Julius Nyerere: A Ugandan Perspective.

By Nina Mbabazi Rukikaire,

PART 1: How he saw it in the end.

Julius Kambarage Nyerere, founding father of Tanzania and often times defined as the “Elder Statesman” of Africa was by far the most interesting of all African leaders. Not only did he lead Tanzania to independence and unification of Tanganyika and Zanzibar, he set upon a path of equality among the citizens or Ujamaa; that was to produce the greatest policy disaster in Tanzania history since the departure of the Germans in World War I.

But through this disaster came a higher conscientious of what needed to be done to put Tanzania on the right path. Nyerere had the wisdom to lead his country to this path of steady growth before bowing out. By putting country and party first, he was able to speak with such openness and sincerity to his people in what is probably one of his greatest speeches. This speech defined his entire legacy and achievements as head of state. Nyerere said;

I am a very poor prophet. In 1967 a group of youth who were marching in support of the Arusha declaration asked me how long it would take Tanzania to become socialist. I thought 30 years. I was wrong. I am sure it will take us much more than that… Ten years after the Arusha declaration Tanzania is certainly neither socialist nor self–reliant. The nature of exploitation has changed, but it has not been altogether eliminated. There are still great inequalities between citizens. Our democracy is imperfect. A life of poverty is still the experience of the majority of our citizens.

We have not reached our goal; it is not even in sight. But that is neither surprising nor alarming….We have made reasonably good progress towards providing basic health, education and transportation facilities for all the people of this country…The measure of our success is that these fundamental achievements are generally taken for granted. We are now much more conscious of the difficulties in our daily lives than of fundamental exploitation….Today such difficulties and frustrations make us forget where we came from, and even make a reminder seem like an irrelevant impertinence. It is quite true that when our shops were full of a large variety of goods, the vast majority of people had no money to buy them…But people have now developed a little; they have higher expectations of life.

Over the last ten years we have done quite well in spreading basic social services to more and more people in the rural areas. More remains to be done; but we shall only be able to do it if we produce more wealth. And we have not been doing very well on that front.

Political and public service leadership has undoubtedly improved over the past ten years, in both commitment and efficiency. But still leader too often forget the purpose of government and party and of ALL the laws and regulations in this country to serve people….The truth is that despite our official policies, and despite all our democratic institutions, some leaders still do not LISTEN to people. They find it much easier to tell people what to do. Our leaders at all levels must make more effort to reach decisions by discussion. They must encourage the people to criticize mistakes which have been made, and they must be willing to work with people in rectifying past mistakes and avoiding new ones. Leadership by intimidation is not leadership. And it will work for a short time only.

The real danger to Ujamaa in this country does not come at all from people’s criticism of leaders. It is arrogance, incompetence, and slackness among leaders which we have to guard against, and we must do so. Every leader should privately examine his own behavior to see where he/she has fallen down. Leaders are not gods; they are able to be effective and to serve the people; only on the basis of mutual respect between themselves and those who have entrusted them with responsibility.

We have cause for great satisfaction in our achievements of the past ten years. But we have no cause at all for complacency….As we celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Arusha Declaration, let us determine that the twentieth anniversary (of his leadership) will find us more productive, and therefore more free as a nation and as individuals.

And with these words, Julius Nyerere began the end of his chapter of leadership in Tanzania. As he moved to unify Tanganyika and Zanzibar in his final decade of leadership, Nyerere who was obsessed with the cult like image of Chairman Mao Zedong, prepared to build for himself the greatest legacy of leadership in Africa.

Nyerere led his people quite successfully to independence. From the onset, he was beset with all sorts of conflicting interests in the country. His vision of a prosperous socialist Tanzania had failed. Ujamaa had yielded more hunger and anger from the public and a level of disillusionment that he could not fix. Nyerere had survived two coup attempts, hostilities from Kenya and Uganda, bloodshed on the Island, still his people loved him.

He had displayed a tendency to wobble on important issues and though the people that started the struggle with him had left him, it was of his own making and his own character weaknesses. But still through all of this, Julius Nyerere recognized his pivotal role in the history of a nation that he had helped build and he gracefully bowed out.

This is the beginning of a serialization of Nyerere’s leadership. As we reflect upon his leadership, let us understand just how effective he was in preparing Tanzania for the current prosperous state that it is today. His weaknesses notwithstanding, understanding his depth of commitment to country is important in any assessment of political development in East African Federation, because his vision still defines Tanzania’s social, political and economic policies and their perception of an East African Federation.

Mwalimu as he so fondly was called once said; “We have learnt this hard fact of life, that there are no shortcuts to our aspirations”

What was it that drove the elder statesman of Africa?


3 thoughts on “Julius Nyerere: A Ugandan Perspective.

  1. Absolutely Fundi. We also had our “foleni” in the seventies na bwana Idi Amin Dada bwanangu. But my admiration for Mwalimu is the fact that he prepared Tanzania to evade the predicament Uganda is trapped in. Ukabila na ufidhuli. Uganda will let down East Africa in our times if the Shirikishu La Africa Mashariki goes ahead. Museveni has even made it worse now. But on the economic front, yes Tanzania paid a great price. But it is understandable coming from where it did. We cannot have our cake and eat all at the same time. Some foundation had to be created. Utamaduni na thakafa. The Economy is a long story. Even the first world still have their problems. America which is baba ya Ras-maliya recently was exposed as very insecure as well. So at least Mwalimu set a base for TZ. Good luck.


  2. Thanks for the comments Magomu. We all wish Nyerere “rehema za mwenyezi mungu” wherever he is now. I lived under his regime in my early years and I do have many reservations about his leadership choices, all in hindsight off course.

    In the early 80s it was really tough growing up and living in Tanzania. Kila kitu kwa foleni. However, he did a great job uniting the country under Kiswahili, providing social services where none existed before and stamping out tribalism.

    Thanks Nina as well for writing this up. It is an issue that needs to be reflected upon as the East African countries are embarking into the not so far away “East African Federation”.

    What kind of leaders are going to lead this federation? Are we destined for the self servicing leaders or we can change the cause of history and find ourselves leaders that will put the interests of the common east African first? Just wondering!!!!!!


  3. I commend Nina for this article. Yes indeed it was probably the greatest speech by Mwalimu Julius K. Nyerere (Mungu amurehemu, na amuongezee maisha innayo dumu) ever.
    Thank Fundi kunikumbuka na ukanitumie barua hili. Ahsante mno.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s