The Genius with Julius Nyerere

Mwalimu Julius Nyerere

Julius Nyerere, the former President of Tanzania and architect of Tanzania's Independence movement, is one of the few African leaders that will receive a favorable mention in history. From 1962 when he became president until his retirement in 1985--the first African leader to do so voluntarily--Nyerere worked to free the continent of Africa from white minority rule, and for closer ties between African states. He instilled a sense of limitless possibility among Tanzanians and Africans in general, and took wise steps to diminish the impact of ethnic identification in Tanzanian society. Nyerere's advocacy of self-reliance introduced a new paradigm for development in Africa

Author: Muna Kangsen

Julius Kambarage Nyerere was born on April 13, 1922 in Butiama, on the eastern shore of Lake Victoria in northwest Tanganyika. He was the son of a minor chief of the Uzanaki, a small ethnic group in Tanzania. Nyerere excelled in primary school and was permitted to study at Tanganyika's only secondary school at Tabora, a place he subsequently described as being "as close to Eaton as you can get in Africa". Nyerere received a scholarship to study at Makerere College in Uganda in the early in 1940's. He graduated in 1945 with a teaching degree and taught for several years in Makerere, where he helped found the Tanganyika African Association, a civic organization that assumed a greater political role as Tanganyika moved closer to its independence from British colonial rule. In 1949, Nyerere left Tanganyika to study in Edinburgh, Scotland, despite requests from colonial officials for his visa application to be denied. Nyerere returned home three years later with a degree in Economics and History. On his return home, Nyerere taught briefly in one of Tanganyika's prestigious schools before dedicating himself fully to the liberation movement.

In 1953, Nyerere was elected president of the Tanganyika African Association at the instigation of some friends. A year later, on July 7, a day since commemorated as Saba Saba (the two sevens), Nyerere and other nationalists transformed the organization into the Tanzania African National Union (TANU). They proclaimed that the party's mission was to achieve self-government with no racial or ethnic divisions, and launched a massive sensitization campaign to enlighten the population about TANU's agenda, and to register new members. This campaign was so successful that within a year of its formation, TANU had become the leading political organization in Tanzania.

In 1954, events happening at the United Nations also quickened the pace of Tanganyika's independence and Nyerere's rise as the leader of the nationalist movement. A UN observation team sent to investigate Tanganyika's preparedness for self-rule published its report recommending that Tanganyika be given a time-table for independence in twenty to twenty-five years. Galvanized, TANU voted to send Nyerere to New York to address the UN's Trusteeship Council on the subject of Tanganyika's independence. At the request of the British Government, the United States restricted Nyerere's presence to an eight-block radius of the UN Headquarters, and limited his stay to within twenty-fours of his address to the Trusteeship Council. When Nyerere returned home, he resigned his teaching post and moved his family back the Uzanaki homeland where he worked as a translator for a prospective Catholic mission of the Maryknoll order.

 In 1956, the British colonial governor announced that the first general elections to the Tanganyika Legislative Council would take place in 1958. However, according to rules set by the colonial government, only one third of elected council members could be African even though Africans constituted more than ninety percent of Tanganyika's population. TANU threatened a boycott of the elections. Citing the possibility that the United Tanganyika Party, a brainchild of the colonial government, might win and effectively prevent TANU a role in the political process, Nyerere single-handedly convinced the TANU to participate in the elections.

His instinct was correct. Not only did Nyerere win a seat in the Tanganyika Legislative Council from the Eastern Province, all TANU and TANU-backed candidates won. The following year, the colonial government, sensing the inevitable, increased TANU's presence in the government to twelve ministerial posts from five. In legislative elections held two years later, TANU swept seventy of seventy-one seats in the New House of Representatives. Nyerere was nominated prime minister and asked to form a new government. Following a constitutional conference held in Dar es Salam in 1961, attended by both British officials and nationalist leaders, Tanganyika acquired internal self-rule in May that year. The date for full independence was set for December 9, 1961. In 1962, the Republic of Tanzania was born, with Julius Nyerere as its first president.

The Arusha Declaration, which contained TANU's vision for independent Tanzania, was released in 1967 and marks a milestone in modern Tanzania's history. Although released under the auspices of the party, the Arusha Declaration bore the fingerprints of Nyerere's political ideology. The five-part document proclaimed Tanzania a socialist state in which all members had equal rights and equal opportunities. The Arusha Declaration also called for a new paradigm for development, which did not depend on foreign capital, or on industrialization as the only means to attain this objective. Nyerere believed that dependence on foreign aid and loans, a path on which most African states remain ensconced, would not only jeopardize Tanzania's independence, but would promote the uneven development of urban areas at the expense of rural areas. Nyerere believed that socialism must be tailored to the dictates of Tanzania's history, culture and geography for it to be relevant to Tanzanian society. Ujamaa, a Swahili term meaning family hood, came to represent Nyerere's uniquely African vision of socialism. He believed that traditional African families lived according to the dictates of Ujamaa, which were posited on three main principles; a recognition of mutual involvement in each other, the communal ownership of basic goods, and a personal obligation to work. Despite the egalitarian ethic of social living in traditional African societies, Nyerere believed these societies had failed to prosper because tradition sanctioned the inequality and subservience of certain segments of the populations, including women, and fostered poverty. To create a socialist nation, Nyerere believed that Tanzanians must build on the firm foundation of the three core values of Ujamaa, and borrow from the west when necessary. Nyerere's vision of African socialism was embodied in the creation of farming communes all over Tanzania, called Ujamaa villages, in which about ten million people were relocated, at times forcefully, to live and work.

Nyerere was a staunch pan-Africanist who worked tirelessly for the unification of the African continent, and the expulsion of white minority governments in Southern Africa. In a speech delivered on the occasion of a state visit to Tanzania by Somalia's President Osman in 1965, Nyerere declared that, "every part of Africa needs Africa as a whole, and Africa as a whole needs every small part of the continent." In the same speech, Nyerere said,  "Africa is not as weak in relation to the rest of the world as it sometimes appears. It is weak only while our different states allow themselves to be separated from one another."( Nyerere, pg 221) Earlier in the independence struggle, Nyerere caused a stir when he declared that Tanganyika's independence might be delayed another year, until Kenya and Uganda achieved theirs, so they could immediately form an East African federation. As a leader in a front-line state, Nyerere's government provided refuge for several liberation movements including the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan African Congress (PAC) of South Africa; Frelimo, then involved in a fierce guerilla war against Portuguese rule in Mozambique; and Rhodesian nationalists such as Robert Mugabe, then fighting to unseat the white regime in Southern Rhodesia. Although Nyerere was an advocate of non-violence, in 1977 he sent 20,000 troops into Uganda to depose the regime of Idi Amin, and reinstall his close friend, Milton Obote who Amin had deposed in 1971.

Nyerere retired as President of Tanzania in 1985, becoming the first African head of state to retire voluntarily. Nyerere spent a good bit of his retirement traveling across the continent mediating between warring factions in Africa's civil wars. He was particularly instrumental in seeking an end to the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which sadly, is on the verge of another major outbreak of hostility. Julius Nyerere died in 1999. He was 77 years old.

Reference: Nyerere, Julius K. Uhuru Na Ujamaa: Freedom and Socialism. Oxford University Press: London. 1970.