost its coercive and distributive capacity. The farmers’ rebelliousness is evident both in the way they now use the village space differently from what was intended by its planners, and in the progressive disappearance of the official markers characterising an Ujamaa village. However, when the question of success and failure of a state policy and its local implementation—a recurring focus of research on Ujamaa—are put aside to examine instead how people use spatial and material arrangements both in practice and discourse, then the study of the ruins and vestiges of Ujamaa (i.e. the tangible manifestations of a former development policy) and of their current uses highlights local social dynamics and representations of power, to which I will now turn.

The Social Lives of the Ujamaa Ruins

13The former tangible markers of villagisation account for only a fraction of all the materialities and representations of a past in which various temporalities and spaces are intertwined, and which villagers draw from to think and construct current social hierarchies locally. In this regard, in people’s minds, Kipo is divided into several neighbourhoods named after extended families who moved in under “Operation Rufiji” and usually regrouped over adjoining plots. Extended families, for instance the Kindindas, the Kungulios, and the Nguoganis, continue to live south of the main road, while others, including the Mapandas, Mpingis, Mweras, and the Sules, live north of it. Some of these surnames are still used to name the now derelict taps that were installed on the edge of family plots, such as “At the Matulis,” “At the Mweras,” etc. Therefore, the taps link family names with specific sites shaped by villagisation in two ways: broadly speaking, taps symbolise the geographical ordering and planning of the village in blocks; more particularly they identify specific sites created by a former development intervention. In other words, the link between taps and names exemplifies a process of “spatialisation of the social.” However, this spatialisation of the social should not be understood simply as a fixed inscription of the social in space, like an immobile mental snapshot; it is a dynamic inscription that makes it possible to trace the history or chronology of movements to the village. Locally, the settlement process in Kipo in the context of the villagisation is named luhame. Yet, this one word hides the fact that the extended families did not settle all at the same time, but arrived in different waves. Today, each family can provide the historical account of their own trajectory from their place of origin to Kipo. Moreover, this settlement process in different waves is used by people as temporal indicators to assert the anteriority of their settlement in the village, and simultaneously to make claim about their higher social legitimacy and individual respectability. Thus, members of the Kindinda family—one of whom provided accommodation for me during fieldwork—use their status as the first settlers in Kipo (they live in the very first plot (Block 1 of the land use plan) to establish their local authority. They combine this anteriority during the luhame process with their status as the earliest settlers of the northern bank of the Rufiji river more generally, therefore coming to Kipo in 1968 from only a few kilometres away, while most of the other villagers came from the other side of the river or even further away. As evidence of this historical anteriority, the Kindindas point to the graves of their ancestors located in a cemetery at the edge of the village, which date from before the creation of Kipo. The local, situational uses of geographical origins that are more or less close, and of moves to the village that are more or less old, may be combined with a third element—ethnicity—with the same objective of asserting anteriority and locality. The broad term “Warufiji” (literally, those from Rufiji) is sometimes used by the inhabitants of the Rufiji Valley to refer to themselves and in contrast to people considered outsiders. Yet, more refined ethnic divisions are used locally to distinguish between families established in Kipo according to their origins, which can also consider differences in language and cultural practices. The Kipo families identify with ethnic groups associated with southeastern Tanzania: Wapogoro, Wandegereko, Wazaramo, Wahehe, Wangindo, etc. Such ethnic names make it possible to determine their geographical origins—either imagined or real—but more interestingly, they are also indicative, locally, of the time when families settled in the village and consequently of their higher or lower status within local hierarchies.

14The spatialisation of the social also comes into play when land inheritance is concerned. At first glance, the physical planning of the village under Ujamaa seems to have little impact on daily life today due to its apparent blurring, if not invisibility. Yet, its original material traces, such as the boundaries of housing plots, can be discerned and reactivated at an appropriate time. The original perimeters and exact location of these plots need to be researched and retrieved in case of land sale, inheritance, and property disputes—even more as it is impossible to refer to the first official map of the village, which had been provided by the central government, but which disappeared from the local village offices where documents are supposed to be stored. Several markers are used in combination by villagers. Firstly, it is possible to identify physical markers, particularly plants, including, for instance, sisal plants located at the four corners of a plot. Secondly, lineages and patrilineal transmissions of plots and homes can then be reconstituted through the help of elders. When asked, the elders provide a recollection of the successive owners, referencing their names and sometimes even the physical and personality traits they were known by. Finally, the former paths and roads crossing the village, which, as previously mentioned, are partly visible despite important changes to their delineation, make it possible to retrieve the exact original boundaries of the plots. For instance, while I was discussing with one man about the boundaries of some of the plots, some villagers stopped by and took part in the discussion, and, using a stick, they drew on the sandy ground the outlines of a map which they used as an ad hoc shared spatial representation to reconstitute lineages and property transmission. All these elements demonstrate the importance of carefully considering the material vestiges of the “Operation Rufiji” in Kipo, rather than depreciating them due to their apparent invisibility or “ruination” (Stoler 2013). They remain a tangible and discursive resource making it possible for the villagers to claim rights and uses, as well as status and reputation.

15Finally, the material remains of the villagisation infrastructure in Kipo incorporate varied recollections of the past and generate memory narratives, which, because they refer to the local implementation of a national development agenda and to the associated relationship between state and citizens, also reactivate the promises of and hopes for development that, for a few of them, were kept and, for many others, were dashed (see notably Ferguson 1999). My purpose is not to ask whether nostalgia overtakes rejection, given that both sentiments alternate and even interlock, according to the specific moments in history that villagers recall, the personal stories or arguments they bring forward. What really matters is how the change of space and materials influences people’s relationship to the past, as well as their political sentiments. The case of water supply mentioned above can provide a heuristic case study to address this question. The network of public taps, which is now in ruins, serves as a flashback in terms of development and as a reminder of the declining social status for rural Tanzanians. Some villagers insist that they now need to fetch clear water in the river, a difficult and painstaking activity since they need to transport the water in jerrycans and buckets on their head or on a bicycle for several kilometres. Although Ujamaa followed a patriarchal vision of women and men, and of relationships between elders and youth (Lal 2010) in a society that was thought of as an “extended family,” the idea of development and modernity captured by the concept of maendeleo was also associated with the notion that improving living conditions would liberate women and children from painstaking tasks so that they would dedicate greater time and effort to building the nation. In Kipo, however, women and children are the most vulnerable to the deterioration of the water supply system. While in recent years an NGO put in place several wells in the village, some of the manual pumps have deteriorated, and the wells supply murky and salty water drawn from groundwater. The Nyererist promise to guarantee access to fresh water, a development priority, was not kept in the medium term. The vestiges of the village’s former public taps, a number of which adjoin the wells, including the one at Kipo’s main mosque, are constant reminders of this failed promise. Yet, according to one interlocutor, while the presence of the derelict taps is a sad reminder of better times, the villagers do not complain about the wells because, despite being less efficient—they must be operated manually, and only provide salty water—they still partially compensate for the deterioration of the former public water supply system. The recent “substitutes” (Jennings 2008) to the state, which has delegated the development of rural areas to private organisations and NGOs, seem to have successfully contained any protest.

  • 15 On the memory of health services in Tanzania, see Kamat (2008).

16In addition to reminding villagers of the withdrawal of the state and of the failed water supply, the taps also induce broad discussions and reflections concerning specific sites in Kipo in the 1970s which either faltered (e.g. school) or never materialised (e.g. dispensary)15 and hone in on the declining social status and the economic relegation of the rural populations of Rufiji.

17“You see, in the past, behind the school, we had guava trees, orange trees, a lot! Today we have only a few cashew trees from which we sell nuts at a ridiculously low price,” stated an angry Ali, while the two of us were coming back from the agricultural cooperative’s storehouses, where bags of cashew nuts picked by villagers are stored. The government agents of the Cashew Nuts Board Corporation, a parastatal organisation in charge of cashew production in Tanzania, had spent that morning in October 2016 evaluating the quality of cashew nuts in Kipo and had asked for baksheesh to secure high ranking and to allow the cooperative to sell nuts to wholesalers at the best price, although this best price was quite low (one euro per kilo). Again, this anecdote reveals that in Kipo, the objects and sites associated with villagisation are used by villagers as traces—with varying social, economic and political significance—which reflect their living conditions. The state-citizens relations as conceived under Ujamaa and experienced by Tanzanians in the 1970s, when public authorities were responsible for redistribution and modernisation, appear to be the measurement standards to express current frustrations and aspirations.


18Examining the uses of Ujamaa’s vestiges and villagisation in Tanzania makes it possible to closely link the study of legacies and memories—which too often focuses on discourses only—with the tangible environment, the living conditions and experiences, and how these interact. It also makes it possible to go beyond the recurring question of the successes and failures of Ujamaa through a focus on economic perspectives, and alternatively zoom in on the practical implications resulting from geographical reorganisation and development infrastructure in Ujamaa villages. The shift in perspective highlights not only the “affective and aesthetic diagnoses” (Lachenal and Mbodj-Pouye 2014, 7) which social actors make by going back and forth between the past and present, but also the material conditions of possibility of such diagnoses. While the material space is always concerned with the social and the symbolic, the social and symbolic space is inevitably grounded in materiality. This article, which focuses on the appropriation of ruins rather than on their possible avoidance, shows that sites, markers, and objects put in place at the time of villagisation can still have value as well as social and political efficiency in particular situations and this, despite being in a process of dereliction. Hidden plot boundaries that were drawn according to a standardised map can be tracked down today for the purpose of guaranteeing the transmission of land rights; and the migration waves can be recalled to assert an early settlement, and by doing so, claim local honour and respectability, authority and power. These two examples illustrate the practical efficiency of Ujamaa ruins in the production of social relations and social status at the local level.

19The situational uses of the tangible remains of Ujamaa can also contribute to wider evaluations of rural living conditions. These evaluations relate to the conception of a state-citizen relationship inherited from socialism. Today’s political, economic, and social expectations are grounded in visions of the “good old days” when the state had not yet retreated and had a material presence locally, in things and in places. The comparison between two presidential visits to Kipo, which were recounted to me several times during my visits, strongly highlights a sense of abandonment in contrast to the former attention given to the village. In 1969, soon after the creation of the village, Julius K. Nyerere visited Kipo as part of his nationwide presidential visits to the Ujamaa villages. He even asked his guards to leave him alone with the villagers so that he could have long talks with them and visit the village. He received two gifts, which were representative of the village’s activities (agriculture and fishing): cassava, and a miniature handcrafted wooden canoe. In contrast to Nyerere, Jakaya M. Kikwete, the president of Tanzania between 2005 and 2015, only drove through Kipo in a shiny official SUV, raising clouds of dry dust on a road which, when built under “Operation Rufiji”, materialised the start of the development process and the rapprochement between the state and its citizens. In Tanzania, Nyerere remains a powerful figure despite the failures of Ujamaa socialism and its economic outcome, primarily because he offered, through his actions and words, a moral ideal which still permeates today’s political sensibilities and which the vestiges of Ujamaa can reignite.

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1 I am indebted to Jean-Luc Paul for inviting me to do research in 2013 in the Rufiji region of Tanzania, where he had been working for several years. Without him, this research and some new reflections on the materiality of the memories of Tanzanian socialism would not have been possible. This work also owes a debt of gratitude to the generous discussions with Stéphanie Duvail and Olivier Hamerlynck, who have conducted research in geography, hydrology and ecology in this same region and village.

2 For a critical overview of some of these scholarly works on Ujamaa, see Bjerk (2010).

3 On past and present representations of Julius Nyerere in today’s Tanzania, see Fouéré (2015). Nyerere was known as mwalimu in Kiswahili, that is, “teacher.” See also the recent three-volume biography of Nyerere by Saida Yahya-Othman, Ng’wanza Kamata and Issa G. Shivji (2020).

4 See Lal (2015) as well as works discussing the experience of specific communities, for instance Tanzanian Asians (Brennan 2012).

5 See notably Scott (1998), Piot (2010), Rudnyckyj and Schwittay (2014), Lachenal and Mbodj-Pouye (2014).

6 Coulson (1982, 140).

7 “State-building” relates to the construction of the state apparatus, both as an intentional effort and as a result of unintentional and contradictory conflicts and negotiations; “nation-building” refers to the construction of a sense of belonging and a notion of the public good at the national level.

8 Priya Lal reminds us that as early as 1962, during a conference on African socialism held at Kivukoni College in Dar es Salaam (where party leaders were trained), Nyerere defined Ujamaa as a “socialist attitude of mind” (Nyerere 1968) most appropriate to the African context. He outlined its “thematic coordinates,” such as “a moral orientation entailing a commitment to hard work, community and self-sufficiency and a rejection of laziness, dependency, and exploitation” (Lal 2015, 27).

9 The fifth and last national census at the time this article was written dated from 2012 (2012 Population and Housing Census: Population Distribution by Administrative Area, 2013). According to estimates by the United Nations, Tanzania had about 60 million inhabitants in 2020.

10 On agriculture and ecology during villagisation more generally, see Kjekshus (1977).

11 Historian John Iliffe (1971, 71) underlines that the Rufiji delta was called “little Calcutta” due to the reputation of the rice produced there.

12 Poaching as a way to make up for economic precarity in the Rufiji region has been documented, notably by Paul, Hamerlynck and Duvail (2014).

13 The materials presented in this article were collected during research stays conducted in 2013, 2015 and 2016. They stem from formal and informal interviews, informal conversations with a diversity of people as well as from the observation of daily life and activities, mainly in Kipo and in some surrounding villages.

14 In 1977, TANU the only political party became Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM, Party of the Revolution).

15 On the memory of health services in Tanzania, see Kamat (2008).

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1
Légende One of Kipo's concrete border stones indicating the former boundaries of the village and dated 12 September 1968
Crédits Photo taken in October 2016 by Marie-Aude Fouéré
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,7M
Titre Figure 2
Légende Kipo's water tower
Crédits Photo taken in October 2016 by Marie-Aude Fouéré
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,6M
Titre Figure 3
Légende Kipo's former water pump shed
Crédits Photo taken in October 2016 by Marie-Aude Fouéré
Fichier image/jpeg, 2,3M
Titre Figure 4
Légende The damaged copper tap in the courtyard of Kipo's public school
Crédits Photo taken in October 2016 by Marie-Aude Fouéré
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,9M
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Marie-Aude Fouéré, « On the Tracks of Ujamaa: Vestiges and Memories in a Former Socialist Village in Southern Tanzania »Les Cahiers d’Afrique de l’Est / The East African Review [En ligne], 59 | 2024, mis en ligne le 04 avril 2024, consulté le 25 mai 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Marie-Aude Fouéré

Lecturer in Anthropology at École des hautes études en sciences sociales, Marseille, France;

Researcher at Institut des mondes africains (IMAf).

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