Julius Kambarage Nyerere: Tanzanian anti-colonial activist, politician, and political theorist


Julius Kambarage Nyerere. (Net photo)

Julius Kambarage Nyerere (13 April 1922 – 14 October 1999) was a Tanzanian anti-colonial activist, politician, and political theorist. He governed Tanganyika as its Prime Minister from 1961 to 1963 and then as its President from 1963 to 1964, after which he led its successor state, Tanzania, as its President from 1964 until 1985. He was a founding member of the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) party and later a member of the Chama Cha Mapinduzi party. Ideologically an African nationalist and African socialist, he promoted a political philosophy known as Ujamaa.

Born in Butiama, then in the British colony of Tanganyika, Nyerere was the son of a Zanaki chief. After completing his schooling in Tanganyika, he studied at Makerere College in Uganda and then Edinburgh University in Britain. Nyerere was known by the Swahili honorific Mwalimu or ‘teacher’, his profession prior to politics.[2] He was also referred to as Baba wa Taifa (Father of the Nation).In 1954, he helped form the Tanganyika African National Union, which was instrumental in obtaining independence for Tanganyika.

In 1967, influenced by the ideas of African socialism, Nyerere issued the Arusha Declaration, which outlined his vision of ujamaa (variously translated as “familyhood” or “socialism”; not to be confused with the Swahili word Umoja which means “unity”). Ujamaa was a concept that came to dominate Nyerere’s policies. However, his policies led to economic decline, systematic corruption, and unavailability of goods. In the early 1970s, Nyerere ordered his security forces to forcibly transfer much of the population to collective farms and, because of opposition from villagers, often burned villages down. This campaign pushed the nation to the brink of starvation and made it dependent on foreign food aid. In 1985, after more than two decades in power, he relinquished power to his hand-picked successor, Ali Hassan Mwinyi. Nyerere left Tanzania as one of the poorest and most foreign aid-dependent countries in the world,[4][dubious – discuss] although much progress in services such as health and education had nevertheless been achieved.[5] He remained the chairman of the Chama Cha Mapinduzi for another five years until 1990. He died of leukemia in London in 1999.

Nyerere is still a controversial figure in Tanzania. A cult of personality revolves around him and the country’s Roman Catholic community have attempted to beatify him.