Governance, Local Politics and 'Districtization' in Tanzania: the 1998 Arumeru Tax Revolt

Date: Jun, 2000
ODID Working Paper No. 41
Author(s): Tim Kelsall (QEH)

In 1998 Arumeru District, NE Tanzania, erupted in a revolt over taxation. In one of the most remarkable instances of rural political mobilisation since Independence, almost the entire population of the District refused to pay Local Government Development Levy. Consistent with supporters of a donor-inspired 'Governance Agenda', some commentators in Tanzania lauded the revolt as evidence that multi-party democracy was finally leading to a new era of transparency and democratic accountability in development administration.

The present paper provides an account of the revolt and argues that such an interpretation is premature: popular mobilisation was the outcome of a contingent conjuncture in which acute economic hardship coincided with elite interests of a factional nature; the revolt does not demonstrate the ability of peasants to hold leaders accountable on a regularised basis. More generally, the revolt is symptomatic of a process of class de-structuring under which Tanzania's middle class now secures its reproduction not through national organs of the state but through struggle for control of local institutions. This process, dubbed 'districtization', has important implications for political stability and accountability in Tanzania.

ODID Author(s)