In memory of a freedom fighter, JK Nyerere

TANZANIA and the rest of the world commemorate the 23rd death anniversary of the founding father of the country and a ‘Great Son of Africa’, Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere, who spent his life to liberate and unite Africa.

Mwalimu was born on April 13, 1922 in Butiama Village, in Mara Region. He was born into royalty in the Zanaki ethnic community, his father was Chief Burito Nyerere and his ancestral home is located in Butiama in a place known as Mwitongo.

From the 1950’s, Mwalimu had dedicated his life to fighting colonialism, exploitation, racism, tribalism and all kinds of injustice. 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.

Mwalimu was in particular the architect of Tanzania’s independence and a key figure in the struggle against foreign domination, and helped to popularise the concept of Pan-African unity.

Tanganyika (and later Tanzania), however, did not just welcome those fleeing occupation, apartheid and colonialism in Africa. It extended this comradeship to the likes of the Tupamaros of Uruguay and liberation fighters from Palestine.

In fact, Nyerere was among the first African leaders to recognise the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) under Yasser Arafat and, in 1973, Dar es Salaam became home to the first PLO embassy in Africa.

He strongly believed that Tanzania had a responsibility to actively assist other nations to achieve freedom from foreign and minority rule, and focused TANU’s attention on this issue as a major element of his government’s foreign policy.

Even before Tanganyika achieved independence, Nyerere was a vocal critic of white communities in other African countries, who were unwilling to participate in African majority-ruled societies.

Domestically, Mwalimu played a key role in freeing the country from British colonialism. His leadership was also credited in uniting more than 125 tribes into a unified nation when he finally stepped down in 1985.

Mwalimu’s legacy went far beyond Tanzania as his footprints left indelible marks continentally as well as globally. He made Dar-es-Salaam the capital of Southern Africa liberation movements. Freedom fighters from Mozambique, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana and Angola who had offices and training camps in Tanzania, including Mozambique’s Frelimo and South Africa’s African National Congress.

Globally, he made the University of Dar-es-Salaam the magnet for anti-colonial activists and thinkers. Che Guevara, Malcolm X, Mohammed Ali and Walter Rodney, passed through, stayed and strategized from Dar es Salaam.

The African philosopher and anti-colonial leader became involved in politics when he joined the Tanganyika African Association (TAA) in 1954.

In late 1954, the TAA was renamed the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) and Mwalimu was elected to be its first president. As president of TANU, he traveled throughout the country speaking in favor of independence in the face of opposition from the British colonial government.

On December 9, 1961 Tanganyika became independent and Mwalimu became the Prime Minister. In 1962, Nyerere was elected the first president of the Republic of Tanganyika, and in 1964, when Zanzibar joined Tanganyika to become the United Republic of Tanzania; Mwalimu was elected its first president.

He was “reelected president of Tanzania in 1965 and was returned to serve three more successive five-year terms before he resigned as president in 1985 and handed over his office to his successor, Ali Hassan Mwinyi.

From independence on Nyerere also headed Tanzania’s only political party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM). Nyerere continued to be politically active in Tanzania and internationally until his death on October 14, 1999.

The Arusha Declaration of 1967 outlined TANU’s principles regarding domestic and foreign policy. The document was very relevant to Tanzania’s involvement in the liberation struggle, as it obligated the government to cooperate with political liberation movements and to work with other states in achieving African Unity.

His legacy as a great Pan-Africanist is reflected from his speeches delivered at the founding of the Organization of Africa Unity (OAU) on May 25, 1963 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Mwalimu was ready to help all Africa to gain independence and thereafter unite the continent; he said: “…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 …”

At the OAU founding Summit, Mwalimu Nyerere also implored the people of Africa to let Divine Providence provide for the unity of the African Continent.

He prayed: “…The people of Africa are also praying. They are praying for the triumph of Pan-Africanism over narrow Nationalism and Regionalism. They are especially praying for the triumph of an all-embracing Africa Charter…”

Mwalimu and his government also took action without the support of other states to challenge minority white rule in Southern Africa. In 1965 the White-dominated government of Ian Smith declared Rhodesia to be independent of the British Empire and took power.

Although many of the most visible contributions to the African liberation struggle came from Mwalimu, famously known as a political elite of Tanzania.

However, Mwalimu acquired the needed support from the Tanzanians who were very supportive of the movements. Mwalimu was able to pursue his Pan-African objectives because of this popular support.

It was customary for regular Tanzanians to offer voluntary contributions to the cause by way of agricultural produce, meagre financial resources and even blood donations. This generosity was widespread despite the economic problems suffered by the country in the first few decades after independence.

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