ALL Tanzanians should endeavour to read the biographies of our past Presidents, because they constitute a ‘treasure trove’ of valuable historical information, which is of huge educational value to the present, as well as future generations; since they reveal a lot more than just an account relating to their personal lives; for they include much substantial information relating to national events and occurrences; which, taken together, form the largest part of the political history of Tanzania.
As a British historian, one John Robert Seeley (1834 – 95) is on record as having said : “History is about past politics, and present politics is history in the making” (Dictionary of quotations, Bloomsbury Publishing Limited, London.) My article of last week was devoted to the event of the official inauguration of former President Ali Hassan Mwinyi’s autobiography book titled Mzee rukhsa
: safari ya maisha yangu
(Mkuki na Nyota Publishers, Dar es Salaam, 2020); which was performed by President Samia Suluhu Hassan on May 8th, 2021; wherein I described the said book as “a masterpiece presentation of the words and actions of a national leader, who ferried our nation through the most turbulent times, when the country’s economy was at its worst downswing.” But before that, on 12th November, 2019; we also witnessed the inauguration by the late President John Pombe Magufuli, of the late former President Benjamin William Mkapa’s autobiography book titled
“My life, My Purpose : A Former President Remembers”
(Mkuki na Nyota Publishers, Dars es Salaam). The biography of former President Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere, has already been published. It is titled titled “Development as Rebellon : A Biography of Julius Nyerere” (Mkuki na Nyota Publishers, Dar es Salaam); which was brilliantly authored jointly by Issa Shivji, Saida Yahya Othman, and Ng’wanza Kamata.
I received a personal copy of this three-volume tome, as a gift from the Nyerere Resource Center at the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology; for which I am very sincerely grateful. I have since had the time to read through all the three volumes; and, indeed, as Thandika Mkandawire puts it in the book’s endorsements section: “It is a spectacular book, and a fascinating read.
The biography provides a complex analysis of Mwalimu Nyerere: the philosopher, statesman, politician, writer, teacher, husband and father.” And adds: “the work explores the controversies surrounding Mwalimu’s public and personal life in a critical and sensitive way, drawing on a wealth of information from a variety of sources. It is a powerful history of the people, the movements, and the struggles that brought Tanzania into existence.”
Registering a small personal complaint
However, I wish to register a small (inconsequential) complaint against the authors, for their having misrepresented my intention in their comment regarding Mwalimu Nyerere’s other book titled “ Óur Leadership and Tanzania’s destiny”! At page 221 of Vol.1; in the paragraph which reads: “the book remained controversial even after Nyerere’s death, when the Speaker of the National Assembly Pius Msekwa, pointedly omitted it from the exhaustive list of Nyerere’s books that he included in his obituary)”.
Well, in fact, that omission was based not on the controversial nature of that book; but purely on sheer, inexcusable forgetfulness on my part; which I sincerely regret. In fact, I personally do not consider that book to be controversial at all; for, in my opinion, it only tells “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” about the failings of our top national party and Government leaders at that time. That is why he said : “We need a new leader of the Government, and a new leader of the Party”. And, indeed soon thereafter, we had a new Prime Minister, and a new CCM Secretary General.
The biography of Julius Nyerere
This book provides a wealth of authentic information regarding Mwalimu Nyerere’s outstanding contributions towards the following noble objectives:- (a) the struggle for Tanganyika’s liberation from colonialism, (plus his active participation in liberation struggle for the liberation of other African countries from colonialism and apartheid and the associated struggle for the achievement of continental African unity); and (b) Tanzania’s difficult process of building the new nation, after independence.
The former President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, is quoted as having said that “Mwalimu never wanted his biography to be published during his lifetime, because he shied away from idols and idol worship. But even then, his own actions and thoughts announced his larger-than-life stature to the world”.
Thank God, for at last we now have a definitive biography of Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere; the founder and father of our nation.
My own memories of the late Mwalimu Nyerere
I have myself written a book in Kiswahili about Nyerere, titled “Uongozi na Utawala wa Mwalimu Nyerere” (Nyambari Nyangwine Publishers, Dar es Salaam, 2012); which includes several chapters which cover his challenges and successes: in achieving the country’s UHURU; and in achieving the Union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar; plus his efforts in attempting to create an Ujamaa (socialist) nation.
In addition, I have also been writing special commemorative articles (which are regularly published in the Daily News in October of every year), commemorating the anniversary of the death of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere. In all of these writings, I have endeavoured to tell our current young generation about what actually transpired upon his departure from this world; namely that
“his death was mourned not only in Tanzania, but also around the whole world by the most humble, as well as the most exalted personalities. This was a clear testimony of his greatness as a selfless leader who always put the concerns of the people first; and of his many other attributes.”
And urging them to remember that although Nyerere is physically gone, but the critical ideals for which he lived and worked must be kept alive, so that they may continue to inspire our nation in the continuing quest for peace, stability and justice for all; so as to avoid falling into the undesirable situation which is metaphorically described by the famous English dramatist William Shakespeare in his Julius Caesar, in the following words: “The evil that men do lives after them; but the good is often interred with their bones.” And I humbly suggested that on our part, we must not allow the “good “ that Mwalimu Nyerere did for our nation, ‘to be interred with his bones’.
For we have a binding obligation to ensure that his legacy continues to exist, for the guidance of the post- Nyerere generations of Tanzanians. Different people, obviously, have different memories of the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere and his stewardship of the affairs of our nation. As the authors of the Julius Nyerere stated in the PREFACE:- “Epitaphs and eulogies to Nyerere abound.
He is revered and demonized in equal measure, sometimes in the same breath.” Indeed, Nyerere has been universally acclaimed for his personal integrity and selfless devotion, but he has also been condemned by some of his critics, for what they describe as his “disastrous” Ujamaa economic policies.
For example, a Kenyan scholar of international reputation, Professor Ali Mazrui, was a leading critic of these policies; as evidenced by the following words which he wrote in his article titled “Nyerere and I” :- “Nyerere’s policies of Ujamaa amounted to a case of heroic failure. They were heroic because Tanzania was one of the few African countries which attempted to find its own route to development, instead of borrowing the ideologies of the West.
But they were a failure because this economic experience did not deliver the goods of development”. However, ‘in the same breath’, Professor Mazrui also had a basketful of praises for Mwalimu Nyerere, when he said the following:- “In global terms, Nyerere was one of the giants of the twentieth century.
While his vision did outpace his victories, and his profundity outpace his performance, he did bestride this narrow world like an African colossus. With his wise and strong leadership, and with brilliant policies of cultural integration, he took one of the poorest countries in the world, and made it a proud leader in African affairs, and an active member of the global community”. I am one of Mwalimu Nyerere’s most sincere admirers, and I readily concede that, being a human being like the rest of us, he did indeed commit some mistakes in the course of his stewardship of the affairs of this nation.
But, unlike many of his peers, he was willing and ready to admit his mistakes; and, where possible, to take appropriate action to correct them. This is another unique personal attribute which clearly distinguishes him from many other leaders at that top level.
Mwalimu’s other unique attributes
Mwalimu Nyerere has been variously described as: “a humanist; a man of the people gifted with great commonsense; an original thinker, a teacher, and a humble politician with a compassion for the masses.
While others have described him as “an iconic and charismatic leader, with an extraordinary capacity to influence followers; a man of principle, with a combination of deep interest and high integrity; an accomplished orator; and a unique capacity to mobilize people through persuasion and power of argument.”
My own personal assessment
I had the very good fortune of being one of Mwalimu Nyerere’s closest assistants and official advisers during most of his leadership period; an I can testify that he was, indeed, all of that, and much more. For example, He was deeply religious as a devout catholic, and yet he was a strong believer in the separation of religion from politics.
He is also credited with two other personal attributes, namely:-
(i) His willingness and readiness to hand over power to other people. It will be remembered that he voluntarily vacated the country’s highest office on two separate occasions. The first was in January 1962, just about a month after he had led the country to independence. It was unique for a man to lead his country to independence, and then almost immediately retire voluntarily from leadership.
(ii) He had no desire to accumulate wealth. This is manifested by his lack of ambition to acquire personal or family properties; for he owned only one family bungalow in Dar es Salaam, which he had built using a personal bank loan; and another small cottage in his home village of Butiama, which he had built in the early 1950s, in preparation for his marriage to mama Maria Nyerere which he always used even when he was the country’s President, whenever he went there for his Christmas and New Year holidays.
He was also a very modest man in his personal life, and hated pomposity in his official life. And, in spite of his lofty statue as Head of State, he remained a man of humble origin, and a peasant at heart.
He was always at home with the peasant community in his in his village called Butiama; to which he regularly returned to enjoy his annual Christmas and New Year holidays; and to which he eventually returned to settle immediately after his voluntary retirement from the Presidency in October 1985.
He was, undoubtedly, “a man of principle” and, indeed, a great man. May his soul rest in eternal piece. Amen.
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