Monthly Archives: February 2014

Urban Farming in Detroit

In July 2013, the city of Detroit became the largest US city to file for bankruptcy although its economic decline began a long time before. Images of Detroit`s urban decay are becoming well known and much admired.

This statement accompanied the stunning images of Detroit in decline, including the one above, by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre

“Ruins are the visible symbols and landmarks of our societies
and their changes, small pieces of history in suspension.

The state of ruin is essentially a temporary situation that happens at
some point, the volatile result of change of era and the fall of empires.
This fragility, the time elapsed but even so running fast, lead us to watch them one very last time : being dismayed, or admire, making us wondering about the permanence of things.”

But what of the people who are left behind?

Not everyone wants to or is even able to leave the city. But as the city declines economically, the services on which people were dependent also start to disappear including places where you can buy cheap fresh food. Where once there might have been six or seven grocery stores in a neighbourhood selling good quality produce, there is now a `food desert`. This means people have to travel further in order to buy affordable good quality fresh food but transport is limited and again not everyone can afford a car. This is a problem that particularly affects Detroit`s black community. Approximately 82% of Detroit`s population is African American. In this video interview with Malik Yakini, learn how the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network are making history by growing food and at the same time sowing the seeds of change.

“We’re not interested in plans where the corporate sector comes in and uses the majority of the population as workers. We’re concerned about control and ownership. We want to model not only the growing techniques but model the kind of social and political economic dynamic that we think are appropriate for a city like Detroit” Malik Yakini, chairman of the network.



The Ruvuma Development Association – Daring to do things differently in Tanzania

In December 1961 Tanzania became an independent country. In April 1962 President Julius Nyerere published his vision for the country`s development in a pamphlet entitled `Ujamaa – The Basis of African Socialism`. Ujamaa is a traditional concept of extended family in which there is respect for everyone and everyone is expected to work and be responsible for the welfare of the whole community. Tanzanian socialism was to be an extension of this concept of family. The individual pursuit of wealth at the expense of others was deemed incompatible with Ujamaa.

Inspired and encouraged by Nyerere, groups of farmers organised themselves into small co-operatively organised communities. By 1963 about a 1000 of these had been set up with very little government support. Many failed but in Ruvuma in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania 17 such settlements prospered and became an enormous success. They formed the Ruvuma Development Association (RDA) the organisation through which they could co-ordinate their labour, educate their children, sell their produce and develop their small scale industries.

According to Ralph Ibbott, a technical adviser, who was invited to work with the RDA, this was

“the most striking and most successful example of self reliance and Ujamaa in Tanzania and possibly Africa.” (Ibbott, R. quoted in Edwards, D.M., Matetereka, Tanzania`s Last Ujamaa Village Edinburgh University 1998).


I first heard about the RDA at an inspiring talk given by author and activist Selma James of Women`s Global Strike at the King`s Cross Women`s Centre. She presented it as an example of how it is possible for people to not only survive and dream of a better world when faced with the most challenging of circumstances but also manage to successfully create a thriving self-reliant community organisation, one that is even more relevant today as a model of development when we examine what our options are for the future in the face of unemployment, cuts in welfare and the looming threat of climate change.

The RDA grew slowly by supporting existing villages and new settlements. Before a village was accepted it was made clear that the villagers should not expect to get rich overnight and membership would be deferred or refused if it there was uncertainty about a community`s commitment to co-operation.

Villages belonging to the RDA became self-sufficient in food, improved the health of their residents, built a school, provided water supplies and set up village industries. They also created an outreach service called the Social and Economic Army (SERA), made up of experts in various fields who could provide support for member villages.

The RDA bought a maize mill with a grant from Nyerere himself who regarded their organisation as a poster child for his ideas. They also bought a saw mill which became the main supplier of sawn timber in the country. A primary school was established and developed in an experimental manner by creating a syllabus that was flexible and responsive to the needs of the villages. A three year post primary technical training for the children was planned as the next stage of education.

By 1969, the RDA consisted of 17 villages making up about 500 households. It was, to quote Ralph Ibbott again,

“ an organisation completely built up by the people who were in it, who always made all decisions and controlled development” (in Edwards, D.M.).

So what happened? What went wrong? Well, it is important to stress that this remarkable experiment did not fail despite the many practical difficulties and challenges that the people involved faced. It was killed off.

Despite publicly declared support from Nyerere, the RDA had attracted considerable opposition from many others in the government. In September 1969, it was announced that TANU – the ruling party – would run all Ujamaa villages and the RDA was declared a prohibited organisation. Their equipment was confiscated, the expatriate staff working with them left and the school was closed. Only one village managed to continue its communal activities and survives to this day.

To look in detail at why this happened is beyond the scope of this blog. But in an obituary written for Ntimbanjayo Millinga, a local politician and later Head of Ujamaa Villages for TANU and who was the driving force behind the success of the RDA Ralph Ibbott writes that

“…Regional Commissioners and most government officials … could not accept a situation where the villagers were deciding the details of their own development. They could not sit down with and discuss with these village people as equals. Nyerere took many steps in an attempt to spread the practice of the RDA ideology. One of these was a week-long seminar for the members of the Central Committee of his party, which was held at Handeni. Three RDA members attended. Shortly after this the whole of the Central Committee met, and at this meeting 21 out of the 24 members voted for the banning of the RDA. Millinga had very successfully built a team of people able to understand what was needed for the development of their dreams. Nyerere was not able, despite great efforts, to build such a team at government level. The party took over. People power was not accepted.”

If you try to find out about Ujamaa villages often what you discover is that what many people understand by this term is the process of enforced villagisation that followed the closing down of the RDA. This happened in the 1970s when rural Tanzanians were forced into villages nationwide resulting in hardship and resentment. It was not a success but it has overshadowed the real historic success that was the Ruvuma Development Association.


Note: Walter Rodney (see post) spent some time teaching in Tanzania and admired Nyerere`s African Socialism