TOMORROW, December 9th, 2016; will be the 55th anniversary of our country’s independence. In my article of last week, I humbly suggested that as a nation, we should utilise these annual independence celebrations to remind ourselves of (at least) some of the little known (or even, in some cases, completely unknown) political challenges which faced Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere personally, in connection with his leadership efforts in the struggle for independence.
And that is precisely the purpose of this article, in which I will discuss Mwalimu Nyerere’s personal tribulations which he faced in two selected cases.
These personal tribulations emanated from fierce opposition by some of the other leaders of his own political Party, the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU); and which he, being the top leader of the Party, had considerable difficulty in dealing with.
The first was the issue of ‘the tripartite vote’, which featured at the TANU Annual Conference which was held in Tabora in January 1958. The second was the issue of the country’s citizenship, upon the attainment of independence.
This became the subject of a heated debate in the Tanganyika National Assembly in October 1961, during which, because of the irrational racial stand which had been adopted by some of his own TANU Members of the Legislature, Mwalimu Nyerere even went to the extent of threatening to resign!
(Mwalimu Nyerere was, at that material time, Prime Minister of what was constitutionally designated as “Internal Self-Government”, which had been put in place by the Colonial Administration on 1st September, 1960).
But before discussing those two specific challenges which greatly troubled Mwalimu Nyerere personally in the process of overcoming them, let us first take a close look at the common challenge which faced almost all African leaders at the time of the independence of their respective countries.
This common challenge was that of building a new cohesive nation, out of a multiplicity of separate tribes which, over a long period prior to independence, had built up separate loyalties to their respective tribal leaders. There are many examples of African countries which had to grapple with this problem, but let us take only one example, namely that of Nigeria.
Nigeria’s intractable ethnic problems are well illustrated by the renowned Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, in his book titled “There was a country”; in which he recounts the long road which Nigeria has followed since independence, and focuses on the ethnic obstacles which hindered the development of Nigeria as one unified nation.
He says the following:- “”In 1960 when Nigeria gained its independence from British rule, it was like a giant aircraft on the runway; with a large population, with many educated people, and many natural resources, including oil.
The Nationalist movement which was agitating for independence had tried to establish the idea that the words ‘nation’ and ‘tribe’ are in opposition to each other, a strategy which they believed was important for building a new unified nation. But the politicisation of ethnicity after independence created a vicious Regional power struggle.
The fear of domination by one Region over another, was practically everywhere.” Chinua Achebe also refers to what he calls “the war between brothers,” otherwise known as ‘the Biafra war’ of 1967, which almost destroyed Nigeria as one nation. Mwalimu Nyerere’s supreme task of building national unity. Mwalimu Nyerere placed the greatest emphasis on creating national unity.
He himself said so in his farewell speech to the National Assembly on 29th July, 1985, prior to his voluntary retirement from the Presidency : “Kazi iliyokuwa muhimu kuliko zote kwangu mimi, ilikuwa ni kazi ya kujenga taifa lenye umoja, kwa msingi wa heshima na usawa wa binadamu . . . Nadhani leo naweza kusema bila kusita, kwamba kwa shabaha hii kuu na ya msingi kabisa, tunayo haki ya kujivunia mafanikio tuliyoyapata.
Kwani sasa tunalo taifa lenye umoja, ambalo msingi wake ni heshima na usawa wa binadamu; na tumepiga hatua kubwa katika kuimarisha umoja huo.” The main strategy which was adopted by Mwalimu Nyerere in achieving that objective, was to eliminate the factors which would tend to promote tribalism and tribal loyalties.
Prominent among the various measures taken by him, was the early repeal of a colonial legislation titled “The African Chiefs Ordinance” The repeal of that Ordinance was primarily aimed at eliminating the separate tribal loyalties which members of each tribe owed to their tribal Chief, in order to establish a single loyalty to the new, independent nation.
However, in addition to the measures he was taking in this matter of creating the desired “taifa lenye umoja, kwa msingi wa heshima na usawa wa binadamu” his task was made considerably easier by the presence of three major factors.
These were:- (a) the Kiswahili language, which was spoken by practically everyone in the country; (b) the vast and literally unchallenged support which was accorded to his political party TANU in the crucial years of the struggle for independence, whereby, for example, TANU could nominate any candidate, irrespective of his tribe, to stand for election and indeed get elected unopposed, in a Parliamentary constituency which was dominated by voters of a different tribe from that of the TANU candidate.
This is confirmed by candidates like Richard Wambura who hailed from a tribe in Mara Region, being nominated and getting elected unopposed in Maswa, a constituency dominated by voters of the Sukuma tribe; and (c) the total absence of the ‘politicisation of ethnicity after independence” which, according to Chinua Achebe, happened in Nigeria.
The two incidents of Mwalimu Nyerere’s personal tribulations. We now return to the main subject of this article, namely the two incidents in which it became necessary for Mwalimu Nyerere to fight against some surprisingly strong opposition from his own fellow TANU leaders .
As we have already noted, the first was “the challenge of the tripartite vote”. The source of trouble was one legislative measure which had been enacted by the colonial Administration, which imposed the compulsory “tripartite vote” in May 1957, in preparation for the first ever elections which were to be held in 1958.
This legislation imposed the requirement that in order for any ballot paper to be counted as a valid vote, the voter had to cast three votes, one each for a European candidate, an Asian candidate, and an African candidate.
Many members and leaders of TANU were strongly opposed to this requirement. Thus, this became a hot issue for discussion during the period leading to TANU’s annual conference, which was scheduled to be held at Tabora in January 1958.
It was at this conference that a decision was to be made regarding this matter. The preceding informal discussions had, almost unanimously, settled on boycotting those elections. But Mwalimu Nyerere understood clearly that boycotting those elections would have very negative consequences on the progress to achieving independence, for the action of boycotting the elections would have kept TANU out of the Legislative Council, thus giving the colonial Administration a completely free hand to enact measures which would have delayed the country’s independence for an unknown period.
So, he prepared for the inevitable battle at the Conference. Tanu’s historic Tabora Conference, January 1958. The Tabora Conference turned out to be a very difficult one for Mwalimu Nyerere. However, his immense powers of persuasion eventually enabled him to convince the majority of the delegates to accept the tripartite vote, and to participate fully in the said elections.
But that decision led to a group of dissident members, led by one Zuberi Mtemvu, to break away from TANU and form their own splinter Party under the name of the African National Congress (ANC); with Zuberi Mtemvu as its president. Mwalimu Nerere’s principles of citizenship.
On 1th October, 1961; the Government of the day, which was headed by Prime Minister Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, presented its citizenship Bill to the National Assembly of Tanganyika.
Quite unexpectedly, considerable opposition was expressed with regard to those clauses of the said Bill, which enabled non-Africans to acquire the country’s citizenship after the country’s independence, if they and one of their parents had been born in Tanganyika, or by registration, in certain other circumstances.
Because this opposition was clearly based on racist considerations, it greatly infuriated Prime Minister Mwalimu Nyerere, who responded with significant emotion to a crowded House.
What follows is a quotation from the Hansard reports:- “I do not intend to answer for my colleague the Minister for Home Affair . I would like only to deal with a matter of principle which has been raised by some potential ‘Vorwoerds’ (the then leader of Apartheid South Africa).
Mr. Speaker Sir, what are we trying to do here? We are establishing a citizenship for Tanganyika. And what is going to be the basis of this citizenship of Tanganyika? We, the Government which was elected by the people of Tanganyika, hereby announce loudly that loyalty to the country is going to be the only basis for determining who shall be a citizen of Tanganyika, namely that the citizens of Tanganyika are going to be loyal to Tanganyika, and to Tanganyika only.
In other words, We are saying that we are not going to accept dual citizenship in Tanganyika . Now, Mr Speaker, a fairly large number of speakers have stood up here and suggested that we should base our citizenship not on loyalty, but on the colour of the person concerned. Now Sir, this is a matter of principle.
And I am therefore going to make a very serious statement about it, because I don’t want people coming into this House, getting drunk with its atmosphere, and start talking rubbish in here, hoping that some people will clap for them, and that they will get away with it.
I am now telling them very clearly, that if they reject this motion, we shall resign immediately, and I mean it. I mean it because we are not here to fool our people. We are here to tell our people what we believe in. For example, we believe that all men are equal (watu wote ni sawa).
If we now start saying that in Tanganyika, all men are equal except the non-Africans who happen to live here. If we are going to divorce citizenship from loyalty to the country, and marry it to a person’s colour, we will have broken a major principle.
Discrimination against human beings because of their colour, is exactly what we have been fighting against; and now, surprisingly, just before we attain our independence on December 9th, some of my friends have forgotten this basic principle; and are now arguing in favour of colour discrimination.
For they stand here like Hitlers, and start glorifying race discrimination. Mr Speaker, we are committed to glorifying the equality of human beings and not their colour.
Mr Speaker sir, I want to complete my contribution on this matter by repeating, and repeating very firmly, that this Government rejects, and rejects completely, any idea that the citizenship of this country, together with its associated rights and duties, are going to be based on anything other than loyalty to the country. And because it is a serious matter of principle, I wish to announce that voting on this matter will be completely free. It means that no ‘ party whip’ will be applied.
And if the results of this free vote show that the government has lost, we will resign immediately. The results of the vote showed that the said Bill was passed by an overwhelming majority, with only two members signifying dissent.