Meet the man behind Mwalimu Nyerere’s pictures

Adarsh Nayar holds one of the many images of Mwalimu he took throughout his career.

The image would become a popular one in many government offices and has served as an official portrait.


What you need to know:

He rushed to his dark room at the then Tanzania Standard Newspapers (TSN) offices on Azikiwe Street and printed it for the next day’s papers.

It was partly cloudy on February 5, 1985. The temperature at the Dar es Salaam International Airport ranged between 21 and 35 degrees Celsius.

The plane carrying President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt had just touched down and was taxing on the runway.

A few metres away, on the red carpet was Tanzania’s President Julius Nyerere, delightedly waiting for his guest. Also waiting with his Nikon camera was Adarsh Nayar, who was setting up his lenses to get the best shots of the two Heads of State.

No sooner had the two presidents boarded a Rolls Royce and started waving to the crowd while moving from the airport, than Adarsh, now, 70, panned his camera from one angle to the other, struggling to get the best shot, and he indeed got one.

He rushed to his dark room at the then Tanzania Standard Newspapers (TSN) offices on Azikiwe Street and printed it for the next day’s papers.

“It was such a nice shot, Mwalimu had flashed out his best smile, but something had gone amiss,” recalls Adarsh.

The photo exposed Mwalimu’s missing upper tooth, no Tanzanian had ever seen that and Adarsh was pondering whether to discard it or not.

“I noticed this while in the dark room… I thought of filling it up with some chalk to hide the gap but there was no time, the paper had to go to the printing press.”

The next morning the image hit the streets and became so popular among Tanzanians. But for Adarsh it was a tense moment.  He knew it was only a matter of time before the State House called him to complain about the photo.

“It somewhat affected me, I could not cope well with my work, I knew I had angered Mwalimu, yet I didn’t hear anything from him,” says Adarsh.

Then after some days, while having lunch with Joan Wicken, Mwalimu’s former Personal Assistant, Adarsh was forced to open up. He asked Ms Joan to extend his apologies to Mwalimu for the photo.

“Ironically, she told me that I was lucky not to have added any chalk on the missing tooth. According to her, Mwalimu wanted to appear natural and hiding it would have in fact annoyed him.”

This is an untold story of the man behind Mwalimu Nyerere’s images and portraits hanging in offices and featuring on some bank notes. Adarsh was instrumental in preparing press conferences for Mwalimu Nyerere during his presidency, the famous one being the one held at Kilimanjaro Hotel in 1995, which served as a build up to that year’s General Election.

Adarsh, who features in many of Mwalimu Nyerere footages, vividly remembers the Kilimanjaro press conference, especially when the father of the nation told off Mr Mkumbwa Ally, who was then a news editor with the Daily News.

“Mwalimu was very categorical in that event, he made it clear that he had not come to Kilimanjaro to discuss people but issues. Mkumbwa made a mistake and what followed was a wrath from the annoyed Mwalimu,” says Adarsh.

Mr Mkumbwa later rose through the ranks to become TSN’s Deputy Managing Editor and he is at the moment the spokesman for the ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

Unlike current presidential media handlers, Adarsh was the personal photographer of Mwalimu even when discharging other duties as a Chief Photographer at Tanzania Standard Newspapers (TSN).

Had it not been for the late Mohamed Amin, a Kenyan photojournalist noted for his pictures and videotapes of the Ethiopian famine, who was also his childhood friend, maybe Adarsh could not have gotten any closer to Mwalimu.

Bubbling with a passion of becoming an engineer in India, Adarsh met Amin and the latter advised him to become a photojournalist. “Initially I wanted to become an engineer but after meeting Amin halfway my engineering studies, he told me photojournalism was another enjoyable career worth pursuing,” says Adarsh who is now based in London.

He describes Amin as a very daring photographer, who told him not to be afraid of anything while holding the camera.After freelancing for the Nation of Kenya and Standard in Tanzania (now the Daily News), in mid 1960s, Adarsh earned his first-ever promotion to become the Chief Photographer at Standard.

He still recalls the first day at his job when Brendon Grimshaw, his boss approached him on his workstation asking him if he had a car.

“Actually I didn’t have any car. I was surprised to be told to walk to Copper Motors (now CMC motors) which was right opposite our building and was given a Volkswagen sports car for my personal and office use.”

These days, newspapers are overstaffed, those days a paper was produced by less than ten people and it says something of the privileges we enjoyed. It was worth being a journalist in those days than it is today.”

Knowing Mwalimu

Much as it was a post-colonial era, coupled with a great deal of liberation struggles on the ground, Mwalimu Nyerere had strong security detail. It was not easy for anyone to get to the president in those days, but it was easier for Adarsh and it did not take him that long.

“I always followed him wherever he went, where I enjoyed his speeches and honestly Mwalimu was such a powerful orator.” Adarsh would keep track of Mwalimu even when he had sent his subordinates to go and cover the president.

“As a chief photographer, I had the privilege of staying in the office but there was a pull factor on Mwalimu that I found myself following him wherever he went and even covering him,” recalls Adarsh.

In no time, the president noticed his work through his personal aides, including Peter Bwimbo, who was Mwalimu’s Chief Security Officer. It didn’t take him much time to get acquainted with Mwalimu, Adarsh would be accompanying the president wherever he went; be it state banquets and other presidential visits, Adarsh was all over, with his camera covering presidential events.

 “I really enjoyed listening to him, Mwalimu was such a powerful orator, all that he said was not politics, and it came from his heart.”

Mwalimu’s punctuality

Adarsh was no stranger to the State House, that all the staff at the Magogoni House befriended him. He too was no stranger to Mwalimu’s stances. He still recalls asking Mwalimu if he (Adarsh) could prepare a photo of Mwalimu as a parent in his house and not a politician. He wanted to portray him as a family man.

“I wanted to capture him going through his children’s exercise books, him praying with his family and wanted to see if he took his children to the beach like any other parent. His answer was a categorical No; Mwalimu was very precise in what he said and did, he stressed that his family was his family.”

Adarsh who has led a simple single life throughout always remembers Mwalimu as a no-nonsense man who had respect for time.

“His punctuality was on the dot, 10 am was ten, and 2 pm was two and nothing short of that, it made life easier for the media people back then as we had deadlines to meet.”

Adarsh recalls how Mwalimu locked out three of his cabinet ministers who had no respect for time.

“It was during a weekly cabinet meeting that he had to lock them out as they were not around when the chairman (Mwalimu) had already taken his seat,” says Adarsh.

While receiving truck keys from the then Germany ambassador to Tanzanian at the National Stadium, Adarsh thought he would get a perfect shot of Mwalimu and the ambassador. Unfortunately he missed the shot. He had to then follow Mwalimu who was now heading to his car and ask him to pose for a retake as he received the truck keys.

“Mwalimu looked at his wrist watch and told me that he was to meet someone at the State House at that moment, the photo was as good as a missed opportunity,” recalls Adarsh with laughter.

He describes Mwalimu as having a very good sense of humour but that his temper would trip within a second. “He would joke with me along the corridors of the State House but his mood would change with a blink of the eye.”

What still puts a smile on the Kenyan-born photographer is the fact that he had designed all Christmas cards for Mwalimu and his family. Adarsh is also behind the cover photos on Nyerere’s books.

“I’m so happy to have coordinated all of Mwalimu’s press briefings in Mbeya and at the Kilimanjaro hotel,” he says.

Humble man

Mwalimu was a humble leader to the core, according to Adarsh. He shunned travelling overseas with his children, to avoid putting the burden on the government. “His family never accompanied him where he went; he would only travel with Mama Maria.”

The only time he took his family was when they received an invitation from former Zambia president Kenneth Kaunda and the Lusaka Government met the cost. Adarsh reveals that Mwalimu used to work from the comfort of his house in Msasani. “Mwalimu had a very simple bedroom, it must have been the smallest presidential house in the world. He also had a study room and most of the time he would work from home. He would only go to the State House to meet visitors and hold cabinet meetings.”

According to Adarsh, Mwalimu had nothing fancy other than Bibles and rosaries in his house at Msasani. Being the person who had direct access to the State House, Adarsh worked round the clock covering Mwalimu Nyerere during the liberation struggle in most parts of Africa.

“It was hectic, there was a lot of activity, and something was happening in Nigeria, but we had demonstrations in Dar es Salaam, at that time I was also freelancing with Associated Press (AP).”

“I’m happy that Mwalimu was proud to have me, he always thought that I was a great organiser.”

For him, every second he carried his Nikon camera taking snaps of Mwalimu proved to be the highlight of his career. What delights him the most is seeing great deals of photos taken by him still in use.

“It was awesome covering Mwalimu, he just made wonderful pictures with deep facial gestures. He was so different from other politicians. You could not tell Mwalimu to pose for a photo, and he knew how to compose himself.”

Commenting on Mwalimu relinquishing power in 1985 after more than two decades; Adarsh believes he made the right decision. However, he reveals that his mother, Mgaya Wanyang’ombe was not happy with the idea.

“When he went to Butiama, his mother told him that he should not have left power but on the other hand Mwalimu foresaw the collapse of the Soviet Union which meant the decline in Socialism…personally, I think he made the right decision, there was pressure from European communities.”

Adarsh says Mwalimu left the world an unhappy man, knowing what was to befall the country.

Adarsh’s career took a dip following the death of Mwalimu Nyerere in 1999. He deems it as a big shock of his life and something that in fact changed his life completely. He recounts the experience he had when receiving the body of Mwalimu Nyerere at the airport in October 1999.

 “I had not accompanied Mwalimu to London for the checkup, but I was there to receive him when he could not see me. I switched on my TV camera but it suddenly lost colour, the image became black and white and blurry…I opted for still photos but the result was the same the shots were just milky, I fainted thereafter.”

Bewildered by the happenings, Adarsh decided to take the camera to London, knowing it had developed some failure, much to his surprise.

“There was nothing wrong with it, perhaps Mwalimu was communicating something to me.”

I’m from Kenya, but I thank God since He sent me to Tanzania on a mission of just covering Mwalimu, and I’m now building a library for him.

Adarsh says he must have taken more than 10,000 photos of Mwalimu Nyerere, being his personal photographer, adding that there are still many photos of Nyerere that had not been published.

“I am sitting on a very huge archive of Mwalimu’s speeches, voice recordings and nostalgic photos, which will die with me. Tanzania masses, who should be impatient to see them, will be deprived of their history,” he says.

According to Adarsh, who is now based in London, organisations in foreign countries who have heard of Mwalimu are keen on seeing Adarsh’s project materialise.

They include the Royal Commonwealth Society of Britain,  the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, and others who have offered facilities and assistance. Adarsh is however, surprised that neither CCM nor the government has said anything about the project.

“This is a legacy of Mwalimu Nyerere, it is the story of two Juliuses:  Julius Caesar and Julius Nyerere…In life,  Nyerere’s  power was no less than that of Caesar.

At the moment, Adarsh is closely working with Anna Nyerere, one of Mwalimu’s daughters in writing a book, titled Mwalimu Nyerere; My Father.