Saturday, December 9, 2017

Did Tanzania Win Independence in 1961?

Tanzania won independence from Britain on December 9, 1961. At least that is what we are told. Is Tanzania independent today? The British ruled Tanzania, then Tanganyika, for over forty years. What did forty years of British rule do to Tanganyika and was the changing of flags in December 9th lead to independence? The British were not in Tanganyika to develop the territory and its people; they were there to develop their own people and country, not Tanganyika and Tanganyikans. Tanganyika was underdeveloped and set up by the British to be dependent on the former colonial power. The "independence" of Tanganyika was ultimately contingent upon compliance with Western demands. Steering away from the West meant a declaration of war. This, Tanzania, would learn the hard way in the course of five years after the so-called independence. The quest for an independentTanzania is far from over fifty six years later. 

Tanganyika, and later Tanzania, struggled from December 9, 1961 to assert its so-called independence. This is not just the story of Tanzania alone, it is the story of Africa in general. In the case of Tanzania, the leadership attempted to capitalize on the shifting of flags in 1961 to curve out an independent path.  Tanzania took a path that was unique in Africa.  First, much of the young nation's resources were directed in removing minority regimes in southern Africa from the beginning.  Secondly, Tanzania under the leadership of Julius Nyerere attempted to curve out a path set in the Arusha Declaration.  Both policies placed Tanzania on a collision course with the West.  

The Arusha Declaration was a remarkable statement of principles; it sought to enshrine ideals and principles and curve out an independent path for the young nation. Like the American Declaration of Independence or the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Arusha Declaration sought to declare to the world principles and objectives of Tanzania; most of the principles were grounded in the ideas of equality, liberty, and justice.  However, the Arusha Declaration sounded alarm bells in western capitals. Why would a document that starts with the principle that "all human beings are equal", that "every individual has a right to dignity and respect" a document whose first listed aims were "to consolidate and maintain the independence of this country and freedom of its people" and to "safeguard the inherent dignity of the individual in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights" cause so much controversy and subsequent clandestine war? Perhaps the answer lies in the commitment to policy of Socialism, African Socialism to be exact. Or maybe it could be due to the fourth and the eleventh aims of the Declarations, namely "to cooperate with all the political parties in Africa engaged in the liberation of all Africa" and "to see that the Government co-operates with other States in Africa in bringing about African unity"? Even if the Arusha Declaration left out commitment to Socialist principle, it would still have been perceived as antagonistic to Western interests. After all, one of the key parts of the Declaration was Self-Reliance, the quest to build up Tanzania independently and set it on a path to glory. Self-reliance was one of the most important components of the Arusha Declaration. Tanzania sought to become self-reliant in order to be in position to assert its independence.

Going back to December 1961, it is clear that the colonial powers were not serious about giving Tanganyika true independence. It is telling that major Western powers were busy promising Tanganyika economic aid on the eve of "independence" and in the weeks and months after December 9th. A review of some of the western newspapers from December 1961 reveals headlines such as "Tanganyika needing aid on eve of independence," "American and German Loans to Aid Tanganyika," and "US offers Prompt Aid to Newly Independent Tanganyika." Why would Britain rush to offer aid to newly independent Tanganyika after ruling the territory for forty years? It is obvious that the country had been underdeveloped in order to develop Britain. Furthermore, it is evident that Tanganyika was being set up to become a dependent state. Such is the story of Tanzania's so-called "independence." It is a story that resonates in all corners of Africa.  The struggle for independence is far from over.  Political independence means nothing if there is no economic, and an extent, social independence.  The young nation has fell short of achieving true independence. A nation that is weak economically is bound to face political interference.  Most importantly, a nation that cannot feed and provide for its own people is bound to be caught up in a cycle of dependency, and hence, give up its independence.  

©Azaria Mbughuni 
December 9, 2017