The Political Economy of Tanzania

2014 – University of Pennsylvania Press – Michael F. Lofchie

Tanzania has been a remarkably stable country since gaining independence in the early 1960s. The Political Economy of Tanzania charts the country’s economic trajectory since independence, from its beginnings as a single party socialist state, through the reforms of the 1990s and into today’s multi-party, market-based society.

The Political Economy of Tanzania
The Political Economy of Tanzania

The book does a good job charting the early history of TANU, the first political party to control Tanzania. An extended case study of the National Milling Corporation, the department set up to bring the sprawling, immensely complex system of agricultural trade into the tax system, serves to demonstrate the increase in state control that characterised this early period. The greatest excesses of authoritarian rule are demonstrated though the example of forced villigisation of rural communities, events which are dramatized in Gabriel Ruhumbika’s novel Village in Uhuru.

The core of the book’s first half though, is a study of the damaging effects of the import substitution (IS) model pursued by the administration, and the endemic rushwa (corruption) that accompanied it. Under IS, the rural poor were hit by high taxes, used to fund infant industries producing textiles, shoes, cigarettes and other commodities, while imports were heavily restricted. A black market developed, and eventually so many government officials were profiting from it that legitimisation of capitalist enterprise became inevitable. Lofchie’s thesis is that reform came because of corruption, not in spite of it. The role of the founder-president Julius Nyerere is portrayed sympathetically, as a well-intentioned unifying figure whose policies were ultimately misguided.

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Sign for classrooms named after Julius Nyerere and Nelson Mandela at MS-TCDC in Usa River, Arusha State

When the analysis moves to the reform era, The World Bank comes to the fore as the hero of the piece. Some lip service is paid to the fact that many of the economic institutions pushing for market reform in the 90s grew from those which recommended the failed Import Substitution approach in the first place, but this isn’t really elaborated on. Instead, mistrust of the institutions by the government is portrayed as an unfortunate consequence of vested interests. It may be that Lofchie is correct, but those interested in opposing views will have to turn instead to Joseph Stiglitz’s book Globalisation and Its Discontents. In a similar vein, the book is post-colonial only in the temporal sense: those interested in the legacy of British, German and Arab influence on Tanzania’s development will not find it here.

The Political Economy of Tanzania will not win any prizes for editing in its first edition. In the early chapters there is a lot of repetition of concepts and in a few cases very similar sections appear just pages apart. Some sections jump around the timeline too much, obfuscating the sequence of events. There are also some straight up typographical errors.

With those criticisms in mind, The Political Economy of Tanzania is probably still the best book available for those interested in the economic development of Tanzania since independence. All of the essential points are there and concepts are in general clearly explained. Some background knowledge of development economics, particularly exchange rate devaluation and import substitution, will make the read easier but there is a lot here for anyone to take away.