We are still debating on Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere’s legacy

Saturday October 19 2019


It was in the mid-1970s. We were at the peak of our youth. Hot-blooded and almost impatient with a boiling urge to test our immature intellectual philosophies, courtesy of the many great minds tutoring us at the University of Dar es Salaam.

These outstanding scholars included the likes of, now Prof Mahmoud Mamdan, Prof Issa Shivji, Dr Dan Wadada Nabudere, Prof Yash Tandon, Prof Henry Mapolu, Dr Walter Rodney - he of the How Europe Underdeveloped Africa book fame - and many others.

We were given adequate doses of Marxist-Leninist theories on scientific socialism and communism.

Development Studies (DS) and the East African Society and Environment Studies (EASE) opened our eyes to the global dialectics of our unequal, exploitative and oppressive societies.

Actually we eventually became an angry lot with a haunting feeling that something needs to be urgently done to address these problems.

Parallel to this scenario was the rising trend of activism in Dar es Salaam city itself. Dar es Salaam was then fast becoming a hotbed, if not already the hotbed of revolutionaries from almost all over the world, pursuing their goals and struggles.


It was the base of several great men/women and minds representing liberation movements fighting for freedom and equality in many parts of Africa, the Middle East and even Asia.

For example from Africa, and mainly Southern Africa, there were leaders from the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan-African Congress (PAC) from South Africa; from Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, leaders from the Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu) and the Zimbabwe Peoples Army (Zipa); from South Western Africa, now Namibia there were the South Western Peoples Organisation (Swapo); and from Angola the MPLA.

From Mozambique there had been leaders from the Frelimo, who had now gone back after their independence; from Sahrawi in North Africa there were the Polisario; from West Africa we had the Amilcar Cabral people from Guinea Bisau and Cape Verde; from the Middle East we had the Palenstine Liberation Organisation (PLO) people; and from East Asia there were the East Timorese leaders.

I am mentioning all this to give you a representative picture of the progressive boiling pot that was Dar es Salaam in 60s and 70s.

And all this was courtesy of Mwalimu Nyerere who had opened his door and arms to welcome all these outstanding fighters and academicians seeking to liberate our minds and their territories.

Naturally we, as university students being mentored by the outstanding scholars mentioned earlier, were easily swallowed by the dynamics of these movements.

No wonder, midway in my stint at the university, the student community in its totality took a stand to oppose the then President of Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda.

This was on account of our strong views on the liberation struggle in the-then Northern Rhodesia.

It was our strong view and belief that President Kaunda was being too soft to the South African apartheid regime, backing the minority regime of Ian Smith in Rhodesia.

And that is why, we argued, Kaunda was still doing business with the apartheid regime and supporting the ‘softies’ in the liberation struggle - the likes of Abel Muzorewa, Ndabaningi Sithole and Joshua Nkhomo.

These leaders, we felt, were seen to be ready to compromise with the minority regime of Ian Smith.

We felt that Peesident Kaunda was deliberately sidelining the real ‘fighter’, the hardliner Comrade Robert Mugabe who was firing real bullets from the Mozambique border.

We, therefore, planned to organise a rally to the State House in Dar es Salaam to vent off our frustration to Mwalimu Nyerere and urge him to convince Kaunda of his folly.

But Nyerere, I believe through his operatives, got wind of this rally. Typical Nyerere, one afternoon he stormed the university and for three hours literally lectured us on our misguided outlooks and views.

“What are you teaching my boys and girls here?” He thundered looking at our lecturers.

“They are looking through the telescope at global and regional issues from the wrong end. Instead of looking in from the narrow end they are doing so from the wider end. And what do they see. Tiny objects and petty issues. That is absurd,” he concluded before leaving.

He left us seriously debating on where we went wrong and what actually did he mean. And that was typical Mwalimu Nyerere whose 20th anniversary of his death was marked earlier this week. And: you know what? We are still debating on his legacy!

The author is a veteran journalist and communication expert based in Arusha.