Julius Nyerere: A critical look at Nyerere’s Leadership


Compiled by Nina Mbabazi Rukakaire

PART 3: The move to the left of Center.

In March 1959, Governor Turnbull proposed an increase in TANU’s role in the government. His first move was to appoint five members to the twelve man cabinet. Julius Nyerere of course was against this. He insisted that since Tanganyika majority were blacks, the majority cabinet must be held by black Tanganyikans. Turnbull conceded and Nyerere’s gamble before the elections vis a vis Mtemvu’s position paid off. The wisdom to know what fight to pick was one of Nyerere’s strengths. When asked by JR Bailey about independence Nyerere’s response was; “It is up to the people of Tanganyika – Europeans and Africans and Asians – to say when and in what form. We want to set an example from which Rhodesia and Kenya can learn” And with this spirit, he set on the task of designing Tanzania’s way forward. “You are my brother” the words that they said carried an age old message of love and hope. Nyerere certainly believed in those four words and it would shape his message to Africa. With the mindset that Africa had a lot to offer, Nyerere designed what he thought would be Africa’s gift to the world. An African socialist state where every person was a worker, equal in stature and able to contribute equally.

“Our first step must be to re-educate ourselves” he wrote “To regain our former attitude of work. We took care of the community and the community took care of us”. We neither needed or wished to exploit our fellow man – the basis of Ujamaa must be that a member of society is entitled to a piece of land on condition that he uses it. True socialism is an attitude of mind” And with those words, movement towards the Ujamaa began.

Tanganyika’s greatest problem towards movement to Ujamaa was the fact that the rural population was greatly dispersed and Nyerere’s new ideology was not coherent. His message also came at a time when Kawawa was emphasizing party discipline and was not speaking the same language as Nyerere. His (Nyerere) heart was in the right place, but he didn’t have the mental faculty to design it properly. He was after all a simple man. The ideology was a great hit among the people of Tanzania. By early 1964 the Tanganyikans on their own initiative and from what they perceived as the word of delivery from the President formed 300 embryonic collective farms. Within a year, almost all had collapsed. The problem? There seemed to be no clear plan to follow other than the call by the President to Ujamaa.

Nyerere in turn responded by setting up the rural settlement commission whose duty was to approve plans for new schemes and finance those new schemes. Israeli experts were brought in to help make these village cooperatives viable. The village settlement program was key in the first five year plan for the move towards prosperous Tanzania. But by 1966, it had failed.

Nyerere said “ To burden the farmer with heavy debts at the outset and at the same time to make it appear that government can provide all services is not the best way of promoting activity.” In 1966 he abandoned the idea of village settlement schemes.

Why did the scheme fail, the design of the scheme though simple would not have been so disastrous? Well, what Nyerere designed between 1962 and 1965 was what we called development committees and ten house party cells. In Uganda we still use this system in Northern Uganda. It is called “Nyumba Kumi”. Nyerere wanted to build a two way all weather road between the political centre and the rural masses. What happened was the reverse, with government dictating to the villages what they thought best and ignoring the requests by the farmers. What government failed to understand is that every society grows with its own science and if they are not allowed to explore their own homegrown solutions, the ideas that they are asked to implement will fail.

It didn’t help that in January 1964, Zanzibar was held hostage by a raving Ugandan lunatic calling himself Field Marshal John Okello whose origins are in Lira. So Nyerere was implementing a scheme while having difficulties settling Zanzibar’s political issues. He was also beset by a mutiny in the army in 1964 that was to rock his government.

While the Ujamaa was failing, the Tanzanian economy was growing. Nyerere had also embarked on an industrialization plan whose main focus was import substitution. The plan was to be financed through the sale of agricultural goods coming out of the Ujamaa villages, foreign direct investment (FDI) and aid. However, Tanzania was not able to attract that much needed FDI because of the risk factor attached to our African states at that period of time. Also the fact that world prices in sisal had dropped drastically, probably a European attempt to destabilize the African economies that were no longer providing markets for their goods, but still, because of Nyerere’s message of import substitution, they registered a balance of payment surplus and were able to cushion some of the Ujamaa failings. But few jobs and private investment were forthcoming.

Nyerere said in 1966; “The amount of private investment which has taken place over the past year is quite frankly a disappointment to us. We have special tax concessions to encourage new investments; we have investment guarantees for bringing capital into the country; and we have many arrangements designed to encourage private enterprise of a character which will serve our nation. Yet the level of private investment does not appear to be as great as that provided for in the plan” A very honest speech from the leader.

Tanzania at this time was heavily dependent on aid and Nyerere felt that his vision of an egalitarian and democratic African society was slipping away. President Nyerere then called a party conference and on 5th February, 1967 unveiled a carefully written document that had far reaching implications. Written in his very blunt and vivid style, Nyerere unveiled the Arusha Declaration. The Arusha declaration introduced a move to nationalize all Industry and productive institutions. The justification in Nyerere’s words? “ the major means of production and exchange to be under the control of the peasants and workers”.

The plan was for a radical reform of the rural areas, improvement of rural standards of living, improved productivity by collective villagisation and increased productivity through self help groups. It was no longer voluntary villagisation like before but was now compulsory. By mid 1970’s most citizens had been moved to these villages and Tanzania’s food production had taken a drastic drop. Tanzania then had no choice but to import staple foods to stave off hunger.

Nyerere in the Arusha declaration asserted: Socialism is a way of life, and a socialist society cannot simply come into existence, a socialist society can only be built by those who believe in, and who themselves practice, the principles of socialism. The first duty of a TANU member and especially of a TANU leader is to accept these socialist principles and to live his own live in accordance with them. In particular, a genuine TANU leader will not live off the sweat of another man nor commit any feudalistic or capitalistic actions.

Because of our emphasis on money, we have made another big mistake. We have put too much emphasis on industries. Just as we have said, “without money , there can be no development, we also seem to say, Industries are the basis of development” without industries there is no development. The mistake we are making is to think that development begins with industries. It is a mistake because we do not have the means to establish many modern industries in our country. We do not have either the necessary finances or the technical know-how.The development of a country is brought about by people, not money. Money and the wealth it represents, is the result and not the basis of development”

Thousands marched though Dar Es Salaam in support of the declaration. The old Ujamaa model as well as colonialism had bred a state of haves and have nots; Foreigners still owned a large section of Tanzania’s economy.

The Black Tanzanians rejoiced; the Europeans and Asians were not happy, but for once Nyerere saw how deeply impoverished his people were and it shook him to the bone. He hated the kind of leaders that TANU leaders had become, each owning shares in business in foreign companies, he stated that rich men can’t be asked politely to give up their shares, it must be taken away from them. No foreign aid was coming; people had to work hard if they wanted to improve themselves. How could TANU allow the repatriation of funds anyhow? Unemployed had to be sent back home to the rural area, the government made it clear; there was no room for slackers. The youth were turned into “Green guards” to ensure the success of socialism. The people were happy more so with the new leadership code that forbade and leaders of government from doing business and earning two salaries.

Although the idea was wonderful and welcomed by all, nobody had planned for the communal income. How as it supposed to be shared? What was the milestone for a day’s work? What happens if someone does not meet the desired target? If they are lazy? What about those who decided to work privately after work. How would they share income? The response to this new Ujamaa was slow despite the incentives of building schools, running water, clinics and investment.

In 1973 due to the slow response, TANU committed themselves to actively relocating people into villages. Nyerere said; “This huge task TANU committed itlsef to involved the forced relocation of millions of people” The response of the people was not so nice. Nyerere used the police, army, national service and militiamen to move people to the villages. This they did with brutality.

By 1974, 2 million out of Tanzania’s 9 million were in Ujamaa villages and in 1976 they were 13 million. What happened next was catastrophic. In 1970 Tanzania exported 540,000 tons of surplus maize, in 1974, it imported 300,000 tons of maize. TANU had been exposed as being ignorant of what the citizenry wanted.

But for all the failure to understand the peasantry, Ujamaa had done four wonderful things. There were drugs in the hospitals, and the classrooms had been built. The people of Tanzania were no longer 120 ethnicities; they were now one people, united for the good of country. Ujamaa paved the way for a brighter prosperous Tanzania and Nyerere built the Tazara railway to tap the potential. It was called “Freedom railway”. The Nationalization of industry had yielded tremendous achievements for Tanzania and for this Nyerere had reason to smile; Government parastatals had increased from 64 to 139. But 1979 was to see the beginning of a six year drought that would rock Nyerere’s faith in himself. It did not help that the neighbor Uganda was misbehaving.

Nyerere described the achievements in Agriculture as such; “Since the Arusha Declaration was passed, we have talked a very great deal about rural development and the expansion of agriculture as the basis for Tanzania’s future. And we have spend large sums of money on rural development. However, the truth is that the agriculture results have been very disappointing”

Nyerere’s speech to celebrate ten years of the Arusha Declaration was not only sincere, it was telling in what he was going to do. His speech showed a leader who had grown with country and who was willing to accept where he had gone wrong. His speech showed that despite all his efforts, he had realized that country was bigger than him and he had brought them thus far, but would not lead them to the Promised Land. He had set the foundation for a prosperous Tanzania but the time had come for him to advance Tanzania one step further on its democratization goal.

As Nyerere prepared for a new future, he quietly relieved Kawawa of his duties. He had used Kawawa as a scapegoat for his failings but Chama Cha Mapinduzi was all too aware of where the real problem lay and by 1983, it was very clear that Nyerere would not be seeking re-election.

As he announced a new leader of government business, Mr. Sokoine took over as Prime Minister. Sokoine stated quite clearly ; “ In Tanzania, it is the party which is supreme” and with his speech began a movement towards a new leadership in Tanzania, and change in regional policy towards other East African countries.

With a solid leader in charge of government business, strong critics in Oscar Kambona, Babu and Bibi Titi Mohammed, Julius Nyerere moved to build a great legacy in his foreign policy that would earn him worldwide title of “unblemished hero”. What was his foreign policy?

As written by various contributing critics. JR Bailey, Mohamed Amin, Kanyama Chiume, Sir Thomas Hopkinson, Haji Konde, GR Naidoo, Alan Rake, Abdulla Riyami, Robert Ryamamu and others.


2 thoughts on “Julius Nyerere: A critical look at Nyerere’s Leadership

  1. Alan Russell

    This has been a very useful piece of work that I have been able to refer to in some course work I am doing on how international factors from independence in 1964 through to 1989 have influenced economic development and the ability to maintain autonomy despite having to rely on external sources of funding.


    1. Mo Manji

      There have been lots of praises for Nyerere but he was a robber in my books; he stole from Tanzanians who were not black; he nationalized Arabs, Asians(Indian) and European origin properties in 1971 without paying any compensation; these were the people whose families were 3rd or 4th generation Tanzanians; these people had to leave their country and go and settle elsewhere (Note these people have become so successful wherever they have settled
      When he was seeking independence from UK, he stated clearly that all Tanzanians would be treated equal; he forgot that these so called MIRIJAS helped in the struggle for independence and also in the economy of the country; with Ujama and his relation with China; he sold the country to China; lots or resources were taken to China
      So he comes no close to Mandela who created a true multiracial, multicultural country; Nyerere got independence but destroyed the country with his bigotry and one track mind.
      So please include this, whenever you mention about Nyerere, that he stole from his people and gave lots of grief to Tanzanians who were non black origin whom he used to insult in his speeches by calling them Wahindi and ” MIRIJAS” etc.
      I would not call him a Leader or Father of the Nation, if he insults and steals from his citizens


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