Swahili in Tanzania’s Political History
What is Ujamaa? Ujamaa quite literally translates to “familyhood.” However, it is more famously understood as the name of African Socialism, invented by Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, Tanzania’s first president. Understanding Ujamaa speaks to a political and social culture that permeates throughout East Africa.
Historian Emily Callaci succinctly describes “Ujamaa ideals [as] hard work, virtue, and rural authenticity.” Furthermore, Priya Lal explains that Ujamaa offered “a moral orientation entailing a commitment to hard work, community, and self-sufficiency and rejection of laziness, dependency, and exploitation….Organized around the extended family, it harmonized a spirit of mutual assistance with an ethos of individual responsibility and drew on available resources instead of seeking outside assistance.”
With a study of Ujamaa, one can engage several often-used Swahili phrases that were employed in the articulation of the politics. Operation Vijiji (“villages”; the plan is also known as “villagization”) involved a movement of thousands of rural residents—many were forced—to various villages in an effort to stimulate a type of communalism and communal farming in the early seventies.
Lal explains that dissonance between the “ujamaa imaginary” and “the broader dialectics of social, political, and economic change in the Tanzanian countryside throughout the twentieth century.” Nevertheless, Lal finds through interviews, the reality of Operation Vijiji aroused the repetition of several Swahili words, “amri (government order), vurungu (disturbance), and lazima (compulsory) to explain villagization.” Insomuch, Ujamaa, despite its widely criticized failures, rose from an intellectual culture that speaks to Swahili notions of brotherhood, responsibility, and communal support. Significantly, the study of various Tanzanian histories offers us a Swahili vernacular to better understand the intellectual thought behind political policy.
 Callaci, Emily. Ujamaa Urbanism: History, Urban Culture and the Politics of Authenticity in Socialist Dar es Salaam, 1967-80. PhD diss., Northwestern University, 2012. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing. 12.
 Lal, Priya. African Socialism in Postcolonial Tanzania: Between the Village and the World. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2015. 27.
 Ibid. 177.
Callaci, Emily. Ujamaa Urbanism: History, Urban Culture and the Politics of Authenticity in Socialist Dar es Salaam, 1967-80. PhD diss., Northwestern University, 2012. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.
Lal, Priya. African Socialism in Postcolonial Tanzania: Between the Village and the World. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2015.