Nyerere by Rob Bogaerts / Anefo

THIS is the first of a series of articles on people, individuals or groups, who have inspired us. 

I was greatly influenced by Julius Nyerere of Tanzania. His speeches, publications, policies and lifestyle convinced me that socialism was desperately needed the world over. Youthful enthusiasm and idealism may have contributed to the inspiration I gained from him, but I still regard him as one of the world’s great socialists, another figure who was undermined by external and internal opposition. 

An architect of African socialism

Julius Nyerere was a towering figure in twentieth century Africa. His policies were innovative, but based on African tradition. He was a fascinating and charismatic leader who transformed Tanzanian society. He was Prime Minister of Tanganyika from 1961 to 1962, President from 1963 to 1964,and was then President of Tanzania (the union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar) from 1964 to 1985.  Nyerere was one of the main architects of African socialism, and Tanzania was probably the finest example of a nation where it was introduced.  He advocated a traditional sharing of resources, based on the extended family, which is known as Ujamaa in Kiswahili. Nyerere believed it reached beyond family, tribe, community, nation and continent to ‘embrace the whole society of mankind’.  His ideal was the ‘equality and freedom of all‘.  He did not believe an African society needed to be taught about socialism: “We, in Africa, have no more need of being ‘converted’ to socialism than we have of being ‘taught’ democracy. Both are rooted in our past..in the traditional society which produced us.”

The Arusha Declaration 1967

Upon independence in 1963 the country inherited a society with divisions between classes, between rural and urban dwellers, between different regions, between peasant farmers and larger farmers and between the elite and the vast majority of the people. Nyerere’s vision for Tanzania was set out in the 1967 Arusha Declaration. Large salaries were to be reduced, especially for government employees, and resources were moved from urban to small-scale projects in rural areas with the aim of advancing peasant farming to a higher standard. Ujamaa villages were planned where people would have communal land and work together for the benefit of the whole community. Nyerere was determined to change society, eradicate the relics of colonialism and promote cooperation and egalitarianism. He believed some citizens should make sacrifices to benefit everyone. He aimed to reduce the country’s dependence on the world economy and introduce the policy of self-reliance. Local control of funds and the state ownership of banks and certain companies were planned. Free education for all was to be established and Nyerere prioritised equality for women and women’s rights. The expectation was that people would see this as just, fair and right, and in line with traditional African society.

Lack of support and economic problems

In the long run, Tanzanian socialism could not be sustained. Some of the problems came from the international situation and the suspicions of the west. The 1970s oil crisis had an impact on the economy, and export prices collapsed. There was a reduction in foreign investment and two successive droughts. War with Uganda in 1978 meant that Tanzania’s finances were severely drained. Some of these issues were exacerbated by internal opposition, both from some peasant farmers who resisted being moved into communities and from the newly educated elite who had been expecting an increasingly comfortable lifestyle.

Nyerere’s achievements

Sadly, when Nyerere resigned in 1985, Tanzania was still one of the poorest countries in the world.  However, Nyerere’s policies, based on his ethical principles, led to some remarkable successes. Fenner Brockway, the socialist MP, spoke of Nyerere’s impact early on as leading to “one of the most remarkable renaissances..the rebirth of a nation”. In villages “men, women and children by voluntary effort are rebuilding their society”.

The figures for infant mortality show a decline from 138 per 1,000 live births in 1965 to 110 in 1985. Life expectancy rose from 37 in 1960 to 52 in 1984. Enrolment in primary schools grew from 25% (16% of girls) in 1960 to 72% (85% of girls) in 1985, despite the considerable population growth. Adult literacy increased from 17% in 1960 to 63% in 1975.  Nyerere was firmly committed to universal, free, compulsory schooling. He stressed that not only minds should be educated, but also hands, in order to develop the resources of Africa. Healthcare also improved for many Tanzanians. Nyerere aimed to create many local clinics to bring advice and treatment to rural areas rather than to focus on large hospitals in urban areas. 

Nyerere himself lived modestly and frugally. His lifestyle could be considered Spartan and he abhorred luxury. His lack of ostentation, incorruptibility, humility and charm could infuriate his critics, and westerners, used to leaders with much more extravagant lifestyles, found him hard to fathom.

With less antagonism from the international community, who rarely lend support to socialist regimes, and greater understanding and support from within Tanzania, Nyerere’s brand of socialism may well have built on the initial successes and transformed the country in the long term. Nyerere is still accorded the greatest respect in Tanzania and in Africa as a whole. 

3 thought on “Julius Nyerere – An Inspirational Socialist”
  1. Thank you for your comments about the article I wrote on Julius Nyerere. This is my initial response, and of course it is a debate which could continue. Some of the points you raise have not been covered to a large extent in the available literature and I should be interested in some of your sources, particularly regarding the names you maintain Nyerere called third or fourth generation Indians in Tanzania.

    Nyerere was not perfect, and I do not see him as an unblemished hero, standing apart among the nations which emerged from the colonial era in Africa. However, some commentators have argued that he created racial tolerance to an extent that has not been seen in many other countries. Furthermore, I do not think we can fault Nyerere’s values and beliefs and his original political agenda. This, combined with his integrity, his lifestyle, and the way in which he dealt with many of the challenges he met, convinced me that he was an inspirational leader and a fine example of someone who was committed to establishing African socialism.

    The constitution of TANU laid emphasis on equality and racial harmony and opposed discrimination. Nyerere believed discrimination and racism were incompatible with socialism.The 1967 Arusha declaration stressed the importance of standing for the interests of the workers and peasants of any origin anywhere in the world.

    I accept, however, that Nyerere was so determined to create national unity that it is arguable that he was focused on conflict suppression and imposing cooperation which created ill feeling at times.

    Many African countries inherited a very difficult socioeconomic situation from the colonial administrations, and there were often religious and racial challenges. There was considerable resentment of anyone who was privileged during colonial times, and Asians were treated much more favourably than African citizens by the colonial powers in Tanganyika and led a more affluent lifestyle. British colonialists discriminated against indigenous Africans and permitted Asians to develop a specific caste tier system, their own communities, separated from the rest of society, their own education system, temples and social centres. These privileges led to grievances and resentment against Asians which some Tanzanians wanted to address and led to a policy of Africanisation of businesses and property. Understandably, the nationalisation which took place in the late 1960s was resented by Asians.

    Nyerere did what he could to defuse racial tension and made it clear that Europeans and Asians were welcome to remain in Africa as equal citizens once independence was achieved. He was notably prominent in the campaign to defeat racism and apartheid in South Africa.

    It is undeniable that racial tension and violence existed. There were riots in Dar es Salaam in 1964, and, far worse, were the brutal attacks on certain ethnic groups during the 1964 revolution in Zanzibar. There are criticisms that Nyerere not deal with these killings and to an extent did not consider the needs of the Arab population in Tanzania. It is also fair I think to criticise Nyerere because he did not always take into account the needs of religious minorities, and his actions towards some of the political and religious figures in Tanzania were misjudged and unjust and may have sewn the seeds for future discord. However, there are examples of the inclusion of Muslims in important positions in Tanzania. Ismaili politicians played a vital role in Tanzania’s development. To name one, Amir Habib Jamal was a much respected Finance Minister in the Nyerere Government from 1965 to 1980 and later Tanzania’s permanent representative to the UN in Geneva.

    Nyerere was of course undermined by the international community, especially by western nations and their press. He tried to manage an extremely difficult balancing act and he had numerous successes as well as some failures. Furthermore, there is no evidence that he became corrupt. Indeed, compared to the levels of corruption and decadence that tragically engulfed some African leaders, such as Nkrumah in Ghana, his political achievements, principles, commitment to socialism and lifestyle were undeniably impressive and honourable.

    1. In response to your reply, I want to state that I was 3rd generation Tanzanian and my family and I together with other Indian background people , were victims of his nationalization of our properties WITHOUT COMPENSATION. I was in Tanzania during my teen years and witnessed what I have written in my comments. For our future we left and settled in the West. I do not think it is a debate as it has been a personal experience.
      For your information, after independence, Nyerere use to make speeches on many occasions to black Tanzanians whom he use to address as Ndugu (brothers)and Wanainchi (citizens) on Nazi Moja Grounds in Dar es Salaam. He always addressed Indian Tanzanians ( Asian as they were more often called) as Muhindi and Mirija. He even in one of the speech mention by pointing at Indian Property near Nazi Moja and telling them that these properties will be “ours” meaning black Tanzanians. You have to get those speeches yourself, if they are available..The press was under government control and you think they will print any negative aspect. You ask any black Tanzanians and of course the displaced “Muhindi” what Nyerere and they called us. The answer will be the way I have said.
      With regards to the sources, I want to bring to your attention a book -Memoirs of a Muhindi
      Fleeing East Africa for the West by Mansoor Ladha (University of Regina Press, 2017). That will the source of the name calling. For your information Mansoor Ladha was a senior editor of a leading English news paper in Tanzania

      Secondly In 2006 the Karimjee Jivanjee family, a pioneer business Indian family, assigned Gijsbert Oonk, Associate professor in the Department of History, Culture and Communication, Rotterdam, Netherlands, to write their family’s business history. This family’s history is traceable for more than 150 years. and they became one of the business tycoons in East African History. Abdulkarim Karimjee became the first speaker of the first Parliament of Tanganyika. Their contribution in the development of Tanganyika pre & post independence was huge.
      In spite of that, Oonk stats that ” They faced major setback, including nearly bankruptcy following nationalization of their assets.. This is what happened to a business family who has been a major contributors in all aspect, including taxation, for over one and half century. by Nyerere’s policy

      Thirdly you should read an opinion article in Ugandan’s Nile Post by Amon Katugulu and by Balunywa Mahiri, Lecturer Department of Public Administration, dated April 7th 2019 “Opinion: Amin did not expel Asians; Obote, Kenyatta and Nyerere did” That will explain and make it very clear with regards to policy towards Indians. One thing must be said that Kenyatta, unlike Nyerere approached it differently. In Kenya, he created a non racial policy. He even managed to get economic aid from Britain to compensate the white farmers whose farms were returned to the native population. He did not nationalise any non black properties.

      Nyerere did one thing- is to unite the African tribes of Tanganyika. This did not include Tanzanian Arab or Indian population. You stated the Asians were treated more favourably by colonial powers and thus became more affluent. For your information, there was “colour bar” during colonial times. Asians were also treated badly. Indians had to developed their own systems in education, health etc as the British Government did not fund anything for schools or hospitals etc for the Indian population unlike for the blacks. We did it on our own, purely with our hard work and business acumen. We did not steal from the black or whites, In fact Mr Sewa Haji build a hospital in Dar es Salaam which would serve Indians and black communities. This Hospital became Muhibili Hospital after independence.. Majority of Indians were not affluent. In Kariako, suburb of Dar es Salaam, Indians were renting houses from black Africans. Their properties were not nationalised. NATIONALIZATION OF INDIAN PROPERTIES WERE DONE WITHOUT COMPENSATION and deliberately targeted to the Tanzanian citizens of Indian origin. How does a retired person of Tanzanian Indian; earn money; his or her income was only from renting part of their property. Government had no Pension Plan as we enjoy in the West.

      Tanu constitution emphasised equality and racial harmony and Nyerere stated that. But what was preached was not practiced. Do not forget Nyerere was an educated and astute politician. Pre and early post independence things are said but hardly practised. Do you know, Tanzanian Indian and non black Tanzanians citizens initially were not allowed to be member of TANU. So what equality?. As you mentioned he was prominent in the South African campaign to defeat racism and apartheid but “charity begins at home”
      In short Nyerere was not Mandela or Kenyatta.

      Being from Tanzania, I knew Amir Jamal, Alnoor Kassam, Ratancy etc. Tanzanian Indians were involved in getting independence. There was professional, financial help etc. from the Tanzanian Indian community. Nyerere’s lawyer was an Indian. Including them in the government (when needed) , does not rule out bias against Tanzanian Indians. But one has to see what happened latter- Jamal ended emigrating to Canada where he died. As mentioned in my last comments, Babu, Kambona, Fundikira, Bibi Titi all left. Babu, Kambona and Bibi Titi lived and died out side Tanzania. Have you found an answer WHY?

      So being a victim myself, family lost everything and having to leave the country my grandfathers were involved in developing at the turn of 19th and beginning of 20th century, investing in it , considering it as theirs, and in the end having to leave and settle in another country, brought us lot of misery. In my books Nyerere lost. With socialist policy he made Tanzania and his black population more poor then when he got independence. These things have to be mentioned when one talks about Nyerere.

      There is no debate from my part and this will be my reply and last comment.

  2. There have been lots of praises for Nyerere but he had lots of negative aspect as a leader; in my books he was authoritarian, racist with regards to non black population of Tanzania,. This part of history, unfortunately, does not get mentioned in the media or publications.
    He got the black African tribes unified after independence but with regards to Indian and Arab Tanzanians, in spite of they being citizens of Tanzania, his approach was different. From the beginning after independence of Tanganyika, Nyerere started calling these 3rd or 4th generation Indian Tanzanian citizens as MIRIJAS (suckers) and
    Wahindies (Indians), When he was seeking independence from UK, he stated clearly that all Tanzanians would be treated equally. He considered them as a separate group.from the start. He forgot that these so called MIRIJAS and Wahindies were also involved in the struggle for independence with him and also in the economy of the country. They were the main group of people who were maintaining the economy of Tanzania. They paid most of taxes which were high and they continued to invest in the country; helped with building schools and hospitals etc. Indian and Arab populations in East Africa, especially in Zanzibar and mainland Tanzania had been there for over 150 years. Developed the interior in the late 19th and early 20th century and were citizens; during the struggle of independence, Indians helped; his own lawyer was Indian when he had political case against him before independence.
    In spite, he knowing their past and ongoing contribution in the country and knowing that the Indians were maintaining the Tanzanian economy, he seized their properties WITHOUT Compensation from Tanzanians who were not black. He nationalized Arabs and Indian origin Tanzanian properties in 1971. These were the people whose families were 3rd or 4th generation Tanzanians. The other good example was the Arab and Indian slaughter in Zanzibar in mid 1960’s. He being a leader, did not even comment negatively.
    Nyerere with his socialist policies made poor Tanzania more poor.This Indian and Arab population, having had their properties stolen from them in 1971 without compensation, had to leave their country Tanzania and go and settle elsewhere (Note these people have become so successful wherever they have settled. This also affected Tanzanian economy. His political colleagues like Kambona, Bibi Titi, Fundikira and even socialist Babu had to leave his government. Kambona, Babu and Bibi Titi ended up living in other countries and died there. Amir Jamal, closest of all to him ended up emigrating to Canada where he died. One should wonder why?

    With his negative approach to Indians and Arab group, it has left a dark spot in the history of Tanzania, Even with compensating these populations in future for what was “stolen” from them, this dark spot would not be eradicated because of the suffering it caused to these groups.
    So one can only comment that he comes no close to President Mandela who created a true multiracial, multicultural country after independence; Nyerere got independence but destroyed the country with his bigotry and one track mind.
    So please include this, whenever you mention about Nyerere that Nyerere caused lots of grief to Tanzanians who were non black origin.

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