Ujamaa – the hidden story of Tanzania’s socialist villages


Introduction by Selma James

ISBN 978-0-9568140-1-2

How in 1960s Tanzania 17 self-governing villages bypassed capitalism, working the land communally and organizing production, distribution, housing, education, childcare, healthcare. This ujamaa or African socialism overcame poverty and women’s subordination. But ambitious politicians, threatened by the autonomy and success of villagers, destroyed ujamaa. An astonishing story of grassroots power and creativity told by a man who lived it. The principles of ujamaa can be applied anywhere.

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Product Description

A glimpse of a caring future from the past

The great 20th century movements for national independence were to end the scourge of Western occupation with its theft of human labour and natural resources. The disastrous regimes that followed wiped from view all that these movements achieved.

In UJAMAA, Ralph Ibbott tells two hidden stories:

How in 1960s Tanzania the Ruvuma Development Association (RDA) was created – 17 self-governing villages working the land communally. Men, women and children together organized production, distribution, housing, education, childcare, healthcare, without recourse to foreign loans. The extraordinary President Nyerere had proposed ujamaa or African socialism – economic development on the traditional principle that all worked and all benefitted – but updated to overcome poverty and women’s subordination. Ujamaa became a reality in Ruvuma. People came from near and far to see this developing caring society that built on independence to bypass capitalism. 

How the politicians, threatened by the autonomy and success of villagers, banned the RDA, defeating Nyerere, and reopening the door to party control and ultimately to a new colonialism.

Ralph and Noreen Ibbott and their four young children lived in Litowa, RDA’s lead village, from 1963 to its destruction in 1969. They worked with the villagers but took no part in formal decision-making. This is the account of the RDA’s rise and fall as they lived it. 


An astonishing story of grassroots power
and creativity, and of the principles of ujamaa –
which can be applied anywhere.
We can all learn from ujamaa and from
Ralph Ibbott’s clarity and commitment.

SELMA JAMES, Introduction


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Additional Information

Weight 0.402 kg
Dimensions 5.25 x 0.75 x 8 in


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    “This book is encouraging for everyone who wants to change the world. It shows us what’s possible when we work collectively for people’s well-being…Unlike academic books Ujamaa is easy reading – it’s not theoretical but practical.”

  2. 0 out of 5


    “a fascinating read”

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    “… a report prepared to inform and guide those involved with rural development … a unique source for researchers and historians”

  4. 0 out of 5



    ANGELA COBBINAH, published in News Africa and Camden New Journal

    MORE often than not, Africa’s progress is measured by the number of shiny shopping malls opening up or double-digit growth figures on the back of booming commodities demand. But just look what happens to these burgeoning consumer societies when the international price of crude oil or copper plummets, as is the case right now. The sprawling slums at the edge of the central business district just get bigger.

    While surveying the ruins of his country as it emerged from the shackles of colonial rule in the 1960s, the Tanzanian leader Julius Nyerere predicted that such a thing would happen if Africans merely stepped into the shoes of the departing Europeans and maintained the status quo. The future, he believed, lay in adapting the communal foundations of traditional society to modern needs, a strategy based on the ordinary people of the soil working together for the common good. It not only meant self-reliance, but also ending the subservient role of women and the idea that the quick route out of poverty was via the individual pursuit of wealth. Nyerere, one of a visionary crop of leaders thrown up by the anti-colonial struggle, called it ujamaa or African socialism.

    The principles of ujamaa were first successfully put into practice by a group of villages located in Rumuva in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania near the Malawi border. Despite the fact it transformed rural society through higher agricultural productivity and improved amenities and services, the Ruvuma Development Association, or RDA, was abolished eight years later, defeated by the very forces it sought to challenge.

    The story of its rise and fall is told in Ujamaa: The Hidden Story of Tanzania’s Socialist Villages by Ralph Ibbott, an English quantity surveyor who lived with his family in one of the villages. Ibbott, who had worked on a 10,000 acre co-operative farm in apartheid Southern Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe), had jumped at the opportunity to be part of collective development work in the progressive air of Tanzania.

    The number of settlements within the RDA grew to 17 and money raised by cash crops like tobacco, maize and groundnuts was shared equally among all adults, including husband and wife. Village industries like milling and weaving were developed to increase income and self-sufficiency, and building skills were taught. Great emphasis was put on health care, leading to a dramatic fall in the mortality rate, and the school curriculum was integrated with the work of the RDA.

    Now in his 90s and living in Scotland, Ibbott is at pains to point out that, although he could be called on at any time for his advice, as a foreigner he was never part of communal decision-making. But he had a bird’s eye view of what was going on and, as the veteran activist Selma James states in the introduction, “the book has no resemblance to academic speculation. Rather, from the description of events and people, we get not only the history but how it was made.”

    Ibbott records that, inspired by the RDA’s success, 50 similar associations were springing up elsewhere in the country. However, it soon became apparent that government officials, flushed by their own sense of self-importance, felt frustrated by the grassroots democracy being rolled out by a group of articulate and well organised peasants more knowledgeable about the task in hand than themselves. Over time, they put the knife in and in 1969 Nyerere was overruled in a vote to ban the RDA. Instead, the government launched the enforced “villagisation” programme, a top-down approach that was antithesis of ujamaa and later deemed a failure.

    Ibbott wrote the book some 40 years ago and, though quoted by academics, it lay unpublished until it came to the attention of the Crossroads Women’s Centre in Kentish Town. In the light of Africa’s painful post-independence trajectory, in which it remained firmly tethered to western markets, this is a fascinating read and demonstrates the forces weighted against any radical change in the absence of a mass movement.

  5. 0 out of 5


    Review on A World To Win blog

    by Susan Jappie

    Five decades ago, in the wake of the 1961 independence from British colonial rule, 17 Tanzanian villages set out to bypass capitalism, adopting principles popularised by President Julius Nyerere as UJAMAA, or ‘African socialism’.
    In his newly published account, Ralph Ibbott – more recently a transformative community development worker in Greenock, Glasgow – tells of the period from 1961 to 1969, when he and his wife Noreen participated in the venture which spread successfully across the region of Ruvuma under the title of the Ruvuma Development Association.

    UJAMAA’s successes, and its ultimate demise, hold many lessons for the collectives, co-operatives, community and transitional initiatives of all kinds which are blossoming throughout the world as an opposite to the individualist capitalist paradigm.

    In seeking to lift themselves up from the colonial legacy of poverty and underdevelopment the villagers returned to and adapted the communal style of life they knew: consensus decision-making, self-determination, sharing of produce, aiming at self-sufficiency – local production for local consumption.

    Nyerere was keen to develop a particular kind of African Socialism that was not hierarchical in any way, but drew on the indigenous ways of community that were part of their culture before colonialism. He was particularly keen to avoid the tendency of newly independent former colonies to replace the powerful elite with black instead of white players.

    “Merely replacing Europeans with Africans could not change the nature of the State that imperialism had carefully left behind, whose structure aimed not to liberate but to merely discipline and repress.”

    In order to develop, he said, Africa should depend upon its rural communities being self-sufficient rather than dependent on foreign aid.

    In his revolutionary Arusha Declaration, Nyerere, known as Miluma, the teacher, pointed out two crucial changes that needed to be made in order for the country to progress:
    •Firstly the need for gender equality: recognising that the essential role played by women, who had become the main urban workers as well as mothers while the men sat at home, must change;
    •Secondly: the poverty of the ordinary people under colonialism, which could be reversed by sharing their produce.

    As the Ibbott’s had already been working along these lines in a left-wing anti-apartheid community in Rhodesia before being expelled by Ian Smith, Nyerere had offered them a place in the first Ujamaa village of Litowa, where they could work alongside the rural Tanzanian pioneers.

    The initiative succeeded brilliantly in Litowa, organising production, distribution, housing, health and education. Child mortality plummeted. Pupils at the self-governing Litowa school came from all the villages, boarding at Litowa during the terms.

    They were trained to develop their exciting, caring rural society. Domestic violence almost disappeared and women’s status was rising. Others came to join and were encouraged to form new villages. The Ruvuma Development Association was formed, with its Social and Economic Revolutionary Army, to help new villages to establish themselves. By 1969, the association had 17 villages.

    The book describes these processes with the aid of some photographs and tells how key players helped to start and spread the ideas throughout the region.

    But the Ibbotts suffered from power hungry members of TANU (the Tanganyika African National Union) who saw the Scottish white couple as ‘outsiders’, urbanites who had no understanding of the slower pace needed to improve agriculture for self-sufficiency.

    In reality, TANU’s leaders wanted large-scale tobacco plantations instead of maize for local consumption and to be calling all the shots.

    Much of Ibbott’s account deals with the feelings of betrayal by the officials from TANU whose short visits not only failed to recognise all the successful work done, and, although they took care to stay away from decision-making, undermined the villagers by complaining about the few whites, and misinterpreting new buildings as a sign of class division.

    This all led to the dissolution of the RDA at the end of the 60’s and the return to Scotland by the Ibbott family.
    But thanks to the work of their younger co-workers: rights activists Selma James, Solveig Francis and Nina Lopez, who recognised the inspirational side of the attempt at an UJAMAA revolution at this time of global dissatisfaction with rising inequality, he was persuaded to publish it now.

    2 February 2015

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