Tribute to Julius Kambarage Nyerere

Nyerere was one of the few tall trees that stood in the midst of a vast African jungle; an educator, a Mwalimu in the literal and figurative sense of the word; a statesman and a brilliant writer; an astute diplomat and a relentless fighter; simple yet a profound political persona, and above all, a humanist endowed with the highest moral sensibility.

Throughout his entire political career, Nyerere fought for the welfare of the Tanzanian people, struggled for African unity and advocated for the diginity and human rights of oppressed peoples all over the world.

Tanzania under Nyerere was a socialist nation inspired by social equality on Africa's traditional commuanl foundation, hence African socialism. The official manifesto for African socialism, with heavy dosage of Self-reliance, was the Arusha Declaration of February 1967 drawn up by Nyerere himself. Nyerere was not alone in promulugating the socialist doctrine or propounding the notions of an egalitarian society; he was accompanied by Nkrumah, BenBella, Sekou Toure, Modibo Keita etc. All African socialist leaders extolled the supremacy of the state as the vehicle for genuine societal transformation, but while some of them employed coercion and populist aura, Nyerere was uniquely a socialist-democrat. He sincerely believed in democratic principles and was even concerned with the excesses of a mono-party political culture and and the role of the state itself, especially if mechanisms are not installed to countercheck it.

Interestingly, a man who advocates the primacy of the state and public ownership of property, arguably delineates a cautionary note:"State ownership and control of the key points of the economy," says Nyerere "can infact lead to a greatest tyranny if the state is not itself controlled by the people, who exercise this control for their own benefit and their own behalf. For socialism is not an alternative to political democracy; it is an extension of it."

Nyerere was highly emphatic on good governance which, in the 1990s, has become a buzz word, if not a cliche in premier literary publications. In 1967, under Nyerere's supervision, TANU introduced a 'Leadership Code' for all its leaders to report regularly to the President on their wealth and income, and for the next three decades, he argued that the state officials must be accountable to the people. In fact, in his latest book entitled 'Our Leadership and The Destiny of Tanzania' (1995), Nyerere still emphasized on leadership ethics and good governance: Government officials, especially those at the top level, should be "persons of integrity of principles, and who respects the equal humanity of all others regardless of their wealth, religion, race, sex, ofr differeing opinions."

With respect to tolerance of differing opinions, Nyerere was perhaps at the forefront for the battle of democracy, and most of his writings, speeches and actions bear the imprint of dialogue in the promotion of meaningful political discourse for the benefit of all citizens of society. Nyerere was one of the very few African leaders who could listen and respect ideas diamterically opposite to that of his.

In an effort to convey the principles of "unity must incorporate differences" (his own words), during his state visit to the Ivory Coast in February 1968, Nyerere had the following to say: "We are all separate and sovereign states. No African state has the right to interfere in the internal affairs of the other. And each state has the power, and the duty, to determine its own path forward. But we can, and must still work together...We in Tanzania have adopted the principles of socialism as our creed ; we are deliberately trying to build a socialist state on the foundation of traditional communalism. We are proud of the progess we have made so far, although we recognize that we have only just begun the work we have set ourselves. The political philosophy of the Ivory Coast, on the other hand, has been defined by you, Mr. President, as 'evolution within freedom'. But these different choices do not mean that there has to bee hostility, or even suspicion between our two countries. Our different philosophies may affect the institutional arrangements we make for our mutual benefit; but they do not affect our African brotherhood, nor provide us escape from Africa's need for unity."

One of the greatest legacies of Nyerere, among others, is his persistence on the advocacy of the supremacy of the people. As far as he was concerned, the sovereignty of the people must be seen from the point of view of political economy. In a nutshell, what this means is that the people must be able [or enabled] to control their destiny by controlling their economic activities, decide on the nature of the laws and political institutions that they will be governed by, and above all, they are free from exploitation, hunger, lethargy, disease and tyrannical rule.

Nyerere is one of the few African leaders who stepped from power voluntarily. For him, power was responsibility, not unchecked authority. Till he succumbed on October 14, 1999, Nyerere was a vibrant Mwalimu who continued to advise the leaders of Tanzania and travelled extensively to participate on human rights and development conferences.

Nyerere's achievements, both for himself and for his people, were magnificent. Some of his remarkable inputs are: 1) Reorienting education to meeting the need of the people. Tanzanian rural adult education rose from 10 percent in 1961 to 65 percent in 1981; currently the literacy rate of the country is over 85 percent.  Schools became productive laboratory units that were designed to translate 'education for self-reliance'; 2) reorienting medicine from urban-curative-hospital centered to rural-preventative-health centers. By 1975, 160 health centers and 1800 dispensaries were established. All health centers were conveniently located only six miles radius from where people lived; 3) establishing the East African Community (EAC) of Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda with a concerted action to finance railways, posts and telecommunications, harbors, the East African Airways, medical and vetrinary research centers/services, metreological services; common market, common tariff, joint currency adminstered by the East African Currency Board; East African Navy, East African Common service Organization.

The EAC was not sigularly Nyerere's creation, but he played a major role in the cooperative arrangement of the Community.

Despite his achievements, however, Nyerere also countenanced shortcomings and even witnessed the collapse of African socialism and the decay of Ujamma villages that he himself presided over as chief architect. He also witnessed the decline of the Tanzanian economy, but these negative phenomena are not altogether the making of Nyerere, nor of the Tanzanian collective leadership; it is largely [cognizant of the local problems] the impact of the current trend of globalization which is affecting the four corners of the world at supersonic speed.

The tall tree, the great son of Africa, our Mwalimu was a leaning tower in the last days of his life, but he maintained his equlibrium throughout with his incredible optimism and preseverance. His monumnetal legacy will inspire the present and coming generations of Africans for a long time, and he will be greatly missed.

By Dr. Ghelawdewos Araia - Presented to East African Forum

Julius Kambarage Nyerere was a Tanzanian politician who served as the first President of Tanzania and previously Tanganyika, from the country's founding in 1961 until his retirement in 1985.