Mwl Nyerere: A visionary leader

Today the nation commemorates the 23rd anniversary since the passing on of the Founding Father of the Nation Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere.

Mwalimu Nyerere died on October 14, 1999 at the St Thomas’ Hospital, in London, UK, where he was admitted to undergo treatment for leukaemia.

Nyerere was one of the leading figures in Africa’s struggle for independence and in its post-colonial era. He led his country to independence from Britain in 1961 and served as president from 1962 to 1985, when he became one of the first post-colonial African leaders to leave office voluntarily.

Since Mwalimu Nyerere’s death Tanzania’s population has shot up and many young people, who constitute half of the country’s population, never saw the man in his lifetime. Others, who are in leadership positions, young as well, only reach out to people to share stories they have read about Tanzania’s first president though they may have a remote memory of him.

John Hakiza (27), Ngara District Chairman of Chama cha Mapinduzi Youth Wing (UVCCM), has been leading a team of 236 youths in a special camp to attend the climax of the Uhuru Torch race to be held at the Kaitaba stadium, in Bukoba Muncipality today.

“Mwalimu Nyerere was one of Africa’s most respected elders statesmen and left a firm legacy. His global standing for justice, equality, humanity and egalitarian economic policies still hold today. We, the young generation should emulate his example through hard work,” he said.

He remembers Mwalimu Nyerere for his efforts to promote Kiswahili language since in most of his speeches, Mwalimu Nyerere used Kiswahili compared to other leaders who used foreign languages.

Dr Charles Timbigambirwa (53), sits silently at his clinic in Bukoba Municipal Council while a large portrait of the Founding Father of the Nation, Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere hangs on the wall.

“Without Mwalimu Nyerere I could not have afforded to pay fees to become a doctor because I hail from a poor family. During his tenure we enjoyed free education from primary to university level,” he recalls with tears running down his cheeks.

Jacob Byombalirwa (54), a resident of Muleba District’s Nshamba Village, recalls that before the 1978/79 Kagera war with the then dictator Idi Amin of Uganda, people in the Kagera lived peacefully.

They were growing various cash and food crops including bananas, coffee, maize, cassava and millet on their farms. Many people were killed by Iddi Amin’s forces in the region, resulting in huge loss of property.

The Uganda–Tanzania War, known in Tanzania as the Kagera War and in Uganda as the 1979 Liberation War, was fought between Uganda and Tanzania from October 1978 until June 1979, culminating into the overthrow of Idi Amin’s regime.

In 1971 Colonel Idi Amin launched a military coup that overthrew the President of Uganda, Milton Obote, precipitating a deterioration of relations with neighbouring Tanzania.  President Obote was away in Singapore to attend an international meeting.

Amin installed himself as President of Uganda and ruled the country under a repressive dictatorship. Soon after coming to power, soldiers loyal to him kidnapped the then Kagera Regional Police Commander (RPC), Mr Hans Poppe who was on patrol mission in Missenyi Division.


The soldiers took him to Kampala, where Idi Amin wrongly identified him as a Chinese and accused him of training rebels in Tanzania. He later tortured and killed him. The killing of Hans Poppe triggered a brief exchange of military confrontation between Tanzania and Idi Amin’s forces.  The matter was solved through diplomatic dialogue termed as the “Mogadishu Pact” of 1972.

Uganda also disputed its border with Tanzania, claiming that a section of Kagera —a 720 square mile stretch of land between the official border and the Kagera River, 18 miles to the south, should be placed under its jurisdiction, maintaining that the river made a more logical border.

However, again in October 1978, Idi Amin forces invaded Tanzania and annexed the Kagera section, extending from Mutukula to Kyaka (over 60 kms).

The late Father of the Nation, Mwalimu   Nyerere, who was also Commander in-Chief of Tanzania Armed Forces could not tolerate such nonsense. He declared war to the invaders with orders to repel the enemy from Tanzanian soil. During the National CCM Conference held in Arusha City Mwl Nyerere said inter-alia….”Sababu ya kumpiga tunayo, nia ya kumpiga tunayo na uwezo wa kumpiga   tunao,” literally meaning that Tanzania had every reason to repel the enemy.

The ensuing war was bitter and expensive. Tanzanian  commanders including Major  Generals Abdallah Twalipo, Silas Mayunga, Mwita Marwa, Tumainieli Kiwelu and  Brigadiers  Imran Kombe and  John Walden, just to mention a few, did a commendable job  at the battle front leading gallant Tanzanian forces.

The task was successfully accomplished in October 1979 with fugitive dictator Idi Amin fleeing to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The Tanzanian forces received a hero’s welcome at Bunazi, in Missenyi District led by Mwalimu  Nyerere from where he addressed the nation and  awarded medals to the commanders. The event was also witnessed by former Ugandan ruler, Godfrey Binaisa.

During his national address, Mwalimu Nyerere emphasised the importance of patriotism. He commended all men and women who took part in liberating Uganda from Amin’s dictatorship.

Tanzanian and several Ugandans who died during the war were buried at Kaboya TPDF Camp in Muleba District, Kagera region. A white monument was erected at the cemetery and adorned with the names of the dead.

True to his religion, Nyerere extolled justice and peace wherever he went. He denounced violence, describing it as ‘a confession of failure because it does not solve the basic problem of injustice nor put suffering in a positive context.’

After his retirement as president, he remained one of Africa’s most respected statesmen, playing an important advisory role in Tanzanian and regional politics. His last mission was to mediate talks aimed at ending a six-year civil war in the neighbouring Burundi.

In Tanzania, Mwalimu Nyerere’s speeches are often played by the public broadcaster and the messages in the speeches are still relevant today.

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