Zitto Kabwe interviewed by Martin O’Neill and Joe Guinan
Zitto Kabwe was arrested by the Tanzanian authorities on 30 September 2018, and released on bail on charges of “sedition” on Friday 2 November 2018. These charges follow Zitto having raised in public his concerns relating to the alleged killings of over 100 civilians during September 2018, during a police operation to remove livestock keepers from a protected forest in Zitto’s home district of Kigoma.
Interview, Part II – 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 Economistlast 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 licence 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 imputs 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 imputs 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 imputs so that the cooperatives can buy in bulk their own imputs 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!