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A street in Kigoma, Tanzania

Economic Justice and African Socialism: An Interview with Zitto Kabwe

Zitto Kabwe

Zitto Kabwe

Party Leader of Alliance for Change & Transparency Wazalendo more

Joe Guinan

Joe Guinan

Executive director, The Next System Project more

Martin O’Neill

Martin O’Neill

Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of York; Commissioning Editor of Renewal more

Movement Strategy & History

This interview with Zitto Kabwe by Martin O’Neill and Next System Project Executive Director Joe Guinan was originally published in two parts by Renewal. We are grateful for the opportunity to repost this important conversation here. 


Zitto Kabwe has been a leading opposition figure in Tanzania’s national politics since he first came to parliament in 2005. He quickly joined more seasoned opposition MPs in drawing attention to a string of government corruption scandals. He was also closely involved in activist efforts to reform Tanzania’s mining legislation, a push that ultimately led to the replacement of the World Bank-backed 1998 Mining Act. 

Zitto returned to Parliament for a second term in 2010, taking up a powerful position as Chair of the Public Organizations Accounts Committee (POAC). Under his tutelage, POAC challenged the government repeatedly over corruption, prompting then President Kikwete to reshuffle his Cabinet in 2012. Shortly thereafter, actors within the ruling party—Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM)—manoeuvred to change the parliamentary standing orders and scrap the POAC. The popular Zitto nevertheless bounced back in 2013 as Chair of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). 

The PAC soon gained its own notoriety. Thanksto Zitto’s “forensic skill and determined handling”, the committee brought a damning report to Parliament in 2014, implicating several ministers and wealthy business tycoons in a £116m energy scandal. The “escrow scandal”, as it was known, captured national attention and led to the firing or resignation of several ministers and the (somewhat delayed) arrest of two businessmen. 

In 2015, Zitto left his former party, Chama Cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (CHADEMA), and founded the avowedly left-wing ACT-Wazlendo party, a new force for democratic socialism within Tanzania, on whose ticket he won his third term in parliament. 

After the 2015 elections, though, the political climate in Tanzania changed markedly. President Kikwete’s successor, John Pombe Magufuli (also from CCM), swiftly moved to crack down on opposition parties and activist organisations, to rein in Parliament, and to constrain the space for dissent even within the ruling party itself.  The list of anti-democratic measures include: an unconstitutional ban on public rallies by political parties; the suspension of several newspapers; the arrest and imprisonment of opposition leaders; the harassment of prominent activists and public figures; failure to investigate the disappearance of multiple opposition activists and journalists; failure to investigate an assassination attempt against Tundu Lissu, another prominent opposition MP; the enforcement of new, authoritarian legislation; and the list goes on.

Throughout this period, Zitto has continued to adopt a bold stance in and out of Parliament. He has done so despite numerous threats and one prior arrest. In mid-2016, Zitto published a lengthy and highly critical statement in Tanzania’s leading English-language newspaper, which offered an early summary of many worrying political trends.  Beyond statements, he has been at the forefront of challenging government, both for its political repression and damaging economic interventions. In November last year, for instance, he was briefly held by police after he raised concerns about official government growth figures. As many international commentators noted, there was considerable substance to Zitto’s concern. The heavy-handed government response, meanwhile, prompted one observer to conclude, “Tanzania’s macroeconomic outlook: less growth, more repression.”  

In Spring of this year, Zitto again played a leading role in drawing attention to the government’s illegal move to withhold an export levy on cashew nuts, 65 percent of which should have been returned to cashew nut farmers. After nearly three years of staying relatively quiet, Parliament rallied to challenge the government, spurred on by hundreds of farmers who travelled to observe the parliamentary proceedings. Ultimately, ruling party MPs were forced to back down, but even so, the controversy alerted an increasingly authoritarian government that it had gone too far.

This past Sunday, 28 October, Zitto came forward again, this time convening a press conference to raise a number of serious concerns. These related to:

(1)  A renewed crisis affecting the cashew nut sector, in part engendered by the government’s earlier decision to withhold funds;

(2) The recent abduction of Tanzanian billionaire Mo Dewji and the need for more transparency from security services surrounding that affair;

(3) The general state of insecurity in the country;

(4) The alleged killings of over 100 civilians nearly three weeks ago during a police operation to remove livestock keepers from a protected forest in Zitto’s home district of Kigoma. 

Regarding the last point, Zitto called on the police to provide more information. Instead, three days later, on Wednesday 31 October 2018, he was arrested at his home in Dar, charged with sedition over his comments about the killings and denied bail. The following day, he was again questioned, his house was searched, and after the police found nothing, the police again denied him bail and refused to allow him to appear in court.

Having spent two nights in jail in what his close associates say are very poor conditions, Zitto was released on bail on Friday 2 November. He still faces charges of “sedition” relating to his public statements.

Realizing Economic Justice in Tanzania:

Martin O’Neill and Joe Guinan met up with Zitto Kabwe in Liverpool on 28 September 2018, during the Labour Party conference, and The World Transformed festival.

Martin O’Neill:   Zitto, it’s wonderful to have the chance to talk with you here in Liverpool, and we’re very grateful that you have time to talk with Renewal. To start with, can you tell us about your political party, ACT-Wakalendo, which I believe is quite a new party?

Zitto Kabwe:  Yes. It’s four years old now. It was founded in 2014 as a result of an ideological struggle within one of the main opposition parties, Chadema. A group of us wanted to change the Chadema Party, which although it been focussed on ending corruption, was very much a centre right party, and we wanted at least to move it to the centre left, while retaining an anti-corruption stance. We knew that it was impossible to make Chadema into a fully leftist party, but the founders of the party were not ready for even a slight shift in position, and so we were expelled from the party. So we decided to form a completely left-wing party.

Martin O’Neill:  Before this, had there been an existing socialist party of any kind in Tanzania?

Zitto Kabwe: Yes, there was. There is an existing party that had been at least partially socialist, which is CCM, the ruling party (Chama Cha Mapinduzi). You know, most of the liberation parties in Sub-Saharan Africa were left-wing parties. They were to some degree socialist parties or they at least called themselves socialist parties. But in Tanzania this held even more, with our liberation party having a real socialist tradition, and with Tanzania having been a real centre for the left-wing movement in Africa following the Declaration of Arusha – the Arusha Declaration by Julius Nyerere – on Ujamaa and Socialism.

Martin O’Neill:  The idea of “Ujamaa” is something I want to ask you a lot more about…

Zitto Kabwe:   Yes, of course, no problem. So what happened was that the ruling party, the CCM, abandoned Ujamaa and the Arusha Declaration in 1992 following much pressure from international institutions, following policies associated with a more neoliberal adjustment programme. This type of policies we are talking here are about privatisation of almost everything, with these measures being pushed on us  in Tanzania during the times of the Washington Consensus. And then the CCM party turned to the right completely. And so then there was no longer a socialist party – a real socialist party – in the country up to when we formed the ACT in 2014.

Martin O’Neill:  You’ve mentioned Julius Nyerere, and his tradition of African socialism, and the idea of Ujamaa. Can you say a bit about what your party is trying to do to reengage with that tradition of Julius Nyerere?

Zitto Kabwe:  Yes. Actually, that’s exactly what we are doing. The bad thing is, most of our documents are in Swahili. We haven’t managed to translate them into English as yet, so we haven’t yet been able to explain our thinking to a broader international audience. Hopefully in the future with the work that we’ll be doing we can look to translate more of our party documents into English, and explain our political thinking more broadly. 

The foundation of our party is seeking towards the revival of Nyerere’s Arusha Declaration, the revival of Ujamaa, but modernising it. Not taking it as it was, because times have changed. Ujamaa was announced in 1967 and there are new problems and issues happening in the country, new political dimensions to address. So we modernised it, and in June, 2015, we announced what we called the Tabora Declaration.

So the Tabora Declaration can be seen as like the Arusha Declaration, version 2.0. We are looking to maintain the principles of ujamaa but also trying to reform some of the ideas. For example, and here there are parallels with the discussions you are having in the British Labour movement, we can take the issue of public ownership. We are trying to avoid the mistakes that happened in ’70s and ’80s where it was often the case that public ownership translated as state ownership. Because for us, it was merely the same capitalist structure but owned by the state and it was state capitalism rather than public ownership.

Martin O’Neill:  You’re right that the same conversations are happening here. There’s been a lot of work, from Thomas Hanna and Andrew Cumbers and others, and from Cat Hobbs and her colleagues at We Own It, thinking through what more democratic forms of public ownership might look like, and thinking about how power and control can be dispersed in the way that public services are governed. And you see this kind of thinking being developed in Labour’s Alternative Models of Ownership document, to which people like Matthew Brown of Preston Council and Mathew Lawrence of the IPPR contributed.

Zitto Kabwe:  Yes, yes. So the approach that we are pushing more is looking at how the people themselves, either through their trade unions, or through people’s associations on the ground, can own the major means of production, rather than the owner just being the state. Because you can have a state that is not a socialist state, that isn’t democratic, but that is the owner of public services or utilities. And a very good example there I gave is the Apartheid state in South Africa. The Apartheid state owned almost everything. They owned all public utilities 100%. They owned a lot of things 100% but that did not make them socialists, that did not make them left.

We are trying to avoid the mistakes that happened in ’70s and ’80s where it was often the case that public ownership translated as state ownership. Because for us, it was merely the same capitalist structure but owned by the state and it was state capitalism rather than public ownership.

So these are the things that we try to avoid in the policies and ideas of the Tabora Declaration. Last year we celebrated 50 years since the Arusha Declaration and one of the major discussions we had was on how to update that for today’s politics and in light of our understanding of economics today. For this, Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century has been very useful for us, in advancing our analysis.

We looked at Piketty’s analysis of increasing returns to capital, and this is a huge issue for us, also that the owners of capital are paying lesser taxes on their returns than what is paid by workers on their earnings. 

In Tanzania, despite wages being low and corporate profits often quite high, workers pay two times more taxes than the owners of capital. The corporation tax from companies is at a low level compared to tax receipts from workers.

Martin O’Neill:  As Piketty’s book shows, and as is backed up by, for example, recent OECD data, throughout the world there’s been a shift towards more of overall economic returns accruing to capital holders rather than to those who work for their living. But might the problem be even more pronounced in Tanzania, in that you could have the additional problem that so much of the capital returns are leaving the country, so much of the return to capital is basically ending up extracting money out of the economy and bringing those returns to shareholders in other places? So the structure of the ownership of corporations operating within Tanzania would seem to present an additional worry about the misdirection of returns on economic activity. Is that part of what you’re going to try to address in your political programme?

Zitto Kabwe:  There are new things that we are learning here in Liverpool, and from talking with people around the Labour Party, that we are going to take away and think about how to incorporate into our own proposals. For example, over the last two days, we are learning about, for example, a proposal that John McDonnell has put forward, the idea of Inclusive Ownership Funds, for the workers to get part of the dividend, and to benefit from capital returns. It’s something that we are learning. We will definitely try to analyse some of these ideas, and to see how it fits to our situation and how these ideas can be adapted for Tanzania. What is important to understand is that our investment in Tanzanian has mostly been foreign direct investment into our economy. There was a push from the global institutions like the World Bank and IMF for growth driven by FDIs. And there was a push for us to change our laws to allow repatriation of profits, and to do everything that would benefit foreign investors. And that’s why you have a lot of money being taken out and because the law had to be relaxed in order to invite capital to come into the country.

So you have a very skewed ownership structure whereby the Tanzania just remain as workers earning whatever the wage that they’re supposed to earn but the whole capital is owned by foreign multi-nationals. And since 1997, we had huge investment in the mining sector, especially gold. We became number three in Africa for producing gold after South Africa and Ghana. And for years, for more than 20 years, gold mining companies were not paying corporation tax in Tanzania because of the structure, the strategic ownership structure that has been put whereby most of the taxes are paid here in the UK. Because as I said in one of the meetings at the World Transformed, the City of London is the city of capital, it is “the capital of capital”. So because it’s a low tax jurisdiction, you have companies doing shifting profits away from countries such as Tanzania, bringing it to low tax jurisdictions. So they pay very low amount of taxes here and they pay zero over there, in our country. So these companies end up having a lot, and we lose out.

And we have had a lot of exemptions given to companies in order to encourage FDI in Tanzania. So we have that question as well that companies declaring losses year in year out, so they are not paying corporate taxes. So then if you have a proposal like McDonnell’s Inclusive Ownership Funds, if it were funded by profits, then there be nothing to give in Tanzania, because the dividend is declared here in the capitals of capital, whether in Toronto or in London or the likes. So definitely, we will have to have to contextualise that analysis and see how it fits into Tanzania context and that’s what we are lacking, and try to think more about how some of the benefits of FDI can be kept for the people of Tanzania, and not just extracted to the City of London.

And so we’re eager to work with people on the British left – with Labour, and with academics and think tanks. We know that we need to find a different economic system in Tanzania. And we know that unless we find ways to address the systemic and structural injustices of our economy, our ambitions will mean nothing. 

Martin O’Neill:   I’d be interested to learn about what the left in Britain can do to help in what you’re doing in Tanzania.  If, as we all hope, after the next election in the UK, when there is a government led by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, what do you think are the main things that a Labour government here can do to assist countries such as Tanzania, especially given the role of British capital, and of the City of London, within the global system? What could a Labour government do to make it easier to create more just and more democratic societies in Tanzania or in other countries in Africa? What are the main things that an internationalist labour government here can do to make your job easier in Tanzania?

Zitto Kabwe:   First and foremost, we ask that the UK moves away from paternalistic behaviour, from an old paternalistic relationship. Because British empire rule in Tanzania doesn’t mean that it has to continue patronising us. The whole paradigm of “foreign aid” is patronising. We want to build a more just society together, not to be beneficiaries of patronising charity.

People might see that they’re helping, they’re sending money, they’re helping in health, whatever, but the way, the structure that it is, it is completely paternalistic. So we hope that when Jeremy Corbyn, as we all hope, visits Africa as a prime minister, he has to come to Africa and meet fellow prime ministers or president at par, as equals, as head of the government. This is very important because this is also a psychological issue. Once that is solved, then the discussions become more honest and genuine. So that is point one.

We know that we need to find a different economic system in Tanzania. And we know that unless we find ways to address the systemic and structural injustices of our economy, our ambitions will mean nothing. 

Second, addressing the whole issue of economic justice, the especially the issue of tax avoidance. Yes, countries like UK suffer as well, lose revenues because of tax avoidance by big companies. But for us, it is do or die, it is a matter of life and death. Because if our governments don’t have enough revenue, it means it will be difficult to supply the basics of health and education, and the very essentials of life. So it is so important that we address this issue, and we address the questions of the ownership of capital and how British companies investing in Tanzania or in Africa are paying fair taxes there where the economic activities are done, and not only here in the “capital of capital”. This will be very, very important.

And thirdly, in foreign policy, British foreign policy has to shift from being imperial, from an imperial mindset. The UK is a member of the Security Council. It can influence a lot of things. It’s the fifth largest economy in the world. It can influence a lot of things that are going on in the world. There are still places where we don’t have that voice, where the voice of the African people is not heard. We expect that Jeremy Corbyn will work with the institutions like the African Union to address the key issues and the voice of Africa on a number of issues, for one to take the example of Western Sahara. I understand that Jeremy Corbyn is an internationalist, and supports the Palestinian struggle. But it is also important as an internationalist to address the struggle of the people of Western Sahara, and to find a solution to this question.

So there is an issue of foreign policy, and we hope that under the next Labour government, that British foreign policy will be more progressive, to be more developmental, and essential to this are questions of economic justice, and of how investments come into Africa, and what happens to the proceeds of those investments. We are not saying that no investment – far from it – but the rules have to be justifiable to both countries, and we have to ensure that the benefits are not all extracted from countries like Tanzania, that instead we can all benefit.

African Socialism in Theory and Practice

Martin O’Neill:   Can we turn now away from questions of international relations, to talk more about domestic policy in Tanzania? I’m very interested to know more about the ACT agenda for a more just and democratic Tanzania, and I’d also be very interested to know whether you think there are elements of current thinking on the British left that speak to some of your own political and economic priorities within Tanzania. 

Zitto Kabwe:     Yes. First of all, our main focus as a party, our main platform is on social security. Here in Europe, this is not such a very big issue, as you have already won the battle at least for certain minimal levels of provision. For us things are different, and more difficult. We have a population whereby only 6 per cent have access to health insurance: just 6 per cent of our people. We have a population whereby only 2 per cent are covered for their pension. So you can imagine the situation that we are in.

And it’s not because that we’re so economically poor that we cannot afford to cover our people for healthcare, and for security in old age. No, it’s because of poor policies that have been designed and pursued over many years. So our party is pushing for health insurance for all. Nobody seems to believe that it is possible in Tanzania, but we believe it is possible and we are experimenting with how to realise it. In the municipality that we govern, in Kigoma Town, we are experimenting with ways to achieve the reality of public healthcare. Our idea is that before we talk about universal healthcare nationally, we will first experiment within the city that we govern, to test our approach, and in order also to learn from any mistakes before expanding the healthcare agenda further.

And so social security is our number one domestic agenda item. And after that, then we address health, we address education, we address all the elements of providing secure public services.

Let me emphasise a contrast. You know, there was a time in the world, everybody was going advocating this idea of small loans – of micro-credit, as had been pursued in Bangladesh – as a wonderful new approach to economic development. But then we see how micro-credit often works in practice. The interest rates are very high. The people are really suffering. So instead of empowering people away from poverty, it deepened people’s poverty. It creates some sort of dependency on poverty. We would like to use social security to address that, so that if the wealth belongs to the community and the community participated in creating that wealth, it means that it will be sustainable.

So we are doing that, pursuing a more collective strategy for empowering people away from poverty. And we really need a lot of analytical support because it’s one of our current shortcomings. We want to learn from the best thinking – whether in academia, in political science, in the analysis of public policy – we are glad to learn from social scientists who can take up some of the issues that we raise and analyse them, research them and help us to produce independent thinking on creating improvements on these issues of economic development.

We need to avoid ending up with policies that are not tested. So that’s why for me it is very important to work with some of the organisations, from wherever in the world, that are already finding more collective routes to economic development, and linking them with the think tank that we have created in Tanzania, the Wazalendo Foundation. That is why we’re here [in Liverpool, at the Labour Party Conference and The World Transformed], to learn from what works in other places, and to sharpen our ideas on policy. 

Social security is our number one issue, because it is key and it is essential to our future. Our country is very young in terms of the population. Our median age is 17. We have 50 per cent of the population 17 years old and below. So we are a very, very young country. We have to really look for the future in addressing that.

Another thing that we are learning from here, from seeing the debate around the Labour Party here in the UK, is that I see a big debate on housing. We are looking into that, and thinking about public housing. We don’t have state-directed policies on housing in most African countries. People are left to fend for themselves. It’s in some ways very different from here. But we’re looking into how to contextualise housing policy on our side, and to learn from some of the debates we see here.

We still have issues of education. There was a time that our education was really affected by the structural adjustment programmes imposed on us by international institutions, and so the issue of quality of education is a big issue in our country now. And we are trying to campaign on that in order to address the problems of education that our country faces. So there are a number of those kinds of domestic issues. Also where we can we are learning from here, and from your debates in the UK

What is most important for us in being here, is that you have a very productive, and a radical leadership now in the Labour Party. The Labour Party now is trying to make some of ideas that were seen as unworkable, and to show how they can be seen to be workable. I’m following with great interest the work of Preston City Council. How they are doing their work of Community Wealth Building, and how these things can be done in other parts of the UK as well.

We are very keen to link our local government, in Kigoma, to Preston City Council, in order to see how we can learn from each other. I have not yet met Matthew Brown from Preston council, but I hope I will get the chance to do so.

Martin O’Neill:    I’m sure he’d be delighted, and I’m sure he would love to learn about the work you’re doing in your own local region. Can you tell us more about the city that ACT governs in Tanzania? 

Zitto Kabwe:    The city is Kigoma, in the western part of the country. It’s a city of 250,000 people, and we have big majority in the local council, with 19 out of 27 councillors. So we have an influence on policy. Of course we have a very big problem, the central government does not allow us to govern as freely as we would want. 

But where we can act, we have many projects. To take one example, at the moment we in Kigoma are running an agricultural development programme. Around 3,000 hectares of land to farm rice, which the government wanted to give as one large plot of land to an investor, and make people labourers working for that investor. But fortunately this tract of land belongs to the local government, to the municipality of Kigoma.

So what we did, we divided this land among a group of poor people, poor families. Two hectares per family, so that this project will not go to one investor but this project will instead go to 1,500 people to farm, and to create their own wealth. We are trying in our own way, despite the central government, to work so as to help people to be able to produce their wealth for themselves, instead of always labouring, with the profits going to others.

Martin O’Neill:  Thanks, Zitto. Now, I’ve been monopolising you. I should let Joe ask you a couple of questions!

Joe Guinan:   I wanted to ask, Zitto, what do you see as being potentially adaptable for the Tanzanian case from some of the work that’s being done around building community wealth in cities like Preston, and like Cleveland in the United States? Is there anything regarding what we’re doing that can be helpful?

Zitto Kabwe:   We are very impressed with what is being done in Preston: for us, to emulate some elements of the Preston Model is the low hanging fruit for economic development, and definitely is something that will be done. And empowering the local community, and developing local support for this community wealth building is key; it is very, very important. But one thing is that I would like your institution – the Democracy Collaborative – to work with us, through the think tank that has been created, the Wazalendo Foundation, to try to analyse scientifically our idea of the centrality of social security as a starting point for building the wealth of our communities. But also we would like to learn more and more on what’s being done in Preston and Cleveland.

Joe Guinan:     At the Democracy Collaborative, we’ve done some interesting work with Native American communities in the United States. I don’t know how much you know about these communities, but they are some of the poorest communities in the western hemisphere. Incredible rates of unemployment: 90 per cent unemployment; very low life-expectancy rates; often very, very poor to the point of there being almost no businesses on some of the reservations. There was an analysis done to find out, when a dollar came into those reservations via a social security benefit or payment, how long it stayed there. And it was found to be less than 48 hours. Because there was nothing to buy there, so people got their cheque from the government and they went to Walmart and spent it. So money left those communities almost immediately.

There is also a lack of financial infrastructure there, no mortgage lending, no loans, no construction companies to build housing, so nobody is buying and being able to build assets in that way. But even in some of the poorest communities in the United States that have literally suffered genocide, even in those circumstances there are ways in which you can start to build with what you have already. And so, for example, there’s a construction company being setup by one of the tribes that we’ve worked with. It’s going to be a worker co-op that will start to build housing, and we’ll work from there to develop the financing infrastructure to go alongside that. Another example is a native foods company. Another is a textile co-op, making quilts.

One of the things that’s been interesting as my colleagues Marjorie Kelly and Sarah McKinley have worked with these Native American communities, is that they’ve translated some of the Community Wealth Building literature into their own language, but also taken it and adapted it and brought into it historic traditions and notions of community that are deeply important within those tribes. And I wonder, as you think about community wealth building, where you see the parallels with the idea of Ujamaa, and whether there are resonances there between these approaches of communities helping themselves develop their shared wealth through bottom-up approaches, and that original vision of Ujamaa?

Zitto Kabwe:     There are certainly some parallels. And what you say of the economics of some Native American communities is the same as we find in studies of some of the marginalised towns in Tanzania. There are some development projects coming, but with most of the design and work being done outside those communities. And then the money doesn’t remain there in those areas. The wealth won’t remain there. So having construction co-operatives, for example, will be an idea that we’ll definitely look into.

There is a project we are designing, not yet done at the stage of implementation, on improving our roads. Normally the central government sets aside a certain amount of money, sends it to the municipalities, and then municipalities announce the tenders from all over the country. People compete and take the construction work, whether it is contracts for building the roads, or for clearing or removing potholes and the like. But often this kind of work can be done by people within individual towns. We are formulating a project of supporting young people and women to create co-operatives and be able to bid for some of this work, so that more of this government spending in our towns and regions can remain in the community, and help to build community assets. So that’s why I was so excited when I read some of the work you are doing and also when I read about the Preston Model. I read first about the Preston Model in a piece in The Economist last year, and I was amazed that such policies were being pursued. And to read about this in The Economist! I thought to myself, “How is this happening!?”

Joe Guinan:    We’re very happy to be in touch and to give you whatever information we can about how Community Wealth Building is being pursued in Cleveland and Preston, and elsewhere in the United States and the UK. I have another question for you to consider, which is about banks and finance. Obviously there are similarities in the way in which corporate power has been exercised, through FDI, structural adjustment programmes in exchange for creating market conditions to bring money in. In some ways we had this model of corporate power in mind, in reverse, when we were looking at the deindustrialising cities that we’re working in, like Cleveland and Preston.

One of the interesting things about some of the powerful models that we’re standing on the shoulders of, like Mondragon, the vast co-operative corporation in the Basque region of Spain, is that very early on, they realised the need to create a bank of their own that was able to provide finance to the development of their own projects.

Looking at the work being done by Matthew Brown and his colleagues in Preston, one of the big things that they have ahead of them is trying to create a Bank of Lancashire, a mutual, that would not just work in Preston but also the surrounding region. There is also big public investment potential, including bringing public pension funds in to invest.

Similarly in the United States, we’re now seeing a wave of campaigns for public banks, and in fact we just got our first public bank in a hundred years in America, in American Samoa. After the crash, there was essentially a withdrawal by the Bank of Hawaii, and for three years there wasn’t a single commercial loan on American Samoa. And they realised that the only thing that they had available was the option to create a bank of their own. So they went through a very lengthy process and eventually, I think it was just in this past year, they’ve received access to the Federal Reserve window and set up as a full fledged new public bank.

But there are cities as big as Los Angeles and other places that are also looking into how to set up banks to be able to finance their own development. So I don’t know if banking is part of what you’re thinking about?

Zitto Kabwe:      One of the things that we had in our plans was having a bank to be able to finance our own development, that was number one. But you know, it’s very difficult. So there is this idea for our social security, because our social security also involves having a pension fund, a local pension fund.

And we were targeting around fifty thousand people into being contributors into this pension fund. And one of the projects was to have a bank. The pension fund poured money into having a bank. So we have been thinking alike.

Martin O’Neill:    I’d like to return, if I may, to the idea of Ujamaa, and to ask you a bit more about how we can understand that idea.

Zitto Kabwe:       Yes, of course.

Martin O’Neill:    There’s been a recent trend on the left, in Britain and elsewhere, to rediscover an older form of egalitarianism that’s about thinking not just about a particular sort of distributive outcome, but to think about kind of how people relate to each other as equals, and about what the political and economic preconditions are for a society of equals.

My sense from reading a small amount of the writing of Julius Nyerere, and in particular getting a sense of the idea of Ujamaa, was that it seemed that there’s a big strand there too of ideas of social egalitarianism, and that there’s an influence of Jean-Jacques Rousseau on Nyerere’s political thought. This relates also to a republican idea of how citizens should relate to one another as equals, of having society where everyone can kind of look each other in the eye, where we get rid of hierarchy and needless deference. As you know, the UK has an extraordinary amount of flummery and hierarchy, and a pathological addiction to arcane rituals and titles – as we see even with our democratic institutions and particularly our parliament – and this has long been a problem in this country. And unfortunately the history of British colonialism is that a lot of this bullshit was exported to places where the British went, and where they imposed both their political rule and the unhealthy norms that went along with it.

And so I’d be very interested to hear a bit more about the idea of equality, the idea of treating people as equals and relating as equals, that’s there in the Ujamaa tradition. Because it seems to me that there is something there that is very close to a kind of social egalitarian trend in British political thinking too, and which stands behind the commitment we see in Labour’s current thinking for public services to be more democratic and egalitarian in their culture as well as their distributive outcomes. So I’d be very interested in your thoughts on that.

Zitto Kabwe:      Yes, absolutely. One of the founding principles of Nyerere’s Ujamaa is equality. And he wrote the Arusha Declaration and defined, actually he defined what is socialism in the context of Tanzania. And one of the characteristics he put forward was in a socialist society, there is no exploitation. And he expounded that by creating that idea of equality, egalitarianism that you are talking about. And he tried to build that kind of society. And one of the advantages that we have as Tanzania up to now, we are stable. You don’t hear anything like civil war or whatever in Tanzania. It’s because of the idea of that man creating a society that people are equal, and people have been taught that. When I was studying, when I was a student in primary school, these are the things we were learning every day. You go to school, you learn about these principles. So we grew up with that.

I’ll give you an example. I’m from a very poor background. If it was not for the policies of Ujamaa I wouldn’t be able to go to school. More even, Nyerere made sure that every Tanzanian will have access to education, health, and other social services. And that’s how a lot were being able to move out of poverty. A lot have been able to get a proper education.

Zitto Kabwe:   And I think Nyerere is worth studying because the successes or failures of Nyerere have been put into … looked at in a very narrow prism of economic development, economic growth from the Western perspective. Not looking at how a country is like an island of peace in the region where there are a lot of civil wars. It’s not that we’re different from other Africans. It is because there was an ideology, there was an idea for people to see each other as equal, for people to see each other first and foremost as human beings. And that’s why these principles of human rights, such as all human beings are equal, are born equal, have taken root. All human beings have the same rights as everyone else. And it allowed us to avoid the tribalism and divisions that existed in other parts of the world.

So Ujamaa is really a concept that has to be further studied, further analysed, and looked at. Some scholars have tried to do some research on successes and failures. Ujamaa was implemented in Tanzania for only 25 years. And now we have another 25 years without Ujamaa, implementing neoliberal policies. So we have to look at how was the country faring during the 25 years of Ujamaa, and the 25 years of neoliberal policies. Inequality has increased massively. By the end of 1970, 97 per cent of Tanzanians were literate, knew how to read and write. Now it’s less than 60 per cent.

Martin O’Neill:    That’s a terrible reversal.

Zitto Kabwe:     And education has been commoditized, health care has been commodified. So there are a lot of examples to give and show that Ujamaa was important and it helped the country more than the neoliberal policies that we have. Yes, we had a lot of FDI in the other countries. Yes, wealth has been created more, yes, but it’s not going to the people. It’s not really helping the development of people. So it is a question that has to be analysed more. I will try to translate a paper I wrote last year on 50 years of Ujamaa that also used the concepts and ideas of Piketty, I’ll try to put that in English and send it to you. Because it really took into consideration the whole 50 years, that 25 years of implementing Ujamaa and 25 years of abandoning Ujamaa.

Martin O’Neill:      If you’d be interested in publishing a version of that in Renewal, we’d be delighted. We’re always conscious that we’re too much about Britain or then we’re too Eurocentric. We’re very conscious that our range isn’t as wide as it should be, and you know we’d like to have more in our pages that looked at what the left is doing politically and thinking in every part of the world.

Joe Guinan:     So maybe I can ask you a question that goes from the sublime to the ridiculous. From philosophy to potatoes. I don’t know a lot about the Tanzanian economy, but I was involved at one time in a project that was about trying to get investment in a non-extractive way into Tanzania, into farming in a way that would link smallholder farmers to commercial-scale production. And the story I was told was that the trucks were coming into Tanzania full of potatoes and leaving empty, and that there had been a kind of deterioration of the stock of seed potatoes in Tanzania and no ability to liscence new development.

This has me thinking, I mean we obviously are doing a lot of work on the bottom-up Community Wealth Building approach, but another arm that John McDonnell and his team are setting out is an industrial strategy, the developmental state in a post-neoliberal context, where major public investment would be possible to help create new sectors, particularly in a difficult trade situation with Brexit and so on.

So looking ahead, when, if, whenyou achieve national power, what would be the growth areas? What would be the opportunities? Where could you do import substitution? Where would there be large-scale investment needed to create new sectors?

Zitto Kabwe:    Our country is mostly agriculture, an agricultural country. 65, 67 per cent of the population live in rural areas. So any meaningful investment must be in agriculture. In a range of things. Our country is very fertile, so we have various products. We have cashew, we are actually now number two in Africa in cashew, cashew nut farming. We have coffee, cotton, the potatoes. And so many other products.

And it’s in our agenda since last year’s election that our focus will be transforming agriculture. Transforming agriculture by empowering people to increase their productive capacity. And rather than, as I said before, making people labourers for large commercial farmers. Because this is the debate that is going on in Africa, whether to allow big commercial farmers do everything with the people just being labourers, or whether to let people farm in the commercial way and benefit from their farming themselves. And this second way is the approach that we are taking.

We have a big challenge on the supply of farming inputs because now it’s market-driven, so farmers end up having either a loss year in and year out or very small margin because the suppliers of inputs always inflate the prices in order to be more profitable. One of the ideas put forward in the previous campaign was to have a publicly owned, actually a cooperative, parastatal, that will be responsible for supplying the inputs so that the cooperatives can buy in bulk their own inputs and distribute to their farmers at very affordable prices because the cooperative will have profit-maximisation as its aim. Its aim will be to enable the farmers to profit, to produce.

Zitto Kabwe:    So our focus is that. But then, you can produce a lot, but if we’re exporting it raw it means you don’t add value within the country. So agro-processing was and is still our next step on that. We don’t want just to export raw cashew for processing to India or Vietnam.

We need to add value, so that will create more jobs in the country and also benefit from the by-products as well, because most of the products when you export them they are also by-products. And actually you are creating jobs there and killing jobs here. So agriculture and agro-processing is our number one priority area and the area that we really want to work hard on because the world needs raw materials. The world needs food, you know, and we can produce food. Most of the food that we have eaten here since we came for the conference is imported food.

But still, our country has a lot of debts, challenges, infrastructure challenges … We would like to have more industry or development because we are still very backward on industrialization. You can imagine the whole of the African continent is still importing edible oils while we have land to produce the kind of products that can produce edible oil after processing. Tanzania alone is importing edible oil worth more than $300 million every year from Malaysia and Indonesia, but we have the sunflower and the like that can be processed within the country. So these are the kind of the import substitution industries that we want to pursue. That which we are able to produce, we produce. Those we must import, we will import.

Martin O’Neill:     We’ve given you a very long grilling there on everything from philosophy to agricultural import substitution. We should thank you and let you take a break before your next engagement. It has been a real pleasure. Let’s keep in touch!

Zitto Kabwe is on Twitter @ZittoKabwe. The ACT-Wazalendo Party - the Alliance for Change and Transparency - are also on Twitter @ACTwazalendo



Cover image by by D. Tamino Boehm, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Zitto Kabwe

Zitto Kabwe

Party Leader of Alliance for Change & Transparency Wazalendo more

Joe Guinan

Joe Guinan

Executive director, The Next System Project more

Martin O’Neill

Martin O’Neill

Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of York; Commissioning Editor of Renewal more

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