African Socialism and the Limits of Global Familyhood: Tanzania and the New International Economic Order in Sub-Saharan Africa

In November 1963, Julius Nyerere, president of the newly independent East African country of Tanganyika, delivered a stirring speech to open a conference of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) in Rome. He began by commending the rise of an “almost world-wide recognition of the common humanity of man, and a growing sense of human brotherhood,” affirming that “the existence of the FAO is indeed one of the expressions of this feeling of involvement in each other’s welfare.” Yet Nyerere’s speech quickly departed from this sanguine language of global fraternity and mutual concern as he turned to the subject of economic development. “Economically there are still two worlds, not one,” he declared. Decolonization was giving rise to “an atmosphere of ever rising expectations among the poor of the world,” but “the gap between the haves and the have-nots of the world” was “widening on a progressive scale.” At the heart of the problem, he insisted, was the nature of the international political and economic order itself, with its philosophical basis in “multilateral free trade theory” and attendant disregard of the pronounced hierarchies ordering the community of supposedly equal nations. To correct the growing trend of developmental divergence and achieve basic economic justice for underdeveloped countries like Tanganyika, Nyerere asserted that isolated commodity agreements and occasional disbursements of aid were insufficient; a “World Economic Development Plan” was essential. “The FAO must either have the power to plan world food and agriculture, both production and marketing, or it will remain what it is now; a charity organization,” he concluded incisively.1

Nyerere’s speech simultaneously highlighted both the importance and irrelevance of international development organizations in their existing form, eschewed technical discussions about agricultural modernization in favor of explicit reckoning with global inequalities, and argued that atomized policy prescriptions for national development could not succeed without countering the forces of uneven development inherent in the ideologies and practices regulating the world economy as a whole. In doing so, it invoked two contrasting (although not mutually exclusive) models for conceptualizing the global community: a humanistic, harmonious vision of transnational familyhood structured by the principle of mutual obligation, on the one hand, and a more confrontational, Marxist-inflected image of a world increasingly divided—along national lines—into the two polarized groups of profiteers and the poor, on the other. These paradigms alternately animated Third World activism on a global scale during the mid-to-late twentieth century, variously translating into calls for increased solidarity or unity and demands for substantive structural reforms.

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