Commemorating Mwalimu Nyerere’s death anniversary, reflections on exemplary leadership based on ethics

Pius Msekwa

THIS is the second article in the series which has been designed to commemorate the 18th anniversary of Mwalimu Nyerere’s death.

Last week’s article presented some reflections on his distinguished leadership in general, in which I attempted to list a number of his personal attributes.

But because Mwalimu Nyerere is widely acknowledged to have been a unique and rare example of a leader who lived and actually practiced the desired leadership qualities, this article is focusing specifically on his acclaimed leadership ethics.

The books of authority on this subject say that “ethics is the heart of leadership”. Thus, in the light of the currently widespread “ethics avoidance” syndrome, which has facilitated the emergence of a defective culture called ‘ufisadi’ in Kiswahili, this presentation may also serve as a necessary reminder to the current younger generation of leaders, of the need to emulate Mwalimu Nyerere’s unique style of leadership, which was firmly based on the strict observance and practice of leadership ethics.

Ethics is the heart of leadership. Some people become leaders because they possess certain talents, charisma, or passions; or because of their wealth, job title, or family name.

Others lead because they possess great minds or ideas, or they can tell compelling stories; and then there are those who stumble into leadership just because of the times they live in, or the circumstances in which they find themselves.

But no matter how people become leaders, they are expected to observe and to comply with the requirements of leadership ethics. This is because ‘leadership ethics’ is all pervasive. It is the defining factor in the leader’s relationship with all the others who may be affected by any of his actions or decisions.

Therefore every leader, of every description, should be deeply conscious of the role and significance of observing ethics in his leadership.

Hence the need and importance of emulating Mwalimu Nyerere’s exemplary leadership, which was firmly based on ethics. Mwalimu Nyerere’s other character peculiarities In addition to Mwalimu Nyerere’s personal attributes which we listed in last week’s article, it is important to note that he observably also possessed other distinctive character peculiarities which also ought to be emulated.

Specifically the following:- (i) His readiness, and willingness, to hand over power to other people. In the light of subsequent experience of some leaders who desire to stay in office for life, this was, indeed, a unique character trait that was entirely personal to Mwalimu Nyerere.

It will be remembered that he vacated high office voluntarily on two separate occasions. The first was in January 1962, barely a month after he, as Prime Minister of Tanganyika, had just led the county to independence in December 1961.

Commenting on this unusual event, Henry Binen, in his book titled “Tanzania: Party Transformation and economic Development (Princeton University Press) said the following:- “It is virtually unknown for a politician to surrender his office voluntarily.

And it is certainly unique for a man to lead his country to independence, and then almost immediately retire from leadership”. This statement underlines the absolute uniqueness of Mwalimu Nyerere’s action in that respect.

The second occasion was when he again voluntarily vacated the high office of President of the United Republic of Tanzania, in October, 1985. Realizing the immense difficulties which would face his successors in vacating such office voluntarily, Mwalimu Nyerere wisely recommended that amendments should be made to the country’s Constitution, in order to make provision for term limits for any President of Tanzania to hold that office. Nyerere said: “It should not be left to the individual holder of this office to decide when to retire.

That decision should be made for him by the Constitution”. His recommendation was easily adopted. And that is how we arrived at the current constitutional limitation of not more than two five-year terms for the President of Tanzania to hold office. (ii) He had no desire to accumulate personal wealth. This is manifested by his lack of ambition to acquire personal, or family private properties, specifically cars and houses.

For example, Mwalimu Nyerere never owned any personal cars. And with regard to personal houses, he actually owned only one family single storey bungalow in Dar es Salaam, which he had built at Msasani Peninsular from the proceeds of a personal bank loan.

He also had another little cottage in his home village of Butiama, which he had built in the early 1950s, in preparation for his marriage to mama Maria Nyerere.

And he used this small, humble dwelling, during all the time when he was President of Tanzania, whenever he went there for his annual Christmas and New year holidays.

It is for that reason that when he announced his intention to retire from the Presidency, firstly it was his political party CCM which decided to build a more spacious retirement house for him at Butiama.

And later the Government, through the Army, also decided to build for him a more decent house in the same location, as his well-deserved retirement gift. There is also the example of his decision not to pocket the sizable amount of money which had been given to him as the winner of the “Jawahral Nehru Award for International Understanding”. In 1976, Mwalimu Nyerere was declared the winner of that prestigious award, which carried a handsome cash prize of USD 100,000.

He did accept, and went to New Delhi to receive that money. But, instead of putting this award money to his own personal use, he donated the entire sum to what was then TANU’s Kivukoni Ideological College, to be used for the purchase of books and other reading materials for the College Library. Clear proof that he had no ambition to accumulate personal wealth. Mwalimu Nyerere the “ humanist, and a man of principle”.

A ‘humanist’ is someone who supports humanism, a term whose dictionary definition is given as “a system or belief that concentrates on common human problems, based on reason rather than on faith in God”; Mwalimu Nyerere was generously endowed with this kind of belief.

This was clearly manifested in his fast reaction to a sad incident which occurred at Ilemela, near Mwanza, soon after he had assumed office as President of the Republic of Tanganyika.

The local authorities there had detained a large number of people, for failure to pay what was known then as “poll tax”. But the cell in which they were detained was so small that it led to the death by suffocation of several people.

On receiving this report, President Nyerere immediately ordered the abolition of the said poll tax, in addition to the arrest and punishment of the negligent officials who had caused the unnecessary deaths of the said victims. In his actions in respect of this matter, he was, obviously, applying his personal attributes as a humanist. Mwalimu Nyerere as a man of principle. Mwalimu Nyerere was also described as ‘a man of principle’.

This phrase refers to a person who practices certain basic general truths, that are the foundation of something, and, in particular, the foundation of moral behaviour. From the available records of his actions and performances as a leader, Mwalimu Nyerere was, undoubtedly, ‘a man of principle’.

Such records include the preamble to the famous Arusha of 1967, which he personally drafted; having been lifted from the first Constitution of the political party which he founded, the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU), which he himself had written way back in 1954.

The said principles are listed in these documents as follows (they were subsequently incorporated in the country’s Constitution after independence):- (i) That all human beings are equal, and every individual has a right to dignity and respect.

(ii) That every citizen is an integral part of the nation, and has the right to take an equal part in its governance at all its levels. (iii) That every citizen has the right to freedom of expression, of movement, of religious belief, and of association with others, within the parameters of the law.

(iv) That every individual has the right to receive from society, protection of his life and property which is held in accordance with the law; and to receive a just return for his labour.

(v) That all citizens together possess all the natural resources of the country, in trust for their descendants (vi) That in order to ensure economic justice for all, the State must have effective control over the major means of production, for the State has the responsibility to intervene actively in the economic life of the nation so as to ensure the well-being of all the citizens; and so as to prevent the exploitation of one person by another, or one group of persons by another group; and thus to prevent the accumulation of wealth by a minority few, which is inconsistent with the existence of a society of equal human beings.

Commitment to principles is part of leadership ethics. Leadership performance which is based on the observance of established principles, is a vital component of leadership ethics.

Very many of President Nyerere’s major actions and decisions in the socio-political sector, as well as in the economic sectors, can be easily explained as having been taken in implementation of one or more, of these basic principles, to which he was so sincerely committed.

The introduction and implementation of the Arusha Declaration is the most outstanding example of the application of the relevant principles in the economic sector. But there are many others, such as the reform of the freehold land tenure system which we referred to in last week’s article.

Great International honour for the late Mwalimu Nyerere. It is indeed gratifying that an international structure has been put in place for the purpose of honouring the late Mwalimu Nyerere.

This structure will certainly help to maintain what I may call the “Nyerere spirit” of ethical leadership, as the ‘guiding spirit’ for the post-Nyerere generations of Africa leaders. I am referring to the African continental Award known as “the Nyerere Prize for Ethics”, (which I suspect is known to only a handful of Tanzanians).

Let me therefore take this opportunity to draw attention to the existence of this Award, and the associated Nyerere’s honorific title as “the conscience of Africa”, which is also practically unknown to many people.

There was at that material time (or maybe there still is) an organization called the “Third Millennium for Africa”, which was based in Cotonou. On its own initiative, that organization had proposed the establishment of an African Continental Award for ‘outstanding ethical leadership conduct’.

Thus, not long after Mwalimu Nyerere’s death, concrete action was taken by a gathering of representatives from different African countries, with active support from other individuals and organizations worldwide, to implement this proposal.

That gathering unanimously agreed to institute the proposed African continental Award, and decided to call it “The Nyerere Prize for Ethics” in honour of the late Mwalimu Nyerere, and as a recognition of his exemplary ethical leadership.

The gathering also conferred upon Mwalimu the honorific title of “The conscience of Africa”. The said Award is intended to be given to African leaders who will meet the criteria of “having demonstrated outstanding ethical leadership conduct”.

This is, obviously, great good news for Tanzanians; for it is an international testimony to Mwalimu Nyerere’s greatness, and even gives greater credence to the words of Professor Mazrui which we quoted above, namely that Nyerere “did bestride this narrow world like an African colossus”. Apparently, yes he did!

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