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Ujamaa / Cooperative Economics

It’s Me!



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It’s day four of Kwanzaa! Today’s principle is Ujamaa, a Swahili term that literally translates into “familyhood” but it also encompasses the ideas of independent economic self-help, economic cooperation, and sacrifice; In Kwanzaa, it is the “Cooperative Economics” principle.

Economic PrinciplesWhen most hear economics, we think of its most familiar form—money. Unless we have studied economics or even retained the basic lessons learned about economics, we seldom connect the concepts of land, labor, and the broader concept of capital into our understanding.  Since the first 20 Black people first came to the United States under British domination in 1619, our labor has been tied to the land all for the sake of creating capital that we could not own.  None, or very little, of the profit produced as a result of the investment of our labor, capital, and cooperative efforts has trickled down.

This is why understanding ujamaa is important.President Nyerere

Ujamaa may be a principle of Kwanzaa, but it was a movement in Africa that grew its wings under the leadership of Tanzania’s First President, Julius Kambarage Nyerere (1964-1985).  He was a founder of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), now the African Union (AU), which celebrated its fiftieth (50th) anniversary in May, along with the celebration of the United States’ commemoration and celebration of the August 1963 March on Washington, in 2013. There is no coincidence that a major premise behind the establishment of each was economic development and sustainability.

African UnionTo say the least, President Nyerere was a Pan-Africanist inspired by the independence movement that was happening in Ghana and the United States. In order to lead his country, formerly Tanganyika, into independence President Nyerere’s African nationalism approach by way of economic independence became his primary focus and it also became the basis of his ujamaa movement.

During his presidency, he integrated traditional African decision-making into politics. There was only one legal political party, the Tanganyikan African National Union or TANU and Kiswahili became the official language. Unlike most African nations of the time where the official language had come from the colonizers, President Nyerere made an indigenous language Tanzania’s national language. This united the people. He also introduced socialism by reorganizing rural areas into villages.  President Nyerere set up mass literacy camps and provided free and universal education by the 1970s. Banks and farms became state-owned. The goal was to prevent Tanzania from a reliance on foreign aid and investments and agricultural development was the conduit to this change.tanzania_flag_map

All of his efforts were not successful, however. When he left office, Tanzania was one Africa’s poorest nations due to a decline in world commodity prices—agricultural production declined, infrastructure and industry suffered, and Tanzania was supported by foreign aid, after all.  Despite, President Nyerere was very instrumental in Tanzania’s educational changes—Tanzania boasted Africa’s highest literacy rate. Better education led to a reduction in the infant mortality rate and Tanzania was more politically stable. Finally, President Nyerere was adamantly opposed to South Africa’s use of apartheid, accepted African National Congress (ANC) leaders, excluded South Africa from the African Union, and had even planned to overthrow the South African government with the help of other African nations.

The greatest lesson from the efforts of President Nyerere is that an investment in “self” is paramount.  My momma has this recurring vision where every Black person invests a single dollar into large “pot” of money.  On October 16th, 1995 all of the attendees took a pledge during theMillion Man March Million Man March and a similar collection was taken amidst a crowd of over a million men (and some of us women that attended, too). There was a willingness of The People to take the pledge and give of their money, freely.  Imagine if we all contributed a similar sacrifice to the investment and cultivation of land (especially during this organic resurgence), our capital—academic, social, political and economic, and our labor what our Return on Investment (ROI) would be.

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