Greatest African: Julius Nyerere

By Joburg Post

“African nationalism is meaningless, dangerous, anachronistic, if it is not, at the same time, pan-Africanism.” 
– Julius Nyerere 

Julius Kambarage Nyerere (13 April 1922 – 14 October 1999) was a Tanzanian statesman who served as the leader of Tanzania, and previously Tanganyika, from 1960 until his retirement in 1985. Born in Tanganyika to Nyerere Burito (1860–1942), Chief of the Zanaki, Nyerere was known by the Swahili honorific Mwalimu or 'teacher', his profession prior to politics. He was also referred to as Baba wa Taifa (Father of the Nation). Nyerere received his higher education at Makerere University in Kampala and the University of Edinburgh. After he returned to Tanganyika, he worked as a teacher. In 1954, he helped form the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU). When Tanganyika was granted responsible government in 1960, Nyerere became Chief Minister. He led Tanganyika to independence a year later and became the new country's first Prime Minister. The country became a republic in 1962, with Nyerere as the country's first president. During the first years, Nyerere created a One-party state and used "preventive detention" to eliminate trade unions and opposition political forces. In 1964, Tanganyika united politically with Zanzibar and was renamed Tanzania, with Nyerere as president of the unified country. He was the sole candidate for president in the unified country's first election, in 1965, and was re-elected unopposed every five years until his retirement in 1985. 

Political achievements
In 1967, Nyerere, influenced by the ideas of African socialism, He issued the Arusha Declaration, which outlined his vision of ujamaa (variously translated as "familyhood" or "socialism"; not to be confused with the Swahili word Umoja which means "unity"). Ujamaa was a concept that came to dominate Nyerere's policies. However, his policies led to economic decline, systematic corruption, and unavailability of goods. In the early 1970s, Nyerere ordered his security forces to forcibly transfer much of the population to collective farms and, because of opposition from villagers, often burned villages down. This campaign pushed the nation to the brink of starvation and made it dependent on foreign food aid. In 1985, after more than two decades in power, he relinquished power to his hand-picked successor, Ali Hassan Mwinyi. Nyerere left Tanzania as one of the poorest, least developed, and most foreign aid-dependent countries in the world, although much progress in services such as health and education had nevertheless been achieved. As such, Julius Nyerere is still a controversial figure in Tanzania. He remained the chairman of the Chama Cha Mapinduzi for another five years until 1990. He died of leukemia in London in 1999. 


Julius Nyerere was a highly respected and widely admired leader among the first generation of African politicians that forged the destiny of the continent during the early post-independence period from the late 1950s onwards. Nyerere's name is still held in high esteem not only in Tanzania, where he is fondly remembered as Mwalimu ("teacher") and "father of the nation", but also among politically conscious people of all shades throughout the African continent. But the political, economic and social realities in Africa are today significantly different from the key concerns of these earlier periods, and the younger generations (in Tanzania as well as outside) have only a faint idea of the issues and problems that comprised the centre of Nyerere's thoughts as a political philosopher and of his concrete actions as an all-powerful president.

Nyerere had the rare gift of combining very different roles in his personality: He was an intellectual political thinker and philosopher with a wide appeal both in the then so-called “Third World” and in the Global North. However, he was also a simple, people-oriented leader easily understood by illiterate villagers. Simultaneously, he was a crafty politician who exercised almost undisputed executive power (even with authoritarian tendencies, when required) for approximately a quarter of a century. Although another quarter of a century has passed since Nyerere’s relinquishing of power, and the majority of Tanzania’s young population has hardly any vivid memory of the Ujamaa era (in fact, the term itself has long gone out of usage), a few somewhat nostalgic references are still made in contemporary commentaries about Tanzania’s current political and socio-economic problems. Although the party founded by Nyerere in 1954 (then, TANU; since 1977, CCM) has been in power without interruption and is still absolutely dominating the political scene, its perception in the eyes of large parts of the general public has significantly shifted. Today, it is largely seen as a party of the rich that has over the years abandoned its former identity of primarily embracing the interests of the workers and the peasants, as was the case during Nyerere’s time.


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