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Tanzania's Julius Nyerere

January 10, 2018

A pronounced pan-Africanist, Nyerere led Tanganyika to independence and later unified it with Zanzibar to form Tanzania. Despite shortcomings, his Ujamaa policy is credited for giving Tanzania a national identity.

Julius Nyerere, 1. Präsident Tansanias, Porträt
Image: Comic Republic

Julius Nyerere

When was he born?

In 1922, Butiama village in Tanganyika. He studied teaching at Makerere University in Uganda. Later on, Economics and History at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. He died in London in 1999.

What was he renowned for?

His title "Mwalimu" which means teacherNyerere actually taught Biology and English for three years before leading Tanganyika into independence and going on to become the first president of the United Republic of Tanzania.

He had an unrelenting passion of a united Africa. In opposition to Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah, however, he opted for a regional East African union as a first step, while Nkrumah pushed for a direct and complete union. Jointly, they masterminded the Organization of African Union.

He took in African freedom fighters. After gaining independence for his country, Nyerere followed his pan-Africanist path by welcoming and supporting the armed rebellions against regimes in Mozambique, South Africa, Namibia and others.

Julius Nyerere's other accomplishments?

He translated William Shakespeare into Kiswahili.

How stubborn could Julius Nyerere be?

In a Cold War world, Nyerere didn't take sides. When the German Federal Republic asked his country to sever ties with the German Democratic Republic according to its Hallstein Doctrine, Nyerere declined, at the risk of losing German development aid, insisting on Tanzania's sovereignty. He said his country would "not accept aid with strings attached" - and finally got his way. His country upheld diplomatic relations with both German states.

What was Julius Nyerere criticized for? 

He was criticized for suppressing dissenting opinion, abandoning other freedom fighters, and taking all the glory for himself - to the detriment of some of his supporters. He's also thought to have been against the influence of Islamic leaders in Tanzania. Importantly, his Ujamaa policy of African Socialism was not successful in changing the economic fortunes of Tanzania. As a reaction, Nyerere retired as president in 1985 to clear the way for structural economic adjustments.

Julius Nyerere - architect of African socialism

I never heard of Ujamaa. What is that supposed to mean?

Drawing on his experience as the son of a large family and his immersion into socialist thought of the British Fabian Society, Nyerere developed a system of African Socialism trying to connect socialism with African communal living. The name Ujamaa was derived from the Kiswahili term for familyhood.

He interacted with Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya and at some point was willing to let Kenyatta be the leader of the wider East Africa. He even offered to delay Tanganyika's independence, to wait for the three East African countries' independence in the hope of unifying them. The other East African leaders let him down but that did not deter him. He focused his efforts on unifying Tanzania's multiple ethnic groups through the use of Kiswahili as a national language.

What are some famous quotes of Julius Nyerere?

"Uhuru na kazi (Freedom and work)"

"No nation has the right to make decisions for another nation; no people for another people."

"Unity will not make us rich, but it can make it difficult for Africa and the African peoples to be disregarded and humiliated."

"Education is not a way of escaping poverty, it is a way of fighting it."

"If real development is to take place, the people must be involved."

James Muhando, Hawa Bihoga and Gwendolin Hilse contributed to this package. It is part of DW's special series "African Roots", dedicated to African history, a cooperation with the Gerda Henkel Foundation.