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Julius Nyerere: An Audacious African Leader
Julius Nyerere: An Audacious African Leader

By - Victoria Akindele

Posted - 26-05-2019

Julius Nyerere was born on April 13, 1922 in Butiama village, next to Lake Victoria, in Tanganyika (name given to the British colony in Tanzania’s territory from 1919 until 1961). He was the son of Chief Nyerere Burito and his twenty-second wife, Christina. Julius studied in missionary schools in Tabora and later on went to Makerere University College, Uganda, to study education. He got his degree in 1946 and returned to Tabora to teach. In 1949, Nyerere was selected to do his masters in history and economics at Edinburgh University. He was the first Tanganyikan sent there.

He returned to Tanganyika in 1952 having graduated with a Master of Arts degree and began to teach at high school level in Pugu, nearby Dar es Salaam. There, Nyerere joined the Tanganyika African Association, that later became the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU), the nationalist party. In 1954, he was elected president of TANU and, by 1958, he entered the Legislative Council. Nyerere became prime minister of the self-governing territory of Tanganyika in May 1961. The country gained its independence from the British in December 1961 and Nyerere was officially elected as the first president of the independent nation in 1962. In 1964, the territory unified with Zanzibar as the United Republic of Tanzania.

In his attempt to build the independent country, Nyerere developed an alternative plan for his country to grow, nationally and internationally. Instead of following Western countries’ strategies and Western ideologies only, he created an African national socialist plan, called Ujamaa. Ujamaa means family links or brotherhood in Swahili language. The main idea of his project and theory was to recover local traditions of community ways of working, producing and relating to the land. There was a process of nationalisation of land and companies combined with the promotion of new ways of workers’ organisation of labour. In terms of international relationships, Tanzania became a member of the Non-Aligned Movement.

Julius Nyerere is also known as one of the main thinkers and creators of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) together with Kwame Nkrumah. At the same time, his government’s support was crucial for the progress of socialist liberation movements across Southern Africa (for example in Angola, Mozambique and South Africa). In 1985, after being president for almost 30 years, Nyerere stepped down voluntarily. Since then, he developed an international career as an African thinker and leader. He was involved in many international projects that aimed to focus on the Third World and participated as a United Nations (UN) facilitator on Burundi’s peace negotiations between 1994 and 1999.

He is known for his legacy as a pan-African acting in unison with other giants of the pan-African movement in Africa. They all thought, envisioned and acted to liberate and ultimately unite Africa into one great nation.

The presence of the spirit of Mwalimu Nyerere is recorded in every political leader in Tanzania who wants to sanctify their activities and justify a consistency of their actions with Mwalimu’s original leadership accomplishments for acceptance. The consideration of Mwalimu Nyerere for canonisation by the catholic church is another proof beyond hearsay of his greatness, a gifted and visionary pan-African leader of our time.

Mwalimu Nyerere was a good leader, a pan-Africa statesman and a ‘servant of God’ who led simple and responsible life, valuing first, justice for all. He also prized national interests, compared to other African leaders of his time. He succeeded in creating a cohesive Tanzania, peaceful and united as one nation; regardless of its over 120 tribal diversity proudly speaking one Kiswahili language.

From the 1950s to the 1990s, Mwalimu Nyerere dedicated his life to fighting colonialism, exploitation, racism, tribalism and all kinds of injustices and he led the liberation struggles for the emancipation of the African continent from colonial and neo-colonial oppression in the hope of achieving a free and united Africa.

He was ready to help all of Africa to gain independence and thereafter unite the continent. He also implored with the people of Africa to let divine providence provide for the unity of the African continent.

“We came here to find out what we should all do now in order to bring about the final liberation of Africa. That from now on our brethren in non-independent Africa should be helped by independent Africa. We did not come here to find out whether we desire unity. We came here to find out our common denominator in our approach to African unity.” says Nyerere at the founding of the OAU on May 25, 1963 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

In his farewell speech to leave office as president of Tanzania, on Nov. 4, 1985, he thanked his people in their endurance and patience when he had to spend time, energy and country’s resources to try to secure freedom and unity of the African continent.

“I thank you because your support for those struggling against colonialism and apartheid has been inspired by your feeling. We therefore understood from the beginning that cooperation cannot be confined within our own national boundaries, and total African liberation and unity is important for all Africa’s people.” He said.

Even after his retirement as President of Tanzania, he still believed in the pan-African miracle of unity. He held that pan-Africanism that ensures a united Africa was the only armament that would liberate Africa from economic bondage.

In a speech at the fortieth independence anniversary celebrations of Ghana in Accra, on March 6, 1997 he urged the African leaders to take up the challenge of pan-Africanism and strive for unity. “My generation led Africa to political freedom. The current generation of leaders and peoples of Africa must pick up the flickering torch of African freedom, refuel it with their enthusiasm and determination, and carry it forward to unity.” he said.

“A new generation of self-respecting Africans should spit in the face of anybody who suggests that our continent should remain divided and fossilised in the shame of colonialism in order to satisfy the national pride of our former colonial masters. Africa must unite! That call is more urgent today than ever before, for each one of us is so weak in isolation. So, this is my plea to the new generation of African leaders and African peoples: Work for unity with the firm conviction that without unity, there is no future for Africa.” he added.

“Together, we the people of Africa will be incomparably stronger internationally than we are now with our multiplicity of unviable states. Unity will not make us rich, but it can make it difficult for Africa and the African people to be disregarded and humiliated and it will, therefore, increase the effectiveness of the decisions we make and try to implement for our development.” he concluded his speech.

Again, on Oct. 16, 1997 speaking to the parliament of South Africa in Cape Town, Nyerere, reminded the people of Africa that they needed to unite and work together to free themselves from economic captivity.

“We should all encourage Africa to depend upon ourselves, both at national level and at the collective level. Each of our countries will have to rely upon its own human resources and natural material resources for its development. But that is not enough. The next area to look at is our collectivity, our working together. We all enhance our capacity to develop if we work together.” he said.

Indeed, Mwalimu Nyerere was a pan-African leader unlike any other of the front line states who was determined to free the entire Southern part of the African continent. He carried the torch that liberated the entire Southern part of Africa.

“Mwalimu, the teacher who taught the African continent about peace, democracy and unity. Mwalimu, the freedom fighter who became one of the founding fathers of the Organisation of African Unity, he laid the foundation for the African continent to start its long and arduous road towards peace and unity.” Tribute from Jacob Zuma, the then deputy president of South Africa for Mwalimu when he died.

Also, on Jan. 27, 2016 Robert Mugabe the former President of Zimbabwe and great associate of Mwalimu Nyerere launching a Book on Julius Nyerere titled ‘Julius Nyerere: Asante Sana, Thank you, Mwalimu’ relieved Nyerere’s bravery when he said: “Nyerere had a multiple function of carrying the burden of African countries pursuing independence. He sacrificed and suffered so much. He is a man really who had no comparison. The book is a befitting tribute to a great statesman, liberator and pan-African par excellence.”

Nyerere died from leukemia on Oct. 14, 1999 at St. Thomas’s Hospital in London and was buried in his hometown, Butiama.

Although Mwalimu Nyerere did not live to see the United States of Africa but his thoughts, words, and actions fostering the pan-African movement is a beacon of light to continue voyaging towards the unification of the African Continent. The ‘Nyerere Memorial Day’ is therefore celebrated on Oct. 14 of every year. A day when his legacy, commitment and passion for unity in Africa are remembered. His feats would continue to inspire and influence the socio-economic and political landscape of Tanzania and Africa at large.


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Waydai, Jr., Johnjoy Recent comment authors
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true legend

Waydai, Jr., John
Waydai, Jr., John

Inspiring and I hope the next generation of our can believed that Africa can made it without their colonies mister. We only need to unite ourselves and our strength will build up but my fear now is that our Africans leaders are our owed monster and will not settle together because of their selfish gain.