Tanzanians Refuse to Compromise on Agricultural Prowess

A minor news item this week; twenty houses were burnt down near the town of Liwale, Tanzania as protests by irate cashew nut farmers got out of hand. Having not been paid a price agreed for their crop last year, the farmers turned on the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) and set fire to supporters’ properties.

Tanzania has one of Africa’s fastest growing economies and its economic potential is quite considerable. Cloves from Zanzibar, gold and nickel mines in the country’s interior, and a growing industrial base centred around food and metal processing, Tanzania is not lacking in exports. Like most African countries, however, Tanzania retains a strong reliance on primary production, particularly agriculture.

In this, the country is particularly proficient, achieving a level of ‘industrialised agriculture’ not seen in many neighbouring countries until recent years. The predominant reason for this is the legacy of German colonisation.

In 1885, the founder of the bluntly-named Society for German Colonization, Carl Peters, arrived in Tanzania where he signed alliances with several indigenous tribes in the hope of establishing a German protectorate. Despite sporadic opposition from some native tribes, which would persist throughout German rule, German East Africa came into being after Britain agreed to waive its claim to the territory.

German East Africa, 1888
German East Africa, 1888

Within only a few years, the Germans effectively created a Tanzanian economy that had not existed under a territory divided into separate polities and chieftains. Massive rubber, sisal and coffee plantations were created under efficient German management and ruthlessly-exploited native labourers. By the outbreak of WWI, Tanzania was an important cog in the German Empire. Its produce supported the German armies on the African Front, whilst allowing the colonial authorities to live on in deluded splendour at their mansions in Dar-es-Salaam.

Of course, Germany lost the war and Tanzania came under Belgian and, ultimately, British rule. In addition to their agricultural revolution, the Germans had introduced gold mining to Tanzania with some success. This would persist under the British only to become an almost redundant industry by the end of WWII. It would take an influx of foreign investment in the 1990s, and the discovery of nickel, to resurrect mining as an important economic contributor to Tanzania. Also, the Germans introduced what was a fairly sophisticated education system to the Tanzanian people during their short rule. This was not developed by the British, whose general desire to keep the subalterns firmly in their place negated any inclination to promote educational development.

One thing that has always remained, however, is intensive agriculture. The cashew nut was first mass-harvested under German rule and continues, along with sisal and coffee, to make up a large proportion of Tanzanian agricultural exports. Whatever wrongs colonial rule perpetrated in Africa, there are examples such as this that prove some facets of European rule were beneficial. Without the Europeans it is arguable that Africa’s development would be even more stunted than it is today.

Tanzanian sisal plantation - early 20th century
Tanzanian sisal plantation – early 20th century
Today, little has changed
Today, little has changed

The passion with which the Tanzanians farm their crops today is testified to by the cashew nut farmers’ protests. The government may be double-crossing the farmers over prices in an attempt to drive more workers into industrial jobs, where foreign investors seek to take advantage of a cheap and plentiful workforce. But for many Tanzanians, the land is all that they know and they continue to farm it under the influence of their former German rulers.