On memories of Mwalimu Nyerere: What influenced his vision on politics and democracy

MWALIMU Jukius Nyerere’s perception of politics was, of course, largely influenced by the British ideas and practices of democracy; for these were the experiences to which he was first exposed in his early formative years. Basically, his political thought in the 1950s and 1960s was influenced by four factors: the colonial experience; his understanding of traditional African society; his education in Western political philosophy; and the cold war politics of the time.

The colonial experience is what molded his thinking and campaign against the injustices of that system. Thus, immediately after he had succeeded in achieving the country’s independence, he started by reminding his colleagues in the country’s leadership of these matters, when he said:-

“During the struggle for independence, TANU called for equality. Our people now expect it. We called for human respect. Our people now expect that their leaders will accord it to everyone , regardless of his economic or social status. We also called for equality of opportunity. Our people now expect to see that such opportunity actually exists.

That was the genesis of the Arusha Declaration policies. Mwalimu Nyerere’s bitter feelings about the colonial injustices, were given concise expression in the opening poetic words of the Arusha Declaration policy document, which he personally crafted, in the following words:-

“Tumeonewa kiasi cha kutosha, tumedharauliwa kiasi cha kutosha. Unyonge wetu ndio uliotufanya tuonewe, na kudharauliwa. Sasa tunataka mapinduzi, yatakayotuondoa katika unyonge wetu, na kuturudishia heshima ya utu wetu”. That humiliating colonial experience, was also distinctly marked by the deliberate disregard for the fundamental equality of all human beings, and the right of every individual to dignity and respect.

That is what explains why the first part of the Arusha Declaration document declares Ujamaa to be the official ideology of the TANU party, and proceeds to recite

:- (a) the basic principles uf Ujamaa; the first of which is the genuine observation and practice of the fundamental equality of all human beings, and the right of every individual to dignity and respect, This is followed by a recitation of the “ inherent rights of the individual citizen”, namely, of freedom of expression; of movement; of religious belief; of association with others within the context of the law. And includes a statement of the citizen’s basic duties and responsibilities; which are : to uphold the law, and to give full assistance and cooperation to those who have the responsibility for law enforcement.

(b) the basic tenets of Ujamaa; namely, that: (i) there is no exploitation; and (ii) there is democracy. “Ujamaa cannot survive where there is no democracy” so declares that policy document. Mwalimu Nyerere also linked democracy to the concept of human equality; when he said: “Peoples’ quality must be reflected in their political organization, in which everyone must be an equal participant in the government of his society.

The people must be sovereign, and they must be able to exert their sovereignty , but without causing a breakdown of law and order, or of administration”. What this meant was that the people must be given a positive role, not only in electing their representatives to the decision-making organs, but also in initiating ideas, so that their representatives may convey their wishes to the relevant decision-making organs.

For that purpose , structures were created at the level of villages and at places of work which provided forums for such productive discussions to be held. The second factor which heavily influenced Mwalimu Nyerere’s political thought during that period, was his own experience of traditional African society; which he recognized as “a society of equals, who knew no class distinction. Exploitation was alien , for everybody worked, and shared in the prosperity of his community”.

There is no doubt that in this statement, he was referring to his experience of his own immediate family at Butiama. His Biography, (edited by Issa Shivji, Saida Yshya Othman, and Ng’wanza Kamata and published by Mkuki na Nyota Publishers, Dar es Salaam, 2020); provides the following information :-

“At any one time, their compound held not just the members of the immediate family, but also various relatives, visitors, and friends. The young Nyerere imbibed this open house tradition and carried it with him throughout his life, even if it was not always convenient after he had assumed the country’s leadership. Both his Sea view and Msasani homes in Da es Salaam hosted numerous relatives, ‘the political hangers-on’ and ‘his own extended family hanging on in the usual African way”.

In respect of the communal hospitality that was widely practiced; Nyerere himself is quoted as having said this: “we lived lives of mutual support for one another, helping each other in tilling the land and in harvesting, and in building our houses. Hence, we realized, after gaining power, that the best way to rule the people who are still developing, is to use their own home rule to advance them in indigenous affairs”.

It is therefore pretty safe to assume that Mwalimu Nyerere’s philosophy of Ujamaa and self-reliance, was molded from his experiences of these village communal efforts. This is because, apparently, it is these practices of mutual community support which he subsequently put in place in his vision that is embedded in the policy of ‘Ujamaa and selfreliance’. The third factor which influenced Mwalimu Nyerere’s political thinking, was his education in western political philosophy. His own writings reveal his deep understanding of western democracy,

which enabled him to identify the shortcomings of that system, specifically the British twoparty system democracy, which he himself called the “AngloSaxon form of democracy”. It can be reasonably assumed, that this was the key factor which influenced his transformation of the country’s political system, from the inherited ‘multi-party’ dispensation to a novel ‘single-party democracy’.

This is in the light of the arguments which he advanced in favour of the single-party system, in the following words:-

“A two-party system (like the British system), can be justified only when the parties are divided over some fundamental issues; otherwise, it merely encourages the growth of factionalism.

If you have a two-party system where the differences between those parties are not fundamental, politics is reduced to the level of a football match; which may attract very able players, and may also be very entertaining, but it is still only a game.

Let us take the case of two competing political parties, where both have the interest of the people at heart, or so they claim; for example, both believe that education is a good thing, and should be made available to everybody; or believe that medical care should be within the reach of all.

All these things are fundamental. It would be a fairly reasonable assumption that whichever party wins the election, will be committed to providing the people with as many of these benefits as it can.

Hence, given that basic agreement, it would be far more sensible to let the electorate choose the best individuals from among them all, and let the chosen ones meet in Parliament mainly to discuss the details of how the implementation of these objectives should be carried out, and thereafter to cooperate fully in the process of implementation”.

However, Mwalimu Nyerere had other cogent, practical reasons for transforming the political system in the way he did. One was that the massive popularity of TANU at the three pre-independence parliamentary elections had created a situation which actually threatened the practice of democracy, by disenfranchising a great majority of the population, when TANU won all the parliamentary seats, thus creating a de facto oneparty parliamentary democracy, but under a multi-party constitution.

To Mwalimu Nyerere, this was a serious ‘democracy deficit’, which he wanted to rectify. The other of Mwalimu Nyerere’s reasons for transforming the political system, was revealed in his statement which reads as follows:-

“The existence of two or more stable political parties implies the existence of a class structure of society, and our aim is to avoid the growth of different social or economic classes in our country”.

The Arusha Declaration policy of ‘Ujamaa and self-reliance’, was aimed at avoiding the growth of such classes. The fourth factor that influenced Mwalimu Nyerere’s political thinking and operations, was the ‘cold war’ politics of the time. He strongly rejected any attempts by the superpowers to dictate to developing nations.

This was amply demonstrated, soon after the Union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar in 1964, when the then West Germany, attempted to force President Nyerere to order the closure of the East Germany Embassy in Zanzibar, under the threat of withdrawing West Germany aid to certain projects in Tanganyika.

President Nyerere not only refused to act as requested, but also ordered West Germany to remove their financial aid to all the other projects whose construction was benefitting from such West Germany financial assistance.

His very firm stand was that ‘people in developing countries should continue to think of new forms of social organizations, instead of simply adopting what had been developed in the developed countries’. He made this clear in his speech at the opening of Kivukoni College on 29 july, 1961, in which he said:-

“We in Tanganyika do not believe that mankind has already discovered the ultimate truth in any field. Therefore, we too wish to make our own contribution to Man’s development, if we can; although we do not claim to have any solution.

But we intend to grope forward in the dark towards a distant a goal, so distant that even the real understanding of it is beyond us, namely, to achieve the best that Man can become”.

The impelling desire for national unity. The major political initiative after the achievement of the country’s independence, was to lay the foundations for lasting national unity; the need for which was amplified by examples of the problems created by confrontations between ethnic groups that had emerged in other African countries.

The renowned Nigerian writer, Chinua Achebe, vividly recounts in his book titled “There was country”, the problems his country faced soon after their independence. He say this:-

“In 1960 when Nigeria gained its independence from Britain, it was like a giant aircraft on the runway : with a large population, many educated people, and many natural resources, including oil. But the politicization of ethnicity thereafter, created a vicious regional power struggle.

The fear of domination of one Region by another, was everywhere”. And nearer home, the race and ethnicity problem in Zanzibar (before the Union), was also acute and complex.

These are the reasons which impelled Mwalimu Nyerere to place the greatest emphasis on building national unity by eliminating tribalism and its administrative structures of chiefs.

He saw the dangers to future national unity that were implied in the colonial system of administration, with its obnoxious discriminatory and divisive elements; which would obviously hinder any efforts to create lasting national unity.

This is hindrance was clearly manifested in the case in Zanzibar, where the only lasting solution was ultimately provided by the January 1964 revolution, which enabled the new government, under the leadership of President Abeid Amani Karume, to sweep away all such forms of discrimination against the majority African population of Zanzibar.

piomsekwa@gmail.co 0754767576.

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