On October 14, 1999, Tanzania lost its Founding Father Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere at Guy’s and St Thomas Hospital in London. Now, it is 18 years since Mwalimu or the Teacher, as he is fondly known, sadly passed on.
In reflecting on Mwalimu’s legacies, as we celebrate his exemplary and unique life, it is better to wholeheartedly and thankfully bring him back to our memories and prayers. The crème de la crème per se, small man with a big heart; and, above all, unparalleled virtuous man; yet a mountain-like leader, no doubt; Nyerere contributed superbly and enormously to Tanzania and Africa in general.
Due to such unrivalled makings, sans doute, his persona and stature have glowingly been growing exponentially as the days go by so as to outpower some living leaders. His shoes, too, have grown so big that nobody can slink and fit in. This is Nyerere I commemorate. I must admit from the outset. It is not easy and possible to enumerate Nyerere’s good deeds as opposed to his shortfalls, despite their good intent.
In commemorating Mwalimu, I’d like to revisit his shining heirlooms, though in a nutshell. Who’s Mwalimu Nyerere? He’s Tanzania’s first honest and selfless president who truthfully and practically said what he did and did what he said. Despite ruling Tanzania for 24 years, Nyerere left no hanging cloud over his people. He died a pauper by today’s standards when presidency is a lucrative money-spinning business that makes freebooters, their families, friends and hangers-on filthy rich.
For Mwalimu, nothing was more important than seeing Africa liberated from the fangs and pangs of colonialism, injustice and all criminality that made it stroppy in all spheres of life. Practically, Mwalimu fought for the dream of an independent Africa. His vision was to see Africa freed from disease, ignorance, injustice and poverty, which he vehemently fought.
Secondly, Nyerere wanted a united Africa. He tirelessly tried to actualise and realise this dream to no avail thanks to his bit-by-bit approach as opposed to his counterpart Dr Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s founder who desired and worked for a single-stroke one.
However, despite his fiasco in actualising his dream for Africa, he left us with a token in the Union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar that gave birth to the current United Republic of Tanzania the only existing and exemplary union in Africa.
Thirdly, Mwalimu fought and established an egalitarian society that did not have evils such as tribalism, greed, and holier-than-thou. He established Ujamaa na Kujitegemea or African Socialism and Self-reliance. Under his rule, Tanzania was a shining star, thanks to his probity, intellect and insight.
As a leader, Nyerere introduced free social services to his citizen in order to make sure that they all moved equally and together, which Tanzania lost after Nyerere willingly relinquishing power in 1985 after admitting that his policies had failed. Again, did his policies fail? Not at all; they were sabotaged by internal and external capitalistic and imperialistic enemies who didn’t get an opportunity to bully and exploit Tanzania as they deemed fit back then under Nyerere’s watch. Many Tanzanians, particularly his party the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) beseeched him to soldier on, but he told them that he was not ready to turn back and become a biblical pillar of salt to which the wife of Lot, Ado or Esther, turned into after turning back contrary to God’s instructions as they escaped from a wicked Sodom.
Before retiring, Nyerere admonished Tanzanians to pull together. However, soon thereafter, things changed dramatically and negatively. Slowly, the lust for illicit wealth became a norm. The story is very long. For, three regimes that followed after Mwalimu corrupted and destroyed almost everything the man had stood and lived for. Some of his successors started to illicitly accumulate wealth so as to make the gap between the haves and the have-nots grow exponentially.
It reached a point at which many Tanzanians wished Nyerere would have soldiered on. Corruption became legalised through the back door while ethics were replaced with ineptitude, greed and venality. However, if Nyerere were to raise from the dead today, at least, he would be happy due to the arrival of the current President John Magufuli, who seems to readjust Tanzania back to the right direction, shall he stay the course.
Nyerere was referred to as a benevolent dictator under whose rule democracy was stifled. So, too, Nyerere has a role in some of the noes that transpired after vacating from office. One of them is his superimposition of his handpicked candidate in the 1995 general elections who ended up betraying him and his cause. Notably, Nyerere saved the country from one evil to end up settling on another. Apart from that, Nyerere’s name will always be embossed in gold as far as the history of the liberation of Tanzania and Africa is concerned. RIP Julius Kambarage Nyerere Burito, a true son of Africa.
Nkwazi Mhango is a Tanzanian writer who is based in Canada