Julius Kambarage Nyerere, one of the patriarchs of pan-Africanism, may be gone but he still stands out as a relentless pan-Africanist who sought the freedom and unity of the African people with a passion. We have lived to tell the tale that through out his political struggle for independence and unity, Nyerere did choose to campaign using non-violent methods, as was inspired by Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi.
In his persistent non-violent struggle to secure Tanganyika’s independence, the colonial government was forced to establish a new colonial Legislative Council (LEGICO) on the basis of a multi-racial ‘parity’ policy. The new council gave equal representation among the Europeans, Asians, and Africans in the Tanganyika Territory.
In 1958, Nyerere was then elected a member of LEGICO, and on the 22nd of October 1959, Nyerere made an astounding and visionary speech in LEGICO. He said: “…We, the people of Tanganyika, would like to light a candle and put it on top of Mt Kilimanjaro, which would shine beyond our borders giving hope where there was despair, love where there was hate and dignity where there was before only humiliation…”
This speech was an eye opener, that Nyerere was a pan-Africanist who looked not only within his country, but also outside, towards the entire African continent for peace, love and unity.
In 1960, he was elected the Chief Minister, following fresh elections when Tanganyika was granted self-government by the British colonial Government.
East Africa federal state
By this time Nyerere envisioned for an East Africa federal state, he began soliciting the colonial administration to delay the independence of Tanganyika to wait for Kenya and Uganda for a simultaneous independence day to create an East African Federation; but his efforts failed.
On the 9th of December 1961, Tanganyika gained its independence and he became its first Prime Minister. On the eve of independence Nyerere fulfilled his vision of “lighting a candle and put it on the top of Mt Kilimanjaro when Captain Nyirenda of the Tanganyika Armed Forces lit a torch and placed it on the top of Mt Kilimanjaro to shine within and beyond the borders.
From that day to date a national torch (known as Mwenge) began annually touring the country infusing the spirit of freedom, unity, love, peace and hope among the citizens.
Determined to build a cohesive and united nation and believing that multiparty democratic system would create disunity among his people, Nyerere vowed to erase the system. Nyerere believed that multiparty democracy was useless to Africa and he commented: “...Multiparty democracy is alien, it is a Western thing, a luxury Africa could not afford and it will create opposition among us, this is an imperialist dogma...”
According to him, Tanganyika, divided into over 100 distinct ethnic groups, was not a fertile ground for a multiparty democratic system. He said Tanganyika, and Africa in general, was not ready for multiparty democracy as the system would plunge the young nation and the African continent at large into tribal and regional in-fighting.
He held that building multiparty democracy in a poor country was synonymous to nurturing division and hate between the opposition and the ruling parties; between different communities with different cultural origins such as tribes and clans who in most cases would create political parties to secure their interests.
Nyerere was a firm advocate of African Unity as demonstrated during the speech he delivered at the opening of a World Assembly of Youth seminar in Dar es Salaam in 1961; he said: “…I am a firm advocate of African unity. I am convinced that, just as unity was necessary for the achievement of independence in Tanganyika, or in any other nation, unity is equally necessary for the whole of Africa to achieve and maintain her independence. I believe that, left to ourselves, we can achieve unity on the African Continent…”
As he needed time to unite the country so that it would be easier to achieve pan-Africanism by uniting the entire African continent, he declared Tanganyika a one-party state and Tanu its only legal political party in 1962.
The writer is a Member of Parliament for Igunga constituency