Mwalimu Julius K Nyerere: – Carrier of the torch that liberated Africa
By Phyllis Johnson.
Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere was the father of southern African liberation, and one of the founders of the Southern African Development Community.
Born in Butiama near Lake Victoria on 13 April 1922, when he passed away on 14 October 1999, Africans everywhere shared the sense of loss felt by Tanzanians.
He was Baba wa taifa, father of the nation, the moving force for the independence of Tanganyika on 9 December 1961 and for its unity with Zanzibar on 26 April 1964 to create the United Republic of Tanzania.
A charismatic leader of sharp intellect and great personal integrity, he welded a country and a national identity from over 120 ethnic groups, united by their language Kiswahili and by a social harmony constructed on the ideals of peace, justice, unity, and personal commitment.
His firm support for equality and tolerance ranged across all diversity of races, religions, classes, and gender. He encouraged Tanzanian women to play a leadership role in society and adopted a parliamentary system that guaranteed seats for women.
His pursuit of an equitable socio-economic society through collective self-reliance was more difficult than he had envisaged, and he once said that “we are very good at sharing the wealth in Tanzania but I only wish we had made more wealth to share.”
Tanganyika’s independence in 1961 was an inspiration to those who believed that political independence could be achieved by non-violent means and he worked tirelessly in support of this goal for Zambia (1964), Malawi (1964), Botswana (1966), Lesotho (1966), Mauritius (1968), Eswatini (1968), Comoros (1975) and Seychelles (1976).
Madagascar and the Congo (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) achieved independence earlier, both in the mid-1960.
When the other countries of southern Africa were forced into wars of liberation to eventually achieve the same goal, Tanzania provided political, material, and moral support until independence and majority rule were achieved in 1975 (Mozambique, Angola), 1980 (Zimbabwe), 1990 (Namibia) and finally, 1994 (South Africa).
Nyerere pursued the ideals of liberation, democracy, and common humanity into the rest of the continent and, with the leaders of the other 31 African countries that were independent in 1963, established the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), which later became the African Union (AU).
The main objective was political liberation for the rest of the continent. Their tool for achieving this, the OAU Liberation Committee, was hosted by Tanzania, and most liberation movements were based there at one time or another.
Mwalimu’s dedication and commitment to the liberation of the sub-continent, to African unity, and to pan-Africanism remains unsurpassed.
True to his vision, it can be said that he “carried the torch that liberated Africa”. Tanzania maintains the annual Uhuru (Freedom) Torch Race around the country that ends on 14 October in Butiama.
Nyerere was one of nine leaders who came together in 1980 to establish the Southern African Development Coordination Conference (SADCC), which later became the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
The leaders of Tanzania, Zambia, and Botswana formed the Front Line States in 1974 to work together in a united front for common security and for majority rule in neighbouring countries, under the chairmanship of Nyerere, and this was a forerunner of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation.
The political changes in Namibia and South Africa in 1990 and 1994, changed the face and future of the African continent and completed the work of the OAU Liberation Committee.
Through Mwalimu’s leadership, all Tanzanians were able to take pride in their contribution to the liberation of the region, through “people-to-people” support in hosting refugees, and contributing food, clothing, and shillings. One very successful campaign drew a voluntary contribution of one shilling each to support Mozambique.
Although the decision to initiate the SADCC was taken in Arusha, Tanzania and the launch was in Lusaka, Zambia, the organization was hosted by Botswana, and Mwalimu used any occasion to give credit for its formation to his colleague and close friend, the late President Seretse Khama of Botswana, with active support from President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia.
When the SADCC was formed in April 1980, Khama saw the difficulties ahead when he predicted that, “The struggle for economic liberation will be as bitterly contested as has been the struggle for political liberation.”
SADC, formally established by the Windhoek Treaty in 1992, has turned its vision of free trade into a formal agreement launched in 2008, and most member states have developed a national Vision of where they want to be by 2030.
The Lagos Plan of Action for the socio-economic development of Africa was the OAU’s plan of action from 1980-2000. Meeting in Lagos in April 1980 just after the SADCC was launched, African leaders inspired by Nyerere, Kaunda, and Khama, reaffirmed their commitment to set up an African Economic Community by the year 2000, “so as to ensure the economic, social, and cultural integration of our continent.”
The aim of this community, in the terminology popularized by Nyerere, “shall be to promote collective, accelerated, self-reliant and self-sustaining development of Member States; co-operation among these States; and their integration in the economic, social and cultural fields.”
Nyerere retired as president of Tanzania in 1985 and as chairman of the party Chama Cha Mapinduzi in 1990. Tanzania has had five presidential transitions since then, following elections at five-year intervals, up to the current President Samia Suluhu Hassan.
After leaving office, Nyerere devoted his vision to mechanisms to strengthen developmental links between developing countries of the South. He chaired the South Commission 1987-90, and dedicated the next decade to the service of the South Centre, tirelessly fundraising for a capital fund and operating costs.
Mwalimu often said that his generation had achieved at least one goal, that of the political liberation of Africa and that the next generations must take up the next goals including socio-economic development.
A long memorial verse by his close friend and colleague, Dr Kenneth Kaunda, the late founding President of Zambia, reminds us all that, “The best way of mourning him is to carry on where he has left.” sardc.net
Phyllis Johnson is a writer and broadcaster, and a Founding Director of the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC), a regional knowledge resource centre drawing on the vision and values of Mwalimu Nyerere, who was its Founding Patron.