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Mwalimu Julius Nyerere’s biography

Mwalimu Julius Nyerere’s biography


MY article of last week attempted to open a general discussion on the recently published “Biography of Julius Nyerere”, a three volume tome jointly authored by Issa Shivji, Saida Yahya Othman, and Ng’wanza Kamata; and I used that opportunity to draw our readers’ attention to my own efforts in recording Mwalimu Nyerere’s unique personal attributes, which easily distinguished him from many of his contemporary African Peers.

Today’s article is a continuation of that topic, focusing of the following items : (a) His selfless commitment to national unity; (b) His ardent belief in human equality and the dignity of the human being; (c) Despite his personal strong religious beliefs, his commitment to the separation of religion from politic. And (c) his unique personal modesty.

Using the storytelling methodology In this presentation, I have used the “storytelling methodology”. This has been largely driven by my training as a historian, because my first degree is a London University B.A. (History) (Honours) degree, obtained through Makerere University College, in 1960.

And, as that famous Scottish historian Thomas Carlyle (1795 – 1881) puts it: “No great man lives in vain.

The history of the world is but the biography of great men”. Mwalimu Julius Nyerere was, undoubtedly, a “great man”. And it is common knowledge that “history” is, in fact, only a sophisticated form of “storytelling”.

In his book titled: “Storytelling : Imagination and Faith” (Twenty-Third Publications, Mystic, Connecticut, 1984); William Bausch quotes some other authorities who submit that “storytelling is so natural to human beings, that we are the creatures who tend to think in terms of stories”.

And also that “stories embody mankind’s shrewdest and most realistic insights into human nature. We can use them to orientate ourselves in the present,, and discover which way to go”.

It is these authorities that gave me the appetite to dig out some obscure, but relevant, stories relating to Mwalimu Nyerere’s actions, which can help to demonstrate his personal commitment to certain human values and principles.

• Nyerere’s selfless commitment to national unity. In his farewell address to Parliament on 29th July, 1985; which was one of the official organized events to mark his voluntary retirement from the Presidency of Tanzania; President Nyerere said the following:- “One area to which I accorded the highest priority during the whole of my leadership period was the building of a nation which was truly united, and based on respect for human dignity and equality . . . Looking back now on my 25 years of the country’s leadership, I can say with great satisfaction, that we have succeeded in achieving this basic and fundamental objective, for we now have a Tanzania nation which is united, and which respects the dignity of every other human being”.

In that respect, Mwalimu Nyerere could, perhaps, have partly been influenced by the nasty experiences of Nigeria which gained its independence in 1960; which the famous Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe describes minutely in his book titled There wa a country”.

Chinua Achebe recounts the long road which Nigeria has followed since its independence, and focuses particularly on the ethnic obstacles which effectively hindered the development of Nigeria as one unified nation, in the following words:- “ 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 politicization of ethnicity after independence created a vicious power struggle. The fear of domination of one Region by another was everywhere”.

Chinua also recalls what he calls “the war between brothers”, better known as the ‘Biafra war’, which almost destroyed Nigeria as one nation.

Presumably, those nasty experiences must have influenced Mwalimu Nyerere who, in his nation building efforts, rightly placed the greatest possible emphasis on building national unity by eliminating tribalism.

He had to build sustainable national unity, among Tanganyika’s people of diverse tribal origins and affiliations.

His strategy for carrying out this daunting task was based on two approaches: the first was to dismantle the colonial ‘structural impediments’ to national unity.

Prominent among the steps he took in order to achieve this objective includes his decision to repeal the colonial “Chiefs’ Ordinance”, which had given the tribal chiefs certain administrative and judicial powers and functions over their ‘subjects’; thus creating a multiplicity of ethnic loyalties of each tribe to their respective Chief.

It was thus necessary to put an end to these separate tribal loyalties in order to achieve a single loyalty to the national leadership. The second strategy was to design new policies for the effective achievement of the said objective.

These included the introduction of a new education policy which provided for the establishment of boarding Secondary schools in different parts of the country; and the introduction of a new “National Service” training programme.

These two measures facilitated the achievement of rapid national integration among the students through this method of mixing them with those from other tribes, and thus enabling the creation of new friendships, plus new social non-tribal relations, among them.

Another example of Mwalimu Nyerere’s commitment to the building of national unity, was his deliberate action of nationalizing all the schools that were hitherto owned primarily by Christian, but also by certain other non-governmental Institutions.

He did so presumably from the realization of the obvious dangers that lay ahead for the unity of the nation, that would be generated by the divisive segregation implied in such structures. His ardent belief in human equality, and dignity.

Evidence of this can be seen even in his ‘independence address’ to the United Nations General Assembly, wherein he said the following:- “The basis of our actions, both internal and external, will be an honest attempt to honour the dignity of man.

We believe that all mankind is one, and that the physiological differences between us are unimportant in comparison with our common humanity”.

This statement was rapidly followed by concrete actions very soon after independence, when a number of people were arrested and remanded in a tiny police cell in the village of Ilemela, near Mwanza; allegedly for the offence of failure to pay poll tax.

Due to overcrowding, one person was reported to have died as a result of suffocation.

When news of this reached Mwalimu Nyerere, he not only ordered the immediate release of all those who had been so inhumanly detained; but also caused the poll tax itself to be abolished, in order to avoid a repetition of a similar inhuman incident.

Another example, is the humanitarian action which Mwalimu Nyerere took in January 1964 in respect of the Sultan of Zanzibar, following the glorious revolution which deposed him.

The deposed Sultan was at that time ‘camping’ in his ‘royal yatch’ somewhere in the Zanzibar Channel of the Indian ocean.

The British government had agreed to grant him asylum, but for the short time that was needed to make the necessary arrangements for the Sultan’s transfer to his asylum home in Britain, the British government requested the government of Kenya to give temporary residence to the Sultan. Kenya reportedly refused.

The British government then put the same request to Tanzania; and Mwalimu Nyerere, despite his enthusiastic support for the Sultan’s removal from power, he immediately agreed.

The Sultan thus landed and stayed in Dar es salaam, until the day of his departure to the United Kingdom.

His strong religious beliefs, which however did not influence his governance performance. Mwalimu Nyerere the person, was unwaveringly religious: a devoted, practicing catholic faithful, who attended Holy mass everyday of the week at his neighbouring St. Peter’s Church, Oysterbay, Dar es Salaam.

However, these strong personal religious beliefs did not influence the way in which he handled his governance tasks.

For example, the objective conditions at the time of his difficult struggle for the independence of Tanganyika from colonialism did not allow the catholic Mwalimu Nyerere to work with his own catholic religious leaders; due to the fact that all the Catholic religious leaders operating in this country at the material time, namely the priests and the bishops, were all either Europeans or Canadians; who were inclined to follow the wishes and instructions of the British Administering Authority; as happened, for example, when the Irish catholic Missionary Headmaster of St. Francis College Pugu, who forced Mwalimu Nyerere to resign from his teaching job at that School, on instructions from the British Administering Authority.

Thus, understandably , Mwalimu Nyerere could not rely on the then Catholic church leaders to go along with him in the struggle for independence.

On the other hand, however, Nyerere was happy to work closely with the Muslim clerics, who were all local natives of Tanganyika, and were absolutely sincere and enthusiastic in their participating in the country’s liberation struggle from colonialism.

Thus, for example, of the four delegates from Mara Region who were selected to attend the inaugural meeting for the establishment of TANU in July 1954, Mwalimu Nyerere was the only Christian in that group, the remainder were Muslim clerics.

But it should also be noted that Nyerere’s close cooperation with these religious leaders was also indicative of his high-level intellectual capacity for choosing the right methodology, and tactics, for mobilizing people; namely, the use of the community’s opinion leaders.

Religious leaders are widely recognized and accepted as opinion leaders of their respective communities. Thus, for that reason, they are very effective mobilizing Agents.

Mwalimu Nyerere’s unique modesty. There are many stories that could be told that speak loudly to Mwalimu Nyerere’s personal modesty; both in his private life as well as in his Official capacity as the country’s President and Head of State.

With regard to his personal private life, we have this little story which he himself narrated to a small group of us, that during one of his trips to New York for his appearance before the Trusteeship Council, he met with a friend of his who, having noticed that Mwalimu Nyerere was wearing a pair of fairly old shoes, offered to give him a gift of new shoes.

Nyerere gladly accepted the offer. And so they went together to the nearest shoe shop, where Nyerere selected a nice pair of black shoes. His friend encouraged him to select a second pair, perhaps of a different colour, but Nyerere declined.

“No thank you. One pair is enough for me, because I have only one pair of feet”, was Mwalimu Nyerere’s ‘philosophical’ response.

Furthermore, soon after assuming office as President of Tanganyika, one of his earliest directives, which he issued was to ‘eliminate the pomposity surrounding the President’s road travels’.

In a Presidential circular which he issued, he said the following :- “On Saba Saba Day, I was obliged to speak out publicly against the growing tendency to confuse “dignity” with what I consider to be sheer pomposity.

He referred specifically to “the closing of the streets in Dar es Salaam hours ahead of the appearance of the Presidential motorcade”, by saying that “the President of Tanganyika is fast becoming the greatest public nuisance that the city of Dar es Salaam has ever had to put up with”. He, therefore ordered that this pomposity be stopped immediately.

piomsekwa@gmail.com / WhatsApp 0754767576

Even with new resolutions, I will not fear

As others start talking in low tones ...


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