In 1991, I spent a couple of months in two Ujamaa villages in Tanzania. The Ujamaa system was introduced by Julius Nyerere in the early 1960s, and the World Bank effectively killed it as a system in the late 80s, although a few independent Ujamaa villages survived into the 90s. I’m going to briefly describe my experiences there, and especially the idea.
So here is the most important thing to remember when reading this article: it’s all about the idea. In the age of the internet, I think this idea could be implemented globally, and I think it could resist corporate corruption. People will point to problems with the original Ujamaa system, I’m sure – but that’s not the point. It’s the idea I’m talking about, not what happened on the ground in Tanzania. That was Ujamaa in one country – next time it could be global.
Why we need a new idea
There are soon going to be 10 billion of us, and we’ll have some huge decisions to make – around ecology, economics, population, technology and conflict. For example, think about genetic engineering, nanotechnology, nuclear power & weaponry or artificial intelligence – the wrong decision about any one of those things could prove disastrous or even fatal – and more so in combination with the others, with a rapidly increasing human population and a degrading ecology.
So we need extremely intelligent, compassionate and honest people, with no vested interests, making those decisions. However, what’s currently happening is that either we’re not talking about those things, or the decisions are being made by a consortium of bankers, business leaders, career politicians and the military. They’re not our most intelligent, compassionate and honest people, and they have vested financial and career interests in the decisions made.
Pure democracy isn’t good enough, because the vast majority don’t understand enough about the issues to be able to make informed decisions, nor do they understand the system itself; and violent revolutions don’t change anything – decisions still end up being made by an elite with vested interests.
We need to find a way to get the most intelligent, compassionate and honest amongst us, without vested interests, to make the big decisions. I believe that the Ujamaa idea is the way to do it.
My stay in two Ujamaa villages
In February 1991, I took a bus from Kenya down the coast to Dar-es-Salaam. I’d read about Julius Nyerere and the Ujamaa system and I wanted to see how the villages really worked. I thought it would be relatively easy, but I was wrong. After two weeks, by way of the British High Commission, the Prime Minister’s office and a different government department every day, someone from the Ilala regional office turned up at my guest house with a jeep to take me inland to an Ujamaa village. The village was called Chanika, and a man called Mosha, who spoke English and had a degree from a university in East Germany, hosted me in his hut, and we spent most evenings talking about the system in depth. Other people joined in, and Mosha translated. We sat on the floor and everyone ate with a spoon from the same large, round metal plate. Meals included rice, maize meal, cassava, vegetables, fish, beans and chillies. They were great people – intelligent, passionate, trustworthy.
How it worked
The system started with 17 villages in 1961, and by the 70s, 20 million people out of a total population of 24 million were living in Ujamaa villages. The average size of a village was around 3000, and each group of ten households elected one of their neighbours, who obviously they knew well, to sit on the village committee. Each village committee elected one of their members to sit on the district committee; each district committee elected one of their members to sit on the regional committee; and each regional committee elected one of their members to sit on the national government. That was it. That was how Tanzania was run from the sixties to the eighties. I have much more information about the development of this system, which I will make available online soon.
In the second village – Mvuti, I was hosted by Mawenje, who explained more about the practicalities of life in the villages. Everyone worked for a couple of days per week on the village plots, growing cash crops that government trucks took to Dar for export. The money was used to provide each village with a primary school and a clinic. The rest of the week, everyone worked on their own plots, growing food for their families, or tending their animals, cooking, brewing ngongo (coconut liquor), building houses, making furniture, fishing or playing football etc.
Representatives were known personally to the people choosing them, and there were no election campaigns. There were no corporate political donations, no lobby industry and no corporate jobs for politicians to corrupt, pervert and ultimately prevent democracy. Everyone built their own home from local, natural materials, and there were no mortgages or locks. No insurance was required. Everyone lived close to nature; virtually all needs were met from the immediate environment – including food, all of which was organic; no-one employed anyone else. It was an African idea, at a time when a Europe-centric, capitalist system was destroying traditional systems all over Africa. Different tribes lived together in the same villages, as did the different religions. I met Muslims who celebrated Christmas and I witnessed Christians celebrating the end of Ramadan. By 1980, Tanzania had almost the same literacy and infant mortality rates as the Western European average.
There were serious flaws in the development of the system. Some people were forced into villages in the early 70s, and although by the late 70s people were scrambling to get into Ujamaa villages, you can’t force people to do things for their own good. As Kant said, people are ends not means. We just have to start building it and demonstrate that it’s better. The Chama Cha Mapinduzi party was formed, which, it is claimed, took control of the system, so that the elected government was subservient to the central committee of the party. But as I said, it’s the idea I’m talking about. Things happened in a pre-internet, extremely poor country that can be avoided in a 21st century, global system.
Also, because it was a poor country, things like cancer and psychiatric care were sparse – but I was told that because the healthy, organic, active, communal nature of the system, cases of cancer and mental health problems were relatively rare (don’t shoot the messenger here – this is just what I was told).
What happened to the Ujamaa system
I was told that the World Bank (representing the corporate system) pressured Tanzania to dismantle the system. The first demand was that Tanzania have multi-party elections. Their response was that the Ujamaa system is actually more democratic than a multi-party system, because representatives were known personally by their electorate, and there was no party line or any avenues for corruption (by money, at least). But their pleas fell on deaf ears, and because they required World Bank funds for things that needed to be imported, like oil or machinery, they had to give way and hold multi-party elections. Chama Cha Mapinduzi won the election, and so the Ujamaa system was saved. This wasn’t enough for the World Bank, who demanded that the system be unhooked from the governance of the country – and of course they got their way.
However, there’s a new book out by Ralph Ibbott, who lived in an Ujamaa village from 1963 to 1969, that suggests that the Ujamaa system was already dying before the World Bank put it out of its misery. The political class in Tanzania were threatened by this autonomous ‘peasants’ movement, and controlled it from almost the beginning, for their own advantage. He singles out Nyerere as a beacon of incorruptibility however, who fought for the independence of the system, and retired to live in his village when it became clear that would not be possible. More on that here and here.
Again, it’s the idea that’s important, whatever happened in Tanzania.
What’s in a name?
Should the new idea be called ‘Ujamaa’ – or maybe ‘Ujamaa 2’? We’ve toyed with other names for it. The first was ‘8 Handshakes’ – because believe it or not, if this system covered the entire world, there would only be 8 levels between groups of neighbours and the centre group. This changed to ‘Philosophy Club’ when we started meeting in London (see below), but really, it was Nyerere’s idea not mine, and so I feel that it should be called ‘Ujamaa 2’ in honour of him. It’s a fine name too – it means ‘togetherness’, ‘unity’ or ‘oneness’ in Swahili.
However, another translation of Ujamaa is ‘socialism’. Now, this could mean that half the world would oppose the idea before they really understand it, because of the association with that word. Nyerere called Ujamaa ‘African socialism’, but when many people in the West, especially the US, hear the word socialism, they understand Marxism, or state control, or some sort of North Korean fascism. But Nyerere was using the word literally. Capitalism means that power is with capital, which he opposed, and so do I (and probably so do you if you’ve read this far). For Nyerere (and for me), socialism just means that power is embedded in society, rather than with capital. I support that idea, whilst at the same time fervently opposing the Marxist vehicle that was used to try to get there, and the awful systems that it spawned in the 20th century.
We could just as easily call capitalism and socialism ‘moneyism’ and ‘peopleism’ respectively; but there’s nothing ‘left’ or ‘right’ about this idea. It encompasses both the left’s principle of justice and the right’s of freedom.
I have lots more information about the rise and fall of the Ujamaa system, and about my time in Tanzania, with many more details about the villages I stayed in. I’m writing a book that will contain all this information, as well as my ideas about how the idea could be extended globally, using, of course, the internet as the main tool – a tool that was unavailable to Nyerere.
I’ve done some preparatory work for the website. We’ve got the domain ujamaa2.org, and I’ve split the world into 15 blocs based on population, and then split each of those blocs into 15 – again based on population. So there are 225 regions, and people can find theirs on the website, to connect with other people in their region to start the ball rolling. The reason I’ve done this is that there needs to be a set number in each group from which representatives are chosen, and, just to kick start the idea, I’ve gone with 15 as that number.
The reason I’ve gone for 15 is that I lived at Redfield community for 13 years, and during all that time, the average number of people living there, and therefore in the meetings, was 15. It always felt as though there weren’t enough people if it fell below 15 – we were rattling around; and it always felt as though there were too many if it went above 15 – it was difficult to be heard. But 15 felt just right. I have to stress that this is just to kick-start the idea. When the centre group is formed, they can make all the decisions.
Also, we started something called ‘Philosophy Club’ in south-west London in 2012, to a) talk philosophy once a month with a group of 15 people, and b) to see if other people would find that an enjoyable experience. It’s still going, and people really like it. We meet in each other’s homes, we eat and drink together, talk philosophy (not academic philosophy – more ‘freestyle’ philosophy) and party afterwards. We’ve got to know each other quite well, and it’s spawned an interesting social circle, which has made me more convinced that an idea based on groups of local people getting together could work.
I don’t think the Ujamaa 2 idea can be started from the top, because how would we choose the people at the ‘top’ (or more accurately, and less hierarchically, the centre)? And it can’t be started at the grassroots because of apathy. But it can be started at the town level. I think it’s absolutely possible to find 15 people in any town who are interested in political change, and are happy to get together with 14 like-minded people for a social gathering and interesting conversation once a month. So, let’s do that in as many towns as possible, all over the world, and use that as a base for building a parallel system. We can then promote it, and talk about how we push it down to the grassroots and transfer power to it.
There’s a lot more information in the ‘implementation’ chapter of the book, and I’ll start to put it online slowly as it develops. I’m going to blog a lot more about it, and ask you good people to share it on social media, comment on the articles and talk to as many people as you can about it.
The views expressed in our blog are those of the author and not necessarily lowimpact.org's
1Peter Green May 12th, 2015
beautiful, absolutely beautiful! Count me in!
2AnnieV May 12th, 2015
I bloody love this idea. I’m in too.
3Dave Darby May 13th, 2015
Thanks guys – when people read and absorb it, they tend to like it. The trick is getting people to read it.
4Axel May 13th, 2015
Love it! Finally a sound that resonates with my thoughts and it’s awesome that you have an example too, Dave. It looks like it went wrong where I would expect it to. I’ve an answer to it, but I still riddle on how to put it into practice.
In short, the way I see it: we need a new monetary system, based on true values. Our current system does not take these into account. Since it causes poverty, pollution, war and many other disasters the value of our money is actually an anti-value. So, I think we need a monetary system (or a way to trade with ease) which is not compatible with the current monetary system. So,
1. there cannot be corruption, because corruption is an anti-value,
2. the current money cannot influence the new system,
3. the new system is far more attractive, since it sows value, not anti-value.
The moment such system exists, it can only grow and it will outgrow the current system, which then can only perish. I currently only see the ideal though. Maybe open source is a great foundation. All basics needs could as well be provided for free anyway.
I’m also confident that we need democracy from the ground up. Basically the goal is freedom, since every other value is some kind of freedom and freedom is not something we share. The assumption that one’s freedom ends where another’s freedom starts is wrong. Where our freedom ends is where we join forces to achieve more individual freedom together. So, power should be shared equally. That said, there can be decision making groups, but the people in these groups are social servants, not bosses.
It’s true what you write about apathy though. I’ve tried to start a new political party around this idea (inspired on permaculture & transition movement), not to act like politicians, but to be sure people can vote for change. Many people were enthousiastic… to see me do it. They did not jump on the wagon, so it didn’t work out (yet). I think they need a concept that is more finished, but that didn’t fit my idea of democracy, I do not have all the answers anyway and I don’t think it would be right.
FYI, since you mention TED, I came accros this too today: http://ideas.ted.com/heres-how-to-run-the-world/. I’m much more enthusiastic about your article than about that though. I feel the question is right, but the answer is not. It’s simply more of the same. The way it’s portrayed now makes me expect it would end up in power struggles and not really change anything fundamentally enough. Yet then again, the question is often more important than the answer. Maybe they need to get inspired… and they know how to do a TED talk ?
Maybe I can help with your website. It depends on what you envision, but I’m building a WordPress platform at https://eco13.me/ which should be an awesome help especially for small to middle sized nonprofits. OpenStreetMap or Google Maps could be used to add a map, f.ex. http://solarzondergrenzen.be/
Either way, I’d love to join the fun and will definately chew on the Ujamaa concept, see how I can mix it into my current plans, how I can add to it and I look forward to read your book.
5Diane Oliver May 14th, 2015
Wonderful. Wouldn’t it be great to get a whole constituency interested in this? Will spread the word.
6pooya May 14th, 2015
Although it might not be very desirable, but I think there are even potentials of turning this into a political party as well. I mean Look at the green movement and liquid democracy ideologies that have gained power in certain regions and continue to do. If the Idea is Noble and can benefit the masses and we have enough reasoning to support the welfare it ill bring upon the society. Why not channeling the billions of pounds of Tax payers money into something noble like this. I think we should use internet and our technological advancement to enslave the system that has enslaved us and fix it back. I see it as a wild horse that needs to be tamed.
7Dave Darby May 14th, 2015
Hi Pooya. Good talking to you yesterday, and I’d like to blog about your Qetema idea soon – I think there’s potential for overlap with the Ujamaa2 idea (if that turns out to be its name). We could have a good old debate in the comments section.
I’d also like to organise conferences/gatherings of ‘ideas’ people, who understand that we need systemic change as well as incremental change. It could be run along the lines of the ‘Internationals’ of the 19th century, where ideas were discussed about how to create a new system (unfortunately, Marx’s idea was the one that emerged victorious from those gatherings. I would speak strongly against any confrontational or violent approach to change now).
I imagine a 15 minute presentation (which ‘TED’ say is the ideal length) from each delegate on the problem as they see it, and how their work will contribute to change, followed by a question and answer session. The discussions could be blogged and/or turned into a book.
There are so many of us beavering away on our own, very useful and interesting, projects – I think it would be very useful to understand each other more and explore ways that we can collaborate / complement / mutually endorse and promote each other’s work).
8Elizabeth Menezes May 14th, 2015
Brilliant. Let’s go for it.
9Jenny May 14th, 2015
I love this idea in a much smaller way I have started to have a very similar idea, I have set up a Facebook group to start gathering ideas and shape something together hopefully change and wouldn’t it be great to have a new political party. The Facebook group is called “encompass…a circle of people wanting to make change post elections” please feel free to join
10Dave Darby May 14th, 2015
Jenny – could do with a link. But I’m wondering why you think that starting a political party is similar to the Ujamaa2 idea, which is all about not having political parties.
11Dave Darby May 14th, 2015
Axel – I have a couple of questions / problems with what you’ve written there:
1. OK, a new monetary system would be good – but where’s the implementation plan? We can’t get a new monetary system by just asking for it.
2. In capitalism, power is with capital – which means that governments are within the capitalist power hierarchy – just not at the top. Capital is at the top. So whoever wins, whether it’s Podemos, Syriza, the Greens or your new party, how can they bring about fundamental change in a system that they don’t ultimately control?
I’ll have a look at that TED talk, and can you email me at [email protected] to talk about the website.
12Dave Darby May 14th, 2015
Axel – Good Country sounds very interesting. don’t know what’s happened to his website though – seems to have dropped about a million places in the rankings this year alone.
13Andrew Rollinson May 16th, 2015
I like this idea very much. I think it has lots of potential and I want to be part of it.
14John Harrison May 17th, 2015
It’s an interesting concept, very democratic in the low levels and offering the potential to put the best people for the task (rather then the best self-salespeople) up the chain.
However one paragraph made me go cold “Also, because it was a poor country, things like cancer and psychiatric care were sparse – but I was told that they weren’t needed because the healthy, organic, active, communal nature of the system caused neither cancer nor mental health problems!” That sounds like a political denial of reality in the same way some African states deny AIDS. The question is “Did you believe that?”
15Dave Darby May 17th, 2015
Well, TZ’s cancer rate generally is low – see http://www.worldlifeexpectancy.com/cause-of-death/all-cancers/by-country/, but they were saying that people who live with fresh air, exercise, lots of organic fruit and vegetables etc. don’t get cancer. They see cancer as a disease of development – because of synthetic chemicals, pollution, bad air, pesticides etc. Tanzanians smoke though, which will push the figure up. Also, Africans are slowly moving away from the countryside into cities, with all the problems of ‘developed’ countries.
As for the mental health problems – I have no idea – but again, they were saying that living in close-knit communities prevents child abuse (don’t know if it’s true, but it’s feasible – having lived on a commune for 13 years, certainly it would have been difficult to hide child abuse there); plus kids have lots of other kids to play with and ‘aunties and uncles’ to look after them, and they grow up poor but well-balanced. Again, it sounds feasible. Difficult to check now as the ujamaa system has gone.
16John Harrison May 17th, 2015
I daresay pollution due to development is a cause of many cancers although the longer you live the more likely it is you’ll develop some cancer as cell replication goes wrong.
Reading the Ujamaa by Nyerere I can understand the world bank turning against it –
“There must be something wrong in a society where one man. however hard-working or clever he may be, can acquire as great a “reward” as a thousand of his fellows can acquire them.”
Bet that goes down well in the City (of London) and in premier league football clubs!
17Andrew Rollinson May 18th, 2015
This statement about cancer is likely true. I was fortunate recently to have a long conversation with this man:
For anyone interested in seeing how cancer is caused and how a billion pound industry has developed around the treatments and funding of research for it, hear this man speak, or buy his book if you can’t. I don’t give to cancer charities anymore, despite most of my family dying from the disease.
The cause of cancer was identified in the 1930s by Otto Warburg, who won a Nobel prize for it. It is related to sugar intake, and some believe that due to the pressures of the sugar industry and all the hangers on with a financial interest in this, Warburg’s work has been heavily surpressed. It makes sense, and there’s lots of stuff on the internet about this.
In relation to the post, there are indeed parts of the world where cancer is unheard of, and people live to their 80s and beyond and die out in the field with a shovel in their hands. Have a look at the website link.
18Dave Darby May 18th, 2015
Here’s a list of known carcinogens – http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/othercarcinogens/generalinformationaboutcarcinogens/known-and-probable-human-carcinogens.
Although there are some natural things on there (some nuts, salted fish, solar radiation, wood and leather dust), it’s pretty clear that the vast majority are synthetic substances and products of industrial development.
Sugar’s not on the list though – but you did say ‘related to sugar intake’ not sugar itself.
19Shaun Chamberlin (@DarkOptimism) May 18th, 2015
Regarding how to package it, to my eye the key concept is all in this short paragraph:
“The system started with 17 villages in 1961, and by the 70s, 20 million people out of a total population of 24 million were living in Ujamaa villages. The average size of a village was around 3000, and each group of ten households elected one of their neighbours, who obviously they knew well, to sit on the village committee. Each village committee elected one of their members to sit on the district committee; each district committee elected one of their members to sit on the regional committee; and each regional committee elected one of their members to sit on the national government. That was it. That was how Tanzania was run from the sixties to the eighties. I have much more information about the development of this system, which I will make available online soon.”
As you say, it’s all about the idea, and that needs to be front-and-centre, not further through the piece than most people will read without a good reason. The next mental response after grasping it will often be “blah, blah, nice idea, but it’ll never happen”, which is why the fact that it’s actually been implemented with 20m people, for decades, certainly caught my attention.
All the rest could be filed under “click here for more information”, as by that point you’ve captured people’s interest. Whether as a talk or blog or whatever, I say you should always start with the idea, before getting into its history, your personal experience with it, or even (arguably) why we need it.
20Andrew Rollinson May 19th, 2015
It is to do with how sugar alters the acid/alkaline environment in the cell, which makes it vulnerable to a “trigger” and immune response. In addition to creating the environment for cancer, sugar then feeds the cancerous cells. I’m not so knowledgeable to explain this, so here’s an extract from the cancer-acts website:
Sugar acidifies the body and greatly contributes to acidosis (over acidity of the body). As the second side of the same coin the acidifying nature of sugar causes a depletion of the cellular oxygen, to cause what is termed as an ‘anaerobic’ body environment. The acidification and oxygen deprivation promotes fermentation of sugars within the body which in turn changes the body’s cells from the normal ‘oxygen’ respiration to ‘fermentation’ respiration.
The starvation of oxygen and subsequent fermentation process shuts down the body cells normal functions which are to absorb nutrients and to utilise energy. In the cells natural attempts to survive in these in deoxygenated body conditions they go into out of control cell division and replication, cancer!
There are other issues that may be ‘triggers’ for cancer but acidosis and an anaerobic environment seem to be the essential underlying criteria for cancer to develop. The triggers can be things like smoking, a bruise, Candida or anything that kick-starts the healing process and immune system into gear.
21Dave Darby May 19th, 2015
Very good point, and yes, you’re right, that’s the nub of the idea.
I’m just reading a book about how to deliver a TED talk (I haven’t been invited to do a TED talk, but it’s good information). It advises telling a story, and folding your idea into it. Maybe that works better with a talk though, as you have a captive audience, and can use body language.
Maybe when I blog about this again though, I should put that idea up front, then, as you say, talk about why it’s necessary and my personal experiences.
22Dave Darby May 19th, 2015
I know you’re a stickler for peer-review. Is this? If so, sugar’s got to go.
But yes, there wasn’t much sugar in the ujamaa diet – unless you count sugar in fruit.
23Andrew Rollinson May 20th, 2015
Am I suggesting that science has discovered that our consumption of something must be cut down for the benefit of humanity, but because “cutting down our consumption” of something does not bring in any revenue and in fact harms year on year shareholder profits, then governments have not embraced the science? …………Fossil fuel consumption?
I think that a Nobel Prize for the research is credible enough to satisfy even the biggest sceptic. Still, an article reviewing the topic in the peer-reviewed Journal of Low Impact Living would be useful.
24Dave Darby May 20th, 2015
Now there’s a thought!
25Axel July 26th, 2015
Sorry for getting back only just now. I assumed I signed up on comments through email, but didn’t see any. Anyway…
“1. OK, a new monetary system would be good – but where’s the implementation plan? We can’t get a new monetary system by just asking for it.”
True, and we shouldn’t ask for it either. There are many examples of local currencies, but these work more or less in the same way as the current money, except that they are local. However, it shows that when there is a community, that community can create its own currency. Once it’s there, and it’s fundamentally better, it can only grow.
When more and more people start to use it, more and more products and services become available through the new system. This does not eliminate the current system right away, but that’s okay. When there is choice I’m confident that it is a done deal. Then the current system becomes more and more futile.
Yet, as said, I did not get beyond the ideal yet. First the system must be concretize. That is imo the most difficult part. Then there must be a community that trusts it and wants to use it. Just like with any other currency, it’s the people who trust it and use it, who make it valuable. Our current money also only has value because we agree to it.
“2. In capitalism, power is with capital – which means that governments are within the capitalist power hierarchy – just not at the top. Capital is at the top. So whoever wins, whether it’s Podemos, Syriza, the Greens or your new party, how can they bring about fundamental change in a system that they don’t ultimately control?”
Exactly. They can’t as long as they do not think out of the box and stick with the current monetary system. It is fundamentally wrong. It applies reversed logic.
We have fake “representative” democracies overarched by a money dictatorship. True democracy is not a tepid average, it’s a sum. It’s respect for diversity and solidarity and it’s all about joining forces to achieve maximum freedom for everyone. At least, that is how it would make sense to me, regardless of the term.
A political party that wins the elections, however, could create a new, logical currency, if they had the common sense and the inspiration. This would be a big advantage, since it then could be deployed on a national level.
Also, if they had the decency, governments could organise referenda to change the constitution, to create a true democracy, or an Ujamaa system, and to return power to the people. Again, the advantage would be the national level. This would make things easier. When it’s done on a “lower” level, the community is still subordinated to the national organisation: a prison.
“Good Country sounds very interesting. don’t know what’s happened to his website though – seems to have dropped about a million places in the rankings this year alone.”
They first had a list with scores of all the countries on the homepage: the Good Country Index (http://www.goodcountry.org/overall). This got a lot of attention in the media. So, at that time, the ranking got boosted heavily… for a while. I tend to think this explains it.
26Rendani Magoda March 14th, 2016
Good day, can you please send me the contact details of a person who deals with copyrights and permissions. We want to use one of the image on this website.