Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere as a statesman, thinker and humanist

19Apr 2022
The Guardian
Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere as a statesman, thinker and humanist

​​​​​​​MWALIMU Julius Kambarage Nyerere was a leader of the type of Mahatma Gandhi, Sun Yatsen, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Kwame Nkrumah and Leopold Sedar Senghor, who earned their place in the history of humankind.

Even his miscalculations, about which he repeatedly spoke himself, have special features: they were mistakes of a pathfinder. He belonged to the leaders of a charismatic type, symbolising the ideals and expectations of the people.

We are not discussing simply the statesman but the leader-thinker whose contribution to the development of the original Ujamaa concept and the experience of independent development is a really great one. Therefore it takes some time to estimate, in a fitting manner, his role and weight in the world history.

All post-colonial history of Africa and, above all, Tanzania is associated with his name. The Nyerere epoch is the period of the struggle of African peoples for independence, construction of the national state, search for ways of development, and establishment of democratic foundations in Tanzania.

Nyerere’s political biography is typical of many African leaders. He was born in 1922 in the northern part of the country at a small village not far from Musoma town (now municipality), to the family of a chief of a small ethnic group, the Zanaki.

After receiving secondary school education, he entered Makerere University, Uganda, and from 1949 to 1952 studied history and sociology at Edinburgh University.

During his studies, Nyerere was interested in politics, and got to know some future West African leaders of national liberation movements. Nyerere’s Weltanschauung (or world view) was formed under the strong influence of Fabian Socialism.

On his return home, Nyerere worked with the Tanganyika African Association and for some time as a teacher at a secondary school (Pugu) near Dar es Salaam.

In 1954, he became the head of the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU). In 1960 he was appointed Chief Minister, and after the declaration of independence on December 9, 1961, Prime Minister.

One year later he was elected the President of the country. Shortly afterwards, Nyerere became known by the honourable title “Mwalimu” (teacher). In 1964 he became the President of the United Republic of Tanzania.

In 1985, of his own free will, Nyerere stepped down as president. He believed that a leader should resign when is still “intellectually and physically capable of transferring the power to his successor”, who was, at the time, Ali Hassan Mwinyi.

Since the early days of independence, the ruling party (TANU) called upon the people of the country to work persistently on raising the standard of living and eliminating poverty and backwardness inherited from colonialism.

Guided by Nyerere, TANU developed and adopted the plan of “nation-building”, having in view the widespread use, under the socialist slogans, of such communal traditions as common work, mutual help and support, still existing in the African society.

As far back as in the period of national liberation struggle, Julius Nyerere advanced the idea of “African Socialism”, which later evolved into a painful search for ways of development for the newly emerged states.

Nyerere’s theoretical concepts reflected the nation’s urgent needs: the requirements of farmers, urban workers, the tiny national bourgeoisie and the intellectuals.

In May 1960, he published an article titled “The Future of African Nationalism”, where he argues for the necessity of a social revolution and the creation of such a society whose foundation would be the wellbeing of all rather than the accumulation of wealth by a few individuals. It means that the new national governments should be socialist in their views and actions.

Nyerere expounded his ideas on the essence of Socialism at a conference on Pan-African Socialism, which took place in April 1962 in Dar es Salaam. His keynote speech was titled “Ujamaa: the Foundation of African Socialism”.

The concept of Ujamaa (Familyhood) is among the most influential and interesting theories created by the ideologists of the national liberation movements.

The principal meaning of this word is the type of social organisation, characteristic of the traditional African extended family. Nyerere opined that the traditional way of life in a community is the exact pattern for the social order, in other words, for socialism.

Putting in the concept of Ujamaa the various contents depending on a concrete situation, he combined his economic and socio-political views in a comprehensive ideology of development.

The reference to socialism as a means to development was intended to be a symbol of national cohesion and unity, an ideology of development, and a legitimization of the new authority by ideological means.

Many essential elements of the Ujamaa concept were exposed to change during the practical and theoretical activity of its author.

The African socialism was intended to look for the synthetic theory within the channel of world social development and to encompassing all that mankind had created in the field of social sciences.

A special place in Nyerere’s theoretical heritage occupies the work “The Arusha Declaration” and TANU’s “Policy on Socialism and Self- Reliance”.

Many years after, Nyerere still valued this work highly, saying that two books, the Bible and the Arusha Declaration, were always with him.

He emphasized that the whole community should be self-sufficient both economically and socially, irrespective of the outer world.

In his opinion, it would allow keeping the feeling of uniqueness in the environment of technical modernisation, would speed up development, and would contribute to saving human and material resources.

In an effort to prevent the bureaucratization and degeneration of the TANU and Government top officials, a kind of a “Code of Leadership” was embodied in the Arusha Declaration, prescribing that no TANU or government leader should hold shares in any company; hold directorship in any privately owned enterprise; receive two or more salaries; own houses which he rents to others.

Later these clauses were extended to all TANU and Government officials and civil servants in the high and middle cadres.

It is opportune to mention here, that one of the determining features of the Ujamaa concept is its “human”, ethical nucleus. At the very onset of independence, Nyerere emphasized the need “to build an ethic of the nation”1 which should be based on national spiritual traditions. This explains his definition of socialism as an attitude of mind.

In the Ujamaa theory, the individual was put at the center of development; therefore all plans of development should be measured by the criteria of their conformity to real needs and requirements of the people.

The disregard of the human factor, according to Nyerere’s explanation, was the main cause of mistakes in the political line of Tanzanian leaders.

Given the existing, in Tanzania, of communal solidarity, and the practice of farmers’ teamwork, a mass program of action was launched, aimed at building a new society under the banner of the Ujamaa theory.

The creation of Ujamaa villages was conceived as a voluntary form of cooperation of the peasantry that pursued certain objectives.

It was presumed that the resettlement of the peasants on more fertile sites, integration of villages and transition to new methods of management – all this in due course, should increase labor productivity in agriculture and raise the living standard.

The principles of self-management and initiative in Ujamaa should have transformed these villages into schools of political and cultural mass education, which would have made them a strong base of the state and society.

The creation of such villages envisioned the voluntary participation of the peasants in teamwork. However, during the campaign, this major principle was broken.

In 1973, the TANU National Executive Committee adopted the decision on resettlement of all peasants into Ujamaa villages as soon as by the end of 1976. In 1981, the number of registered villages reached 8,180, embracing 14 million people or 90 percent of all the rural population.

But the main motive of the creation of these settlements, i.e. the ensuring of food self-sufficiency, failed to materialise.

The Tanzanian experience of agrarian development has shown the complexity and ambiguity of application of communal traditional norms.

The resistance of farmers to any form of state interference in the sphere of their production activity was the problem that the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) confronted at the time of the creation of Ujamaa villages and at the introduction in them of the principles of collective production.

The majority of the inhabitants of Ujamaa villages, not having any stimulus to expand agricultural production, continued to live in the old traditional way tilling mainly their individual plots of land.

Many peasants refused to work on collective fields, abandoned villages, and some even abandoned agricultural activities. Moreover, it turned out that the level of production on individual farms was 75 percent higher than on collective plots.

Apparently, the failure of cooperation is not evidence of the non-feasibility of the Ujamaa programme. Probably the main reason is that it was introduced prematurely on a national scale. Nyerere himself critically estimated realisation of the results of the programme.

In the work “Arusha Declaration. Ten Years After”, he wrote that the country was facing “many problems, which had to be solved, and mistakes, which should be corrected. But we are moving in the right direction.”

In many aspects the country has achieved good results, in particular, in the development of social equality, education, health services, democratic participation in decision-making and public management, getting into the practice of social cooperation. The standard of living of the population, consumption of the basic food products and living necessities has risen.

However, within several years Tanzania will encounter economic difficulties. “Our efforts”, wrote Nyerere, “should be commensurable to our difficulties. We cannot expect speedy returns for our work. We should be ready to find the remuneration for our efforts in extending national self-sufficiency and preservation of our independence in actions. There is a time of sowing and a time of harvesting. I am afraid, that for us the time of sowing is not over yet.”

Nyerere, characteristically, sensibly and objectively rated his contribution to the country’s development. After the 24-year long presidency, he stepped down as the Head of State retaining the post of the Chairman of the ruling CCM, and five years later left this position too.

During the ensuing years, he lived in his village of Butiama, worked on his own farm and periodically took part in various political functions.

To make clearer what Tanzania has achieved under Nyerere’s presidency, it is necessary to recollect what state the country was in at the moment of its independence in 1961.

After 75 years of colonial domination, first by Germany and then by Britain, the national coffers were nearly empty. Old age came at 40 years. Quite curable diseases had become the cause of mass mortality both amongst children and adults. The rate of infant mortality reached 250 per 1,000.

Only 26 per cent of the land suitable for agriculture was cultivated, and the rest of it remained unused. Large areas became unsuitable for human settlement because of the proliferation of the tsetse fly.

The whole population of the country was squeezed into only 10 per cent of the territory. About 90 percent of the people were deprived of access to sources of clean water.

Only about a half-dozen lucky individuals had received tertiary education. The basic primary schools course was only four years long, and attended by a very small percentage of the population.

These days, Tanzania is a country with one of the highest level of education in the Third World. Primary education (seven years) is officially compulsory and free of charge.

The number of students in secondary and tertiary education establishments has increased considerably. Tanzania is highly rated among the developing countries for its successful programmes of adult education.

The death rate has decreased sharply, and some diseases have been totally eradicated. Almost the whole population has access to free medical care and access to sources of safe portable water.

Life expectancy has increased from 40 to 52 years, and infant mortality has been greatly reduced.

Nyerere left to the successor a country uncommonly united and stable. The ethnic problems common in many African countries as the main obstacle on the way to achievement of national unity have, in Tanzania, been practically left behind.

Nyerere paid special attention to the development of a national language, Kiswahili. He has translated into this language some plays by William Shakespeare and has written his own poetry.

In addition, there were achievements beyond statistics, for example, the reputation of Tanzania in the world arena, its role and authority among the peoples struggling for economic independence and national unity welded out of the country’s ethnic groups. And in all that achievement, the merit of Julius Nyerere is to be found.

Nyerere, who was at the helm of the country since its independence, was a recognized standard bearer of the struggle of African liberation and a tireless champion of the idea of equitable economic relations between the rich North and the developing South.

“Freedom and Unity” was the slogan of the TANU as founded by Nyerere. It is the party that led the country to independence.

On April 26, 1964, Tanganyika and the neighbouring island state of Zanzibar formed the United Republic of Tanzania, which has become one of the most successful examples of African federalism.

Independence gave Tanzania the opportunity to establish diplomatic relations with other countries of the continent, and also with the USSR.

The development of diplomatic and political links between Tanzania and the USSR was accompanied by the expansion of economic, scientific and technical contacts.

In October 1969, Nyerere visited the Soviet Union. The joint Soviet-Tanzania communiqué that followed revealed the identity of views on such important international problems as the struggle for liquidation of colonialism and the termination of imperialist aggression.

In March 1977, a visit by a Soviet state delegation to Tanzania took place. During the visit, agreements of trade, cultural and scientific cooperation were signed.

Nyerere repeatedly emphasized that his country required more from the world, than the world required from her. In the first years of independence the foreign policy course of Tanzania was distinguished by support for the peoples of Southern Africa in their struggle for national liberation and elimination of the system of apartheid and racial oppression.

The vigorous foreign political activity of Tanzania and its leader has won the country a well-deserved authority among the world community. In 1987, Julius Nyerere was awarded the International Lenin Peace Prize.

Dar es Salaam hosted the headquarters of many national liberation movements. The fighters of the national liberation armies: FRELIMO (Mozambique), MPLA (Angola), ANC (South Africa), and the troops of the national liberation forces of Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) were trained in camps located in Tanzania.

From 1977 to 1985, Nyerere was the chairman of the Frontline States group. From 1988 to 1990 he was Chairman of the Commission on South-South Cooperation.

Since March 1996, he had been the Chief International Mediator on the Settlement of the Ethnic conflict in Burundi. Practically, till the last days of his life, Nyerere indefatigably sought for peace in Africa and solution to its problems by exclusively political means.

At the end of 1997, in connection with Nyerere’s 75th anniversary, the University of Dar es Salaam held the international theoretical conference on the theme: “Reflections on Leadership in Africa: Forty Years after Independence”.

Some reports were directly devoted to Nyerere and his contribution to the liberation of Africa and consolidation of Tanzania into a nation. Two years later, on October 14, 1999, at 10:30 a.m. in St. Thomas Hospital, in London, Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere died in the 78th year of his life.

Such was the outstanding figure on the national liberation movement of Tanzania, its first President Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere.

A man with a kind heart and a large destiny, he belongs not only to Tanzania and Africa but also to all humankind.

In his statement on the occasion of the death of the first President of Tanzania, the UN Secretary General (Ghanaian diplomat Kofi Atta Annan) told the world that Julius Nyerere was a 20th century giant.

  • Professor Nikolai Kosukhin, Dr Sc. (History), is Leading Research Fellow of the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute for African Studies.

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