Being of ‘One Heart’: Power and Politics Among the Iraqw of Tanzania

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14 Scopus citations


This article explores local understandings of and experience with democracy in an Iraqw community in northern Tanzania. At independence, President Julius Nyerere in his development of a one-party state, argued that democracy in this new nation state would be modelled on that which is found in indigenous, pre-colonial political systems. In the Iraqw homeland, pre-colonial ‘democracy’ was expressed in elders’ councils in which male elders made decisions on behalf of the rest of the community. Differences of opinion were voiced but eventually the group would come to one opinion to achieve the state of being of ‘one heart’ before decisions could be put into effect. While Nyerere claimed that this practice of democracy and achieving consensus would provide the model for the post-colonial state, in actuality the state drew more on colonial models characterised by top-down decision-making and autocratic governance. Overlaying both the pre-colonial and post-colonial political systems is an ideological emphasis on ‘unity’. This article explores how the central notion of unity is expressed and perceived among the Iraqw in Tanzania and how it forms the screen through which people view démocratisation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)128-148
Number of pages21
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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