Mwalimu Nyerere and the United Africa idea

MWALIMU Julius Nyerere remains a great name among African leaders, who fought vigorously against colonialism and for African unity.

Across Africa, he gained widespread respect as an anti-colonialist and in power received praise for ensuring that unlike many of its neighbours, Tanzania remained stable and unified in the decades following independence.

The Tanzanian Founding Father is held in deep respect within Tanzania, Africa and the world generally.

Mwalimu Nyerere’s political and ethical agenda for Tanzania was African Socialism, or Ujamaa in Kiswahili. The essential components of Ujamaa were freedom, unity, equality and respect for human dignity and human rights. Equality and human dignity were for Nyerere important foundations for human rights.

As Bonny Ibhawoh wrote: “…Nyerere referred frequently to the repression and injustices of colonial rule as derogations from basic human dignity and fundamental human rights. Our struggle, he stated, will always be a struggle for human rights…Our position is based on the belief in the equality of human beings, in their rights and duties as citizens’”

In the Ghanaian capital – Accra, on 6 March 1997, Mwalimu Nyerere spoke much on how he saw African unity in the 21st century, emphasizing that without unity there is no future for Africa.

“For centuries, we had been oppressed and humiliated as Africans. We were hunted and enslaved as Africans, and we were colonised as Africans. The humiliation of Africans became the glorification of others. So, we felt our Africanness. We knew that we were one people, and that we had one destiny regardless of the artificial boundaries which colonists had invented,” he said.

He said that since they were humiliated as Africans, they had to be liberated as Africans.

“So, 40 years ago, we recognised Ghana’s independence as the first triumph in Africa’s struggle for freedom and dignity. It was the first success of our demand to be accorded the international respect, which is accorded free peoples. Thirty-seven years later – in 1994 – we celebrated our final triumph when apartheid was crushed and Nelson Mandela was installed as the president of South Africa. Africa’s long struggle for freedom was over,” he noted.

What Mwalimu Nyerere and other founding fathers had in mind was a genuine desire to move Africa towards greater unity. We loathed the balkanisation of the continent into small unviable states, most of which had borders which did not make ethnic or geographical sense.

Prior to the independence of Tanganyika, Mwalimu Nyerere had been advocating that East African countries should federate and then achieve independence as a single political unit.

“I had said publicly that I was willing to delay Tanganyika’s independence in order to enable all the three mainland countries to achieve their independence together as a single federated state. I made the suggestion because of my fear – proved correct by later events – that it would be very difficult to unite our countries if we let them achieve independence separately.

“Once you multiply national anthems, national flags and national passports, seats of the United Nations, and individuals entitled to a 21-gun salute, not to speak of a host of ministers, prime ministers and envoys, you would have a whole army of powerful people with vested interests in keeping Africa balkanised. That was what Nkrumah encountered in 1965,” he said.

After the failure to establish the union government at the Accra Summit, Mwalimu noted, he heard one head of state expressing with relief that he was happy to be returning home to his country still as a head of state.

“To this day, I cannot tell whether he was serious or joking. But he may well have been serious, because Kwame Nkrumah was very serious and the fear of a number of us to lose our precious status was quite palpable. But I never believed that the 1965 Accra Summit would have established a union government for Africa. When I say that we failed, that is not what I mean; for that clearly was an unrealistic objective for a single summit.

“What I mean is that we did not even discuss a mechanism for pursuing the objective of a politically united Africa. We had a Liberation Committee already. We should have at least had a Unity Committee or undertaken to establish one. We did not. And after Kwame Nkrumah was removed from the African scene, nobody took up the challenge again,” he said sadly.

He also came with a confession and a plea. The confession is that those of the first-generation leaders of independent Africa have not pursued the objective of African unity with the vigour, commitment and sincerity that it deserved. He said, yet that does not mean that unity is irrelevant.

“Does the experience of the last three or four decades of Africa’s independence dispel the need for African unity? With our success in the liberation struggle, Africa today has 53 independent states, 21 more than those which met in Addis Ababa in May 1963,” he noted.

With South Sudan’s independence in 2011, Africa now has 54 independent states. If numbers were horses, Africa today would be riding high. Africa would be the strongest continent in the world, for it occupies more seats in the UN General Assembly than any other continent.

“Yet the reality is that ours is the poorest and weakest continent in the world. And our weakness is pathetic. Unity will not end our weakness, but until we unite, we cannot even begin to end that weakness. 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. That is, of course, assuming that we still want to have a place under the sun.

“I reject the glorification of the nation-state that we inherited from colonialism, and the artificial nations we are trying to forge from that inheritance. We are all Africans trying very hard to be Ghanaians or Tanzanians. Fortunately for Africa, we have not been completely successful. The outside world hardly recognises our Ghanaian-ness or Tanzanian-ness. What the outside world recognises about us is our African-ness,” he says.

When the Gold Coast (Ghana) became independent, Nkrumah invited leaders of the various liberation movements in Africa to go and celebrate with Ghana. Mwalimu Nyerere was among the many invitees. Then Nkrumah made the famous declaration that Ghana’s independence was meaningless unless the whole of Africa was liberated from colonial rule.

Nkrumah went into action almost immediately. In the following year, he called the liberation movements to Ghana to discuss the common strategy for the liberation of the continent from colonialism. In preparation for the African People’s Conference, those from East and Central Africa met in Mwanza to discuss their possible contribution to the forthcoming conference. That conference lit the liberation torch throughout colonial Africa.

Another five years later, in May 1963, 32 independent African states met in Addis Ababa, founded the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and established the Liberation Committee of the new organisation, charging it with the duty of coordinating the liberation struggle in those parts of Africa still under colonial rule.

The following year, 1964, the OAU met in Cairo, Egypt, a summit that is remembered mainly for the declaration of the heads of state of independent Africa to respect the borders inherited from colonialism. The principle of non-interference in internal affairs of member states of the OAU had been enshrined in the Charter itself. Respect for the borders inherited from colonialism comes from the Cairo Declaration of 1964.

In 1965, the OAU met in Accra, Ghana. Mwalimu Nyerere said that the summit is not well remembered as the founding summit in 1963 or the Cairo Summit of 1964. The fact that Nkrumah did not last long as head of state of Ghana after that summit may have contributed to the comparative obscurity of that important summit.

“But I want to suggest that the reason why we do not talk much about the 1965 summit is probably psychological; it was a failure. That failure still haunts us today. The founding fathers of the OAU had set themselves two major objectives; the total liberation of our continent from colonialism and settler minorities and the unity of Africa. The first objective was expressed through immediate establishment of the Liberation Committee by the founding summit. The second objective was expressed in the name of the organisation – the Organisation of African Unity,” he noted.

Mwalimu Nyerere recalls that Hitler was a German, Mussolini was an Italian, Franco was a Spaniard, Salazar was Portuguese, Stalin was a Russian or a Georgian. Nobody expected Churchill to be ashamed of Hitler. He was probably ashamed of Chamberlain. Nobody expected Charles de Gaulle to be ashamed of Hitler, he was probably ashamed of the complicity of Vichy. It is the Germans and Italians and Spaniards and Portuguese who feel uneasy about those dictators in their respective countries.

Not so in Africa. Idi Amin was in Uganda but of Africa. Jean Bokassa was in Central Africa but of Africa. He noted that some of the dictators were still alive in their respective countries, but they are all of Africa.

“They are all Africans, and all perceived by the outside world as Africans.  When I travel outside Africa, the description of me as a former president of Tanzania is a fleeting affair. It does not stick. Apart from the ignorant who sometimes asked me whether Tanzania was in Johannesburg, even to those who knew better, what stuck in the minds of my hosts was the fact of my African-ness,” Mwalimu Nyerere noted.


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