The peace and stability of Tanzania is largely credited to its founding president,
Julius Nyerere who was the country’s leader until retiring voluntarily in 1985. Even
though his socialist economic experiment is largely acknowledged to have been a failure,
his upstanding moral principles, genuine humility and integrity guided the nation
in a direction that makes it find itself where it is.
Despite its obvious poverty, Tanzania remains far more influential in the continent
than its economic muscle would allow. Retired President Nyerere died aged 77 in 1999.
In Tanzania and many parts of Africa he is still revered as one of the greatest African
visionaries in history. Nyerere’s leadership qualities were recognised early on in
his presidency and he was the first ever African leader to grace the cover of Time
magazine in the United States back in March 1964, barely 2 years into his presidency.
Even though Nyerere pursued politics of the Left economically, he was demonstrably
non-aligned and was an active member of this grouping of nations. He was as vocal
a critic of Soviet expansionism as he was of the United States foreign adventures.
Unlike most post-independence African rulers, President Nyerere never sought personal
wealth, he led a simple life, shunned corruption and gave up power voluntarily. He
was also a vocal advocate and supporter of the struggle for independence in those
countries which were still under colonial rule. He hosted many of the freedom fighters
from Southern Africa including future leaders such as the late Samora Machel of Mozambique.
For the 14 years after his retirement from the presidency, he continued to work for
economic emancipation of the developing countries chairing the South Commission.
He also put a lot of energy in solving the Burundi civil war working tirelessly as
a mediator for the warring factions.
Nyerere, who has always been referred to as Mwalimu (teacher) by his people is acknowledged
and officially recognised as the Father of the Nation. In Africa, he is held in the
same regard as Nelson Mandela of South Africa. Ten years after his death, Julius
Nyerere remains one of the most revered African statesmen in history.
His passing, from leukaemia, in October 1999, 14 years after he left office was marked
by a genuine outpouring of grief by his people and millions beyond the borders of
Tanzania. Among those who paid tribute to Mwalimu was the then UN Secretary General
Kofi Annan. Annan said: “He was a passionate and eloquent advocate for Africa and
for the entire developing world, as well as a friend and ally of the United Nations.
Above all, Mwalimu Nyerere, as the founding father of Tanzania, played a key role
in promoting African independence, nation-building and unity, and his willingness
to step down from office voluntarily after long service to his people should be a
model to all leaders. Both before and after leaving office, he gave unstintingly
of his strength and wisdom in the quest for African peace and freedom. Even in his
last month, he worked tirelessly to bring peace to the troubled people of Burundi”.
The then president of the United Nations General Assembly was the Namibian Foreign
Minister Theo Ben-Gurirab paid his tribute by saying: “Thirty-six years ago, I arrived
in the then Tanganyika, as a young lad fired on from inside by a powerful force of
Pan-Africanism. The Mwalimu I met was the liberator, thinker, strategist, organizer
and our kinder and gentler teacher on the politics of liberation, African unity,
nation-building and internationalist solidarity with the people of the Third World.
It was Mwalimu who, together with the great Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, strengthened
decisively my own commitment for Namibia's liberation and national independence”.
The president of South Africa at the time, Thabo Mbeki said: “Today the wretched
of our continent have begun to walk with a firm tread in their step, confident of
a better future for themselves and for the African motherland. They walk tall, with
straight backs, no longer afraid to look into the eyes of those who had sought to
set themselves up as rapacious demi-gods. On the shoulders of these generations rests
the duty to answer the drawn-out cries of those who were enslaved and colonized by
strangers and abused by their own kith and kin. They rest on firm ground because
they stand on the foundation of stone that Mwalimu Julius Nyerere built”. Next
In it are infused the passions which constituted his wealth love for the people
and loyalty to their cause; commitment to the cause of peace; attachment to principle;
honesty, simplicity, humility and personal integrity; courage and a great intellect;
the capacity to sustain hope at the most difficult moments; the determination to
ensure that the sun shone over Africa, to banish the dark centuries which have been
Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, the first president of Tanzania and one of the foremost African
statesmen in history. He is revered as a visionary and, above all, for his unquestioned
integrity and moral authority