Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Mwalimu Nyerere: the person, lifestyle, and personal philosophy

On the ocassion today of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere's 13th death anniversary, I share a few thoughts on Tanzania's founding president, a leader who has not olny left a lasting impression on Tanzania's political landscape but has captivated the attention of admirers and detractors beyond Tanzania.


One common thread that unifies the persona of Mwalimu Nyerere was his unwavering devotion to the advancement and welfare of his fellow human beings. He repeatedly drove home this point in his public discourses by saying that the ultimate purpose of all social, economic and political activity must serve to provide benefits to all citizens.

I quote extensively from one of his speeches, delivered at the launch of his the Mwalimu Nyerere Foundation in Dar es Salaam, as the words encapsulates some his most fundamental beliefs:

“There are many good and honest people who believe that those ideas, which in this country are associated with my name are now dead and should be properly buried. You will not be surprised to hear that I disagree! Great ideas do not die so easily; they continue nagging and every human society in history ignores them at its own peril. And I can say this without inhibition or pretended modesty because in a very real sense they are not my ideas. I never invented them. I am simply a believer, like many other believers, in the world and in human history. I believe in the equality and dignity of all human beings, and the duty to serve, their well-being as well as their freedom in a peaceful and co-operative society. I am an ardent believer in the freedom and welfare of the individual. As I speak to you now I am asserting my own individuality, in a sense of community and fellowship with all other human beings wherever they may be. “Binadamu wote ni ndugu zangu”. That was not something that was said lightly. It came from a firm and profound belief in the nature and dignity of the Animal called the Human Being. I repeat: those ideas are not mine; but I am a believer. I have articulated them and will continue to articulate them with passion.”
A dedicated proponent of the primacy of the community as the driving force for transforming the welfare of the individual, Mwalimu Nyerere saw in socialism the means to express his beliefs.

That he should favour communal policies rather than policies that focused on the individual could have been a product of his upbringing. His father, Chief Nyerere Burito, was a chief of the small Zanaki ethnic community located south west of Lake Victoria. His mother, Mgaya wa Nyang’ombe, was the fifth of 22 wives of Chief Nyerere’s homestead, where tradition continues to elevate the needs of the community above the interests of the individual. He reportedly came under the influence of the Fabian Society during his studies at Edinburgh University, although it is evident that influence found congruence within his own upbringing.

He believed that the peaceful and long-term survival of humanity depended on the continued promotion and implementation of such policies. What is not shared can be, in the long run, the source of agitation, conflict, and even civil strife.

Throughout his political career and in his personal life he remained committed to the promotion of human equality and dignity, qualities that were ingrained in the Arusha Declaration, the policy framework that he proclaimed in 1967 to introduce a socialist path for his country.

The Declaration emphasized the abolition of exploitation of one individual by another, a reduction of the income gap between the rich and the poor, the establishment of a democratically-elected government, but of fundamental importance, ownership of the country’s natural resources was to remain under the ownership of the people through their government. The Arusha Declaration was anchored on the principle of equality.

The struggle for human equality and dignity was not confined to Tanzania only and even as the country prepared for independence from Britain on 9 December 1961, Mwalimu Nyerere was already looking beyond the country’s borders to the millions of Africans who remained under the domination of Portuguese rule in Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, Cape Verde, and Guinea Bissau and to those under white minority rule in Zimbabwe and South Africa. He believed that his country’s independence should serve as an impetus to those under the shackles of colonialism and white minority rule when he addressed the Tanganyika Legislative Assembly on 22 October 1959 saying: 

"We, the people of Tanganyika, would like to light a candle and put it on top of Mount Kilimanjaro which would shine beyond our borders giving hope where there was despair, love where there was hate and dignity where before there was only humiliation".

While the general thrust for supporting the liberation struggles of African countries came from the Organization of African Unity, Tanzania under Mwalimu Nyerere’s leadership provided crucial moral and material support to the liberation movements.

While Mwalimu continued to vigorously defend action and policy based on his personal beliefs and philosophy, that defense was sometimes tampered by his view on human equality and dignity. At the end of the Tanzania – Uganda war, fought in 1978 –79, rejecting the views of his advisors, he released Libyan prisoners of war without claiming compensation from the Libyan government. Libya had sent troops to fight on Uganda’s side against the Tanzanian army. The dignity of the human being, even one who had fought against Tanzania, remained paramount.

A quality that even his critics have acknowledged was Mwalimu Nyerere’s integrity and his unflinching belief in the duty of a leader to serve those who put their trust in his leadership. He believed it was not enough that a leader should be of the highest integrity but that those surrounding him – family members, friends, colleagues – should also be consistent with that image.

Perhaps even more telling than his own words and the policies he pursued, Mwalimu lived his beliefs. He shunned materialism stating that the amassing of wealth, whether by the state, or by an individual was useless if it did not serve humans. He may possibly have been the lowest paid head of state during his time and, consequently, came close to losing a house built in Dar es Salaam from a bank loan. He failed to keep up with the interest payments and surrendered it to the bank. It was only through the intervention of his successor, President Ali Hassan Mwinyi, that the government paid off the loan and gave him possession of the house.

Authors have often written that he attended church daily, which is testament to a strong spirituality between him and his creator and, yet, a spirituality that did not blind him from recognizing the disadvantages faced by other faiths.

At independence the Church in Tanzania, unlike other religious organizations, had a well-established system of primary and secondary schools. After independence these were promptly nationalized under his administration, allowing Tanzanians of all faiths access to schools that could have remained under the exclusive control of Christians.

His spirituality was centered upon doing well for his fellow humans, a quality that is reflected both in the policies he pursued in his political life and in his personal life; his faith was not limited to Sundays only.

After his retirement in 1985, and in response to a plea from the Moslem cleric of his village, Butiama, Mwalimu Nyerere who, by coincidence was on one of his overseas travels that included a visit to Libya, asked Libyan leader Col. Muammar Ghadaffi to donate money to repair the Butiama mosque. Col. Ghadaffi is reported to have said he had no money for repairing a mosque but had money for building a new one. The donated funds were handed to Mwalimu and applied towards the construction of a large mosque in place of the small, dilapidated one. 

The mere act of seeking the assistance from an individual who had committed arms and men against Tanzania during the Ugandan war suggests that in Mwalimu, issues transcended personalities. The issue arose when Idi Amin ordered Ugandan troops to invade Tanzania; Tanzania, under Mwalimu Nyerere’s leadership, responded by waging a war against Uganda and, in the process, reclaimed its territory and resolved the issue.

When I was approached by the British Broadcasting Corporation in 2009 to participate in a week-long series of broadcasts to mark the 30th anniversary of the war against Uganda, a commemoration that would also include my meeting with Jaffar Amin, one of Amin’s sons, I accepted without hesitation. When Jaffar stepped out of the car and I embraced him in salutation, a stone’s throw from Mwalimu’s final resting place, I was convinced that no minor tremor would be recorded around Mwalimu’s mausoleum.

Mwalimu remained firm when defending Tanzania’s interests and after those interests were protected he found little difficulty in advancing acts of reconciliation to those who threatened these interests.

One cannot distinguish the person, from his personal philosophy, and from his lifestyle because he practiced what he believed in; he did not preach moral principles on the podium and practice the opposite in his private life. There was little to differentiate between Mwalimu, the leader, and the person. The two were fused into one character and that character was founded on his personal beliefs and philosophy.

1 comment:

Baraka Mfunguo said...

There is no one like or any would become Mwalimu in this country... Many tried but end competing with his shadow. Mwalimu embraced a simple connotation Unlike many others who prefer themselves as Doctors( Honoris Causa) from fake Universities unlike him with many. You can not compare him with any leader in this country. That's for sure......And it will take us Centuries.....