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Influential Africans: Julius Nyerere


In Tanzania, many believe the country’s founding father, Julius Kambarage Nyerere, is the continent’s most important leader. The late president was a well-known statesman revered by his countrymen as “mwalimu,” or teacher. As a supporter of liberation movements on the continent his influence also extended well beyond his own country.

Nyerere is remembered for many things he has done for Tanzanians and for Africans. Countries like South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Angola, and Uganda remember him for the help he lent to liberation movements like the African National Congress of South Africa, and Frelimo of Mozambique. In Uganda, he helped end the brutal regime of Idi Amin.

Reporter Asumpta Ngonyani talked to some local scholars in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, about Nyerere. One is political analyst Ted Maliyamkono. He explains why he believes Nyerere is one of the continent's most influential leaders of the past 50 years.

“Nyerere liberated Africa through through the Organization of Africa Unity. Nyerere sent an army to Angola, South Africa, Rhodesia, Zimbabwe. But he (was) also a good statesman; he built the nation and he left Tanzania (united). He never encouraged tribalism, never encouraged exploitation. He left the country with one unifying language, he was not obsessed with the accumulation of wealth and so he is a model of Africa,” he said.

He added that Nyerere cannot really be compared with Nelson Mandela or Nkurumah because he did not take up arms.

Julius Nyerere was a proponent of an ideology some called “African socialism.” He introduced an Ujamaa, or familyhood policy, which entailed support for collective agriculture. He said it was based on traditional African life, which he said did not rely on competition, which is an important component of capitalism.

Professor Azaveri Lwaitama is a professor of communication skills and critical thinking at the University of Dar es Salaam he gave his thoughts on Nyerere.

“He believed in equality of all humans. Because they are human, they should be given equal chance. But also, the notion of happiness from providing service (to others), taking some kind of pleasure out of serving others. If I find someone who is sick and help them, I feel better even if I haven’t gained anything materially myself. That explains a lot of his Ujamaa policy, care for liberation movements, also his internal policies. All human are equal, whether you are European or Asian,” he said.

Despite economic setbacks, Profesor Lwaitama says Nyerere is nevertheless credited with uniting over 120 tribes into one country speaking a common language, Swahili.

“Nyerere will be remembered creating sense of nationhood and stress on education, health and making sure that people were growing up mixing with each other, making sure that people from different religious backgrounds or from different ethnic backgrounds were growing up together in schools,” he said.

Mwalimu Nyerere, as many Tanzanians fondly call him, served as Tanzania’s first president from 1964-1985. He entered politics in 1954 when he founded the Tanganyika African National Union. He became the chief minister of British-ruled Tanganyika in 1960 and continued as prime minister when Tanganyika became independent in 1961. As a president, he formed a union of Tanganyika and the island of Zanzibar and called it Tanzania. He stepped down as president in 1985 but continued as head of the ruling party for another five years.

For many Tanzanians, Julius Nyerere remains Africa’s most important leader of the past half century.

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