Precolonial organized groups were founded on kinship, locality, age, and gender. Localized patrilineages formed the subunits within a district, and chiefdoms were composed of several districts. Chiefs were chosen within the chiefly lineage. Chiefs appointed the district heads. Lineages were led by the senior male, who was the ritual head, and also by a "spokesman," or political representative for external relations. A system of male age grades crosscuts lineages and districts. Women were also grouped in age grades. From the start of the colonial period, other organizational entities became prominent. The churches were first; later, a coffee cooperative emerged. Since independence, party (the Tanganyika African National Union, later renamed the Revolutionary party [Chama cha Mapinduzi]) and government administrative units have replaced earlier chiefs and chiefly councils. Tanzania has now introduced multiparty politics, and doubtless this will bring further changes in the future.
As coffee production gradually expanded, coffee sales became a major source of local tax revenue, enhancing local administrative resources and becoming the economic basis for secondary local institutional development. Over time, increasing numbers of Chagga received formal education. In the 1920s, with British administrative encouragement, the Chagga organized their own sales cooperative to market their coffee and regulate production. The cooperative was owned by the Chagga but managed by a European who was their employee. Despite some political ups and downs, the cooperative was, in general, very successful. An economically sophisticated and educated Chagga elite began to form. By the mid-twentieth century, political parties had taken hold that challenged local chiefs for internal political control of the mountain. The British administration periodically reorganized local administrative bodies in response to this development. In 1951, in a development that further diminished the power of the local chiefs, who by then were fairly unpopular, a paramount chief of all the Chagga was elected, backed by the Kilimanjaro Citizen's Union. The paramount, in his turn, became unpopular when he tried to make his office permanent and hereditary and sought excessive personal power. By 1961, when the British left Tanganyika (renamed Tanzania in 1964, following its union with Zanzibar), the paramount had been displaced. In any case, the new independent government abolished chieftainship; hence all the local chiefs also lost their powers. Needless to say, this move was not unwelcome in many quarters on Kilimanjaro. Local political reorganization ensued as the socialist government designed new structures. Despite considerable innovative efforts from above, however, many preexisting relationships, such as powerful kinship groupings, continued to be locally effective on Kilimanjaro.
Before 1900, conflict between chiefdoms was resolved either through chiefly diplomacy or warfare. Subsequently, colonial officials dealt with such matters administratively. Conflicts between individuals were resolved either within the lineage, between lineages, within an age grade or an irrigation consortium, or by the district heads or the chiefs. Hearings took place at every level. Fines were imposed, and persons could be expelled from whatever group was trying the case. Individuals were sometimes killed. Elements of social control were thus manifest in every group milieu. This localized control persists, with some major modifications, in the modern setting. Since the beginning of colonial times, there has been a government-designated system of officials and courts formally charged with dispute settlement and law enforcement.