Justinian F. Rweyemamu - A Wealth of Knowledge

Justinian F. Rweyemamu – A Wealth of Knowledge

“African history at present lacks personalities, without whom history means little to many.” These are the stark words once stated by John Illife, the prominent African historian who wrote the classic ‘Modern History of Tanganyika’. I am pulled to reflect on this as we commemorate this week the 30th anniversary since the passing of Prof. Justinian Ferdinand Rweyemamu, one of the giant intellectuals produced by Tanzania. He passed away in March 30th 1982 at forty years of age.

His name resonates well with academics at ‘the hill’, as well as with the now retired civil servants who were active in the dynamic times of 1970s socialist Tanzania. Sadly, many of the younger generation are neither familiar with his name nor exposed to the outstanding ideas on economic transformation that he had advocated for Tanzania.

Rweyemamu has been an inspiring figure to me as long as I can remember. For some cosmic reasons a portion of books owned by him had accidentally ended up in my family’s book library. I remember perusing through some of these texts religiously during my childhood despite the fact that they were incomprehensible to me. A sense of joy always crept within me as I was propelled in time to the 1960s and 1970s Tanzania, the time in which Rweyemamu was most active – a time frame which in my opinion is the most exciting in the history of what we now call Tanzania.

A young Justinian Rweyemamu at Ihungo Secondary School, Bukoba, Tanzania. Photo courtesy of Rweyemamu family

Rweyemamu was born to Ferdinand Bigambo and Euphrasia Nyakato in September 28th 1942 in Katoma village, Bukoba, situated in northwestern Tanzania (then Tanganyika). As a young man, he was known by many to possess a disciplined work ethic and academic brilliance. He enrolled at St. Thomas More Secondary School (now Ihungo High School) in 1958, where he excelled in academics and held various leadership positions notably as the school’s head prefect. It is said that his exceptional performance in the Cambridge Overseas Secondary School Examination, among other things, later allowed the school to be promoted to a high school status. Among his pinnacle moments during this time was when in 1961 – the same year when Tanganyika got her independence – he mobilized the student body to organize a protest against a dramatic hike in student-fees, and in a separate episode where he sparked a student-led campaign for the recruitment of African personnel in the school management positions. These moments portray that iconoclastic image that many remember him by.

In 1962 he obtained a scholarship to pursue undergraduate studies at Fordham University in New York, USA. While there he studied economics, mathematics and philosophy and was active in the leadership of the university’s economics club. At Fordham Rweyemamu was an immediate success and graduated in 1965, a year early. During this time he had sent a letter to the government of Tanzania requesting for funding to support his postgraduate education. What came as a reply was an immediate call for him to return to Tanzania and teach in secondary schools, which were experiencing a massive shortage of teachers. He obviously had alternative plans. Instead he applied to the Harvard University graduate program in Economics, and received a fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation which at the time aimed to support the “training of talented individuals from developing countries to advance knowledge in various fields and with the aim of bringing highly trained human resources to bear on the basic problems which limit man’s well-being” (The Rockefeller Foundation, Annual Report, 1969).

He landed at Harvard University in the fall of 1965, the time when an active student body was part of the general university life and radicalism was at its peak. At Harvard he was contemporary to the Ugandan sociologist Mahmood Mamdani with whom they were part of a study group of four students forming the unofficial ‘Africa Group’. They met weekly together with radical faculty members to analytically discuss the major issues of the time: imperialism, injustice and how to liquidate underdevelopment.

Fordham University. Photo courtesy of The Maroon 1965

The Harvard economics department of 1960s was bustling with intellectual vitality and had its own share of radical economists whom I believe later influenced Rweyemamu’s approach in his analysis of Tanzania’s economic development and transformation. The major influences one can think of are the leading structural economists of the time: Albert Hirschman, Wassily Leontief, and Hollis Chenery. Wassily Leontief was the founder of input-output analysis, Hollis Chenery on growth models and Albert Hirschman on structural linkages in developing economies. The ways in which structural economists approach economic conundrums is by disaggregating descriptions of an entire economy into its constituent and study effects of individual factors and their interrelationships. This involves looking at the economy with that interdisciplinary eye, an aspect central to Rweyemamu’s problem solving as evidenced in his later roles as an academic and public intellectual. Much of what Rweyemamu ended up specializing in while at Harvard, and later on in his academic career extended on each of the aspects developed by the aforementioned intellectuals.

Rweyemamu had entered Harvard with the intention of eventually returning to Tanzania in an impactful capacity. Therefore, when it came for the time to conduct his doctoral thesis research, doors were wide open at the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM, then known as University College, Dar es Salaam). The economics department hired him as Lecturer in economics, a position that he enthusiastically fulfilled while he completed his doctoral research.

In 1970 he submitted his thesis to Harvard and defended it the following year, it was entitled ‘An Industrial Strategy for Tanzania’. Now with a PhD, it was the right time to return to Tanzania for good. His credentials were impeccable. On his return he was appointed as head of UDSM department of economics, and as dean of faculty of arts and social science. He was twenty-eight years old!

Rweyemamu’s first important academic paper was published in 1969 and was titled ‘International trade and the developing countries’. In this pinnacle essay he describes the causes of poverty in poor countries to be due to their structural dependence, which can be traced to historical relationships between colonial powers and their subjects. By dependence he means “a situation in which the economies of the periphery are conditioned by the development and expansion of the metropolitan economies to which they are subjected. Thus as a result of such dependence (based on differential, power, wealth and resources), trade relations are based on monopolistic control of the market (unequal exchange), which leads to the transfer of the surplus generated in the dependent countries to the dominant ones” (Rweyemamu, 1969).

In this analysis we see for the first time – in print in an international journal – the development of what came to be his main thesis as he examined ways poor countries like Tanzania can liquidate underdevelopment. In this article, he proposes the “less reliance on the traditional export sector under the prevailing international division of labor, and establishment of basic industries – that is, industries which produce means of production that enter into the production of every commodity directly or indirectly.” This was also the central point in his doctoral thesis and later became instrumental for his advocacy of the ‘Big Push’ in industrialization for Tanzania.

1971, PhD in Economics. Justinian Rweyemamu with colleague during his graduation ceremony at Harvard. Photo courtesy of Rweyemamu family

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, UDSM was the hotbed of intense socio-political debates, discussions and research in Africa. This was the time after the 1967 Arusha Declaration, where self-reliance and socialism was the focus of the time, and when the university led a radical critique on global capitalism. It attracted numerous scholars from all over the world who were interested in analyzing the ways at which the politically emancipated nations could free themselves from shackles of underdevelopment. John Saul, Lionel Cliffe, Walter Rodney (author of ‘How Europe underdeveloped Africa’), Clive Thomas, Giovanni Arrighi are some of the names of faculty who sparked the intellectual environment at the time. In the student body you had active members like Issa Shivji (author of the classic work ‘Silent class struggles in Tanzania’), Henry Mapolu, Karim Hirji, Yoweri Museveni and others who challenged the faculty, university administration, and even the government through their radical student magazine ‘Cheche’ and their Sunday ideological classes. It was also not uncommon to see posters advertising talks by charismatic personalities such as Stokely Carmichael, Eduardo Mondlane, C.L.R James or Cheddi Jagan! These were exciting – but also one can imagine – hectic times to be the dean of the faculty of social science. (For a detailed analysis on the UDSM student movement in this era see: Hirji K, Cheche – Reminiscences of a Radical Magazine, 2010)

As dean, Rweyemamu spearheaded the restructuring of the taught curriculum at the university, charting its path away from the previously highly specialized and discipline-based degree structure – a system mostly inherited from colonial days. This experiment aimed at giving a multifaceted education that provoked problem-solving skills with a local bent, rather than one based on certificate seeking only. This push in transformation was heavily debated at the time. Proposals from the top-down were not easily accepted without debate from students or even within factions of the faculty. The university leadership was faced inherently with ferocious opinions from students who felt the need to be engaged in shaping the policy of their university.

During this restructuring episode Rweyemamu argues that the basis of university should be: “responsiveness to the needs of Tanzania by providing our students with the ability to understand Tanzania’s problems and to contribute towards their solution. It should be established with the expectation of preparing students to think for themselves, addressing themselves to local problems first and using their local experience to contribute to universal knowledge” (Rweyemamu, 1971).

On how an education policy should be shaped to create a competitive economy, he elaborates prophetically on a separate occasion that:  “… African leaders must pay more than lip service to Adam Smith’s dictum that wealth of nations depends on ‘the skill, dexterity and judgment with which its labor is generally applied’. This does not mean merely the setting up of more schools, the responsibility that all African governments have not only accepted but carried out with vigor and energy. The school system tends to superimpose forms of knowledge on existing fold knowledge without necessarily deepening the latter. As a consequence little new useful knowledge is produced. There is need to establish mechanisms and institutions that will deepen and expand Africa’s stock of knowledge. Peasants, for instance, are inclined to augment their knowledge primarily from the most successful practitioners of their occupation. What must be underscored is that the basic task of education is the transfusion of values, but values cannot help us much to pick our way through life unless they become our own, a part to say of our mental makeup. An educational system has to give the people of a given culture the ability to make the world and their own lives intelligible. It is through the creation of intelligibility that meaningful education spurs the outburst of daring, initiative, invention and constructive activity” (Rweyemamu, Baltimore MD, 29.03.1981)

As a result of such visions as an educator and in his capacity as dean, a number of common courses notably ‘Development Studies’ and ‘East African Societies and Environment’ were initiated. These courses aimed at invoking in students the necessity to gain an elaborate understanding to the historical, cultural, and physical conditions of their own society and their interplay for the purpose of abolishing underdevelopment. These results were of course possible due to the dynamic contributions from progressive scholars at the institution at the time.

By the time Rweyemamu was thirty-one, a revised edition of his doctoral thesis was published into book form and was titled ‘Underdevelopment and Industrialization in Tanzania: a study of perverse capitalist industrial development’. In the book Rweyemamu delves into the economic history of Tanzania and comes up with elaborate ideas on economic development through industrialization. Again, in this book he emphasizes the key strategy to be the establishment of machine tool industries. These are industries that maximize forward and backward linkages in a developed economy (as initially delineated by Hirschman).

In this work he critiques the policy options employed by the government in the early post-independence years to be those which created a ‘perverse capitalist system’: “There was in fact a belief that the major impulse of the economy was to come from the foreign sector, regardless of the form of that sector. That is to say, there was no expressed intention to alter the ratio of foreign trade to the national product, nor was there a change in the composition of that trade or the importance of trading partners contemplated… The underlying assumption of these early policies was the belief that a temporary sacrifice of economic independence (i.e. by maintaining colonial ties) would, by attracting significant western capital, produce a quicker rate of economic development that would lead ultimately to independence” (Rweyemamu, 1973).

He outlines further that these structures are based on “ dependency on foreign markets for the sale of their output and the provision of basic inputs, technological dependency on the advanced countries and dependency on foreign (private) entrepreneurs – which work in such a way as to produce perverse capitalist industrial growth. Such growth is characterized by the establishment of a productive structure that (a) is biased against the capital goods industries, thus limiting industries contributing to the production of farm equipment and transport facilities, (b) utilizes relatively more capital-intensive techniques of production, thus compounding the problem of urban unemployment and the widening urban-rural differentials, (c) has limited linkage effects, especially with respect to the traditional sector, (d) fosters lopsided development both in terms of geographical location within the country, and sectorial distribution of consumer goods output favoring luxuries, and (e) sets up uncompetitive oligopolistic structures. It is thus obvious that the system that will be adopted in order to overcome underdevelopment must be capable of liquidating the dependency relationship.”

Justinian Rweyemamu (center). Photo courtesy of Rweyemamu family

Contrary to most of our preconceptions about socialism, one should note that Rweyemamu does not outright reject an enterprising economy for surplus or for exports, or the interaction with the world markets. He viewed trade as an important factor to Tanzania’s development; he only advocates the revamping of Tanzania’s economic structure to meet the prescribed goals. He elaborates on this as: “the present pattern of Tanzania exports is such as to continue fragmenting the national economy thus widening the gap between the structure of production and structure of consumption. Almost all exportable goods have no home base; they are not an extension of the internal market. They are rather specifically produced for the external market. This is no doubt the major cause of unequal exchange and its manifestation viz. worsening terms of trade, violent fluctuations of export prices, etc. In order to rectify this pattern we must endeavor to have exports that are an extension of the domestic market as much as possible in the future. The policy with regards to exports therefore is not one of reducing total exports in total product, nor that of ‘inward looking.’ The proper policy will have to look at the nature of the exports themselves. With respect to existing exports we should try to find as much domestic use as it is technologically possible. A commodity-by-commodity study will reveal that there are many such possibilities that have not been exploited largely because our concern has been directed to the traditional export-oriented markets…

It can safely be asserted, for example, that production should be geared to producing basic goods, basic in the sense that they are used in the production, directly or indirectly of all the other goods…

The means of production necessary for guaranteeing the reproduction and expansion of the basic goods have often been given scant attention in our development plans. But these are the only goods that can transform our economy from a dependency relationship to one of economic independence. They include machines and machine tools to make textile machinery, construction materials, hospital equipment, buses, water pipes, tractors etc…

To build such industries implies starting almost from scratch. The technologies chosen must therefore bear this constraint in mind. By a combination of imaginative improvisation and adaption, the absorption of scientific knowledge from abroad, an emphasis on technical education, tolerance of initial imperfections by the customers, and accumulated experience and confidence coming from self-achievement, Tanzania should be able to establish a strong and healthy technology-producing sector over a period of fifteen to twenty years. The Soviet Union, Japan and China have demonstrated in this century that the transition from a largely imitative to an innovatory role can be accomplished in this way. This implies that at least 30 per cent of investment spending must be concentrated in this sector or at least the proportion to be invested in this sector must be large enough to be overcome the ‘threshold’ below which gradual changes dissipate without tangible results to give emergence to a new qualitative situation where economic development becomes a self-feeding process” (Rweyemamu, 1973).

In order to effectively implement these far-sighted recommendations, from 1973 up to 1977, Rweyemamu entered the civil service as Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Planning. It was in that capacity when Mwalimu Julius Nyerere appointed him as chief economic advisor. His goal was to find the middle ground between the socialist ideology of the time and his ideas that prioritized large investments for the development of basic goods industries. A long-term ‘basic industry strategy’ was adopted by the government for its Third Five Year Plan (1976-1981). However, much of what was proposed for industry was not effectively implemented, or at least in the scale envisioned by Rweyemamu. A shortage in foreign exchange was imminent, major cutbacks in government spending began, and an ensuing war with Uganda debilitated the economy.

Justinian Rweyemamu (second from left) during one of the government of Tanzania meetings. Notice Benjamin W Mkapa (far right). Photo courtesy of Rweyemamu family

Rweyemamu’s activity in Tanzania had caught the attention of many abroad. He began to actively involve himself at an international stage to champion economic development ideas for the so-called ‘third world’. In 1975, he became the member of the Third World Forum, which brought together a considerable number of intellectuals from the developing world to illustrate the way towards economic progress. Some of the prominent members of this group included, Ismail Sabri Abdalla, Samir Amin and Mahbub ul Haq. He also acted as president of the Council for the Development of Social Science in Africa (CODESRIA) between 1979 and 1981.

In 1977 he left the country to take up a long-term role internationally as member of staff of the Brandt Commission, chaired by Willy Brandt. This was the special body of experts summoned in a similar fashion to the recent Tony Blair Commission on Africa. Its aim was to study “the grave global issues arising from the economic and social disparities of the world community and to suggest ways of promoting adequate solutions to the problems involved in development and in attacking absolute poverty” (The Brandt Papers, 1980). The conclusions based on the work of the committee were reported in 1980 in a book titled ‘North South: A program for survival’.

When the work of the commission (phase I) ended in 1980, Rweyemamu moved to the United Nations Headquarters in New York to work in the office of the Deputy Secretary-General of the UN. He was the principal officer for development and international cooperation. While at this office he continued to push for the establishment of a ‘New International Economic Order’ whose main tenets was to revamp the balance of power in international trade between the advanced and poor nations. By this time he had written and edited four books, and at least fifty academic papers.

On March 30th 1982 in New York, Justinian Rweyemamu passed away due to complications from cancer. He is survived with Anna and Joan and his children Rushuma, Kemilembe, Kokuhirwa, Rwegoshola, Rwiza, Nyangoma and Nyakato, who now live in Arusha, Tanzania and New York, USA.

The amount of vision that Justinian Rweyemamu exemplified in his short life is admirable. Men of such great heights ought to be celebrated.

The author would like to thank Prof. M Mbilinyi, Prof. D. Rwegasira and the UDSM Economics Department for providing input for this piece.

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Rweyemamu, Justinian F. (1969). International trade and developing countries. The Journal of Modern African Studies, 8(2)

Rweyemamu, Justinian F. (1971). Reorganisation of the Faculty of Arts and Social Science: background, issues, principles and prospects. Taamuli: A Political Science Forum. 1(1)

Rweyemamu, Justinian F. (1973). Underdevelopment and Industrialization in Tanzania: A Study of Perverse Capitalist Development. Nairobi: Oxford University Press

Rweyemamu, Justinian F. (1981). African Natural Resources and African Economic development, paper presented to Diversified Systems Group, Inc. Baltimore MD, USA.

Joji was born and grew up in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. He graduated with a B.Sc in Biochemistry in Germany, and is now pursuing a Masters degree in Microbiology & Immunology at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich, Switzerland . Joji is particularly interested in matters related to global health, and basic science research that tackles public health challenges. He is engaged in mentoring Tanzanian students in higher education issues, most notably at the Kibaha High School. In this capacity, Joji blogs with Vijana FM about scientific research and development, and how youth can gain greater access to higher learning.