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The Story of Julius Nyerere, The Tanzanian Activist


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Julius Kambarage Nyerere otherwise known as Julius Nyerere was a Tanzanian anti-colonialist, politician and political theorist.  

He led Tanzania as president from 1964 to 1985. He ruled Tanganyika as prime minister from 1961 to 1962 and then as president from 1962 to 1964.

He was a founding member and chair of the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) party and of its successor Chama Cha Mapinduzi, from 1954 to 1990.

His political philosophy was known as Ujamaa, and he advocated it as an ideologically committed African nationalist and socialist.

Julius Nyerere was the son of a Zanaki chief and was born in Butiama, Mara, which was then in Tanganyika, a British colony.

He was one of the 25 surviving children of Zanaki chief Nyerere Burito. Burito was born in 1860 and given the name “Nyerere” (which means “caterpillar” in Zanaki) since the neighbourhood was plagued with worm caterpillars at the time of his birth.

In 1915, Burito was named chief and put in post by the German imperial administrators of what was then known as German East Africa.

The newly installed British imperial administration likewise supported Burito’s position. Mugaya Nyang’ombe, Julius’ mother, was the fifth of Burito’s 22 wives.  She was fifteen years old when she married the chief in 1907; she was born in 1892.

Around Burito’s cow corral, which contained his roundhouse in the centre, these wives resided in a variety of shelters.

On the guidance of an omugabhu diviner, Nyerere’s personal name was shortly changed from “Mugendi” (Walker in Zanaki) to “Kambarage,” the name of a female rain spirit.

Nyerere was brought up in the Zanaki polytheistic religion and lived with his mother, helping her with the millet, maize, and cassava fields. 

Along with other young men from the area, he helped herd goats and calves. He eventually underwent the customary Zanaki circumcision procedure at Gabizuryo.

As the son of a chief, he was exposed to African systems of governance, and his upbringing in the compound gave him a sense of the value of community living, which would later shape his political views.

Julius Nyerere attended Makerere College in Uganda after finishing high school before attending Edinburgh University in Scotland to further his education.

While at Makerere, he studied alongside some of the brightest students in East Africa. Despite this, he rarely interacted with other people, preferring to concentrate on his studies.

He registered for classes in Latin, Greek, Chemistry, and Biology. He earned a literary award for an essay on women’s exploitation in which he adapted John Stuart Mill’s principles to Zanaki society.

To help the few Tanganyikan students at Makerere, Nyerere, Andrew Tibandebage, and Hamza Kibwana Bakari Mwapachu created the Tanganyika African Welfare Association (TAWA) in 1943.

In its stead, Julius Nyerere restored the long-dormant Makerere chapter of the Tanganyika African Association (TAA), which also ceased to function by 1947. After three years he graduated from Makerere University with a diploma in education.

Also read: Life of Kwame Nkrumah

In February 1952, he attended a World Church Group meeting on the issue of the Federation; among those who spoke at the meeting was medical student—and future Malawian leader—Hastings Banda.

The institution awarded Nyerere an Ordinary Degree of Master of Arts in July 1952. He left Edinburgh that week to study in England’s educational institutions, relocating to London, thanks to a brief British Council Visitorship.

He left for Tanganyika again the same year, got married, and started teaching there. He was chosen as the Tanganyika African Association’s (TAA) president in April 1953.

Both his strong oratory abilities and the fact that he belonged to the Zanaki tribe contributed to his ability to assume the position; had he been from one of the bigger ethnic groups, he might have encountered more resistance from members of rival tribes.

The TAA developed a more political focus under Nyerere, who was committed to achieving Tanganyikan independence from the British Empire. Nyerere was “catapulted to fame” as a “standard-bearer of the rising independence movement,” according to Bjerk.

He was a founding member of TANU (Tanganyika African National Union), which he used to advocate for Tanganyikan independence from the British Empire.

Among the first TANU members were the three sons of Kleist Sykes, Dossa Aziz, and John Rupia, an entrepreneur who had become one of the richest indigenous Africans in the nation.

In order to fill a temporary vacancy on the colony’s legislative council brought about by David Makwaia’s nomination to the Royal Commission for Land and Population Problems in London, Nyerere was nominated by the colony’s governor.

The need for new schools around the country was a major theme of his opening speech to the legislative council.

Makwaia was brought back from London by the administration to ensure Nyerere’s resignation after he voiced his objection to new government legislation that would have raised public worker salaries.

While arguing for Tanganyikan independence at TANU meetings, Nyerere stated that the nation’s European and Asian minorities wouldn’t be expelled by an independent African-led government.

He supported Gandhi’s strategy of nonviolent protest in order to achieve freedom and held Mahatma Gandhi in high regard.

Nyerere was elected to the Legislative Council in the elections of 1958–1959, and after leading TANU to victory in the general election of 1960, he was appointed prime minister.

Tanganyikan independence was achieved in 1961 as a result of negotiations with the British government. Tanganyika became a republic in 1962, and Nyerere was chosen as its first leader.

Julius Nyerere
source: ThoughtCo

Kawawa was chosen by Nyerere to be his vice president. His administration worked to promote harmony between the native African population and the nation’s Asian and European minorities while pursuing decolonization and the “Africanization” of the civil service.

He promoted the creation of a one-party state and attempted in vain to unite Kenya and Uganda into a pan-Africanist East African Federation. Armed forces mutiny in 1963 was put down with British aid.

Tanzania was formed by joining the island of Zanzibar with Tanganyika after the Zanzibar Revolution of 1964.

Following this, Nyerere began to emphasise socialism and national independence more and more. Tanzania forged close ties with Mao Zedong’s China despite the fact that his brand of socialism was distinct from that preached by Marxism-Leninism.

The Arusha Declaration, which detailed Nyerere’s vision of ujamaa, was published in 1967. Education and healthcare were greatly improved, and banks and other vital businesses and industries were nationalised.

Through the establishment of communal farms, agricultural growth was given a new focus, despite the fact that these changes hindered food production and made some regions dependent on food help.

His government handled Tanzania’s 1978–1979 conflict with Uganda, which led to the overthrow of Ugandan President Idi Amin, and gave training and assistance to anti-colonialist organisations battling white minority rule throughout southern Africa.

After stepping down in 1985 Nyerere became “one of the few African presidents who have freely, graciously, and honourably bowed out” of leadership, according to A. B. Assensoh. He gained a lot of respect internationally as a result.

Ali Hassan Mwinyi who took over changed several of Nyerere’s policies. He supported the switch to a multi-party system while serving as chairman of Chama Cha Mapinduzi until 1990.

Later, he acted as a mediator in efforts to put an end to the Burundian Civil War. Nyerere remained CCM’s chairman until 1990, at which time he actively criticised Mwinyi’s policies.

Mwinyi tried to advance economic liberalisation, dismissing from the cabinets several of Nyerere’s favourites who disagreed with his policies.

Many Tanzanians’ savings were destroyed as a result of the inflation and currency devaluation brought on by these measures. These changes, in Nyerere’s eyes, were a rejection of his socialist beliefs.

Being a controversial person, he earned a great deal of respect for his anti-colonialist views throughout Africa, and when he was in office, he was praised for his efforts in keeping Tanzania stable and united for decades after independence, in contrast to many of its neighbours.

The Story of Julius Nyerere, The Tanzanian Activist
source: YouTube

In addition to being accused of authoritarian rule, his creation of the one-party state and usage of incarceration without charge has also been linked to economic incompetence.

Nyerere was an African nationalist. He detested colonialism and felt compelled to fight against the colonial government in Tanganyika.

Nyerere stated that the ideas that underpinned both the American Revolution and the French Revolution served as inspiration for his battle against colonialism.

He was also affected by the Indian independence struggle, which in 1947, just before Nyerere went to study in Britain, led to the establishment of an Indian republic.

Nyerere believed that non-violent protest was viable and should be pursued because of the circumstances in Tanganyika, saying: “I practise nonviolence in the Mohandas Gandhi sense. Violence, in my opinion, is a sin that one should not associate with unless it is absolutely essential “.

Julius Nyerere became a well-known supporter of southern African anti-colonial movements after taking over as the county’s leader, giving those organisations financial, diplomatic, and moral support.

He is highly revered in Tanzania, where he is sometimes referred to as the “Father of the Nation” and also the Swahili appellation Mwalimu (“teacher”).


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