Obituary from ROAPE Volume 26 Number 81
Julius Kambarage Nyerere
The death of Julius Nyerere on 14 October 1999, one of the greatest African nationalist and post-colonial leaders will be a cause of great sadness for many readers. The news came as we were going to press, so a full appreciation and assessment of the man and his contribution will appear in the next issue. Here, all that can be attempted is to indicate some of the key dimensions of his life and times which might form the basis of such a collection of tributes and evaluations.&break; One, inevitably controversial issue, is the ujamaa experience, which needs to be assessed at the level of his ideas and writings but also of his practice. As Ahmed Rajab wrote in the Guardian (15 October 1999), those of us who saw ourselves as being to his left constantly found that his positions on class, on commitment to the poor, were ones we could accommodate. The social and economic policies pursued by Tanzania following the Arusha Declaration will also figure in any assessment of his contribution. However, a much more considered and rounded set of views - and debates - is needed rather than the simplistic notion that has been a feature of obituaries in the western press, namely that the economy got into an awful mess because he pursued socialism. Less contested would be an evaluation of his contribution to the Tanzanian political system. His commitment to constitutionalism and due process, while not unblemished, has provided a crucial legacy, reinforced by his almost unique decision to retire gracefully from government. The justification for his electoral one-partyism, particularly in light of his later conversion to multi-partyism, would be a matter (with the benefit of hindsight) for debate. But, arguably, for those who saw him in action, particularly speaking to ordinary people in Swahili, his greatest bequest to Tanzania and indeed African politics was in his style: of leadership: direct, honest, concerned, warm, prepared always to field any question rather than pontificate; his use of humour, even to this point of self-deprecatingly laughing at himself; a style that fostered openness and debate. This example has contributed, along with the widespread use and promotion of the Swahili language, to the openness of debate and political self-confidence that continues to characterise Tanzanian political culture.&break; In the 1960s and 70s, his contribution to the broader liberation struggle in southern Africa must also be acknowledged, but the extent of his involvement has probably not yet been given the credit and weight it merits. He did not merely host exiles; Dar es Salaam was the rear base for the ANC, Frelimo, SWAPO and the MPLA, and the entrepot for their supplies. He saw all these struggles in a strategic perspective, which was in turn translated into practice by the Liberation Committee of the OAU, for which Tanzania provided headquarters and a secretariat. He was consistent and uncompromising in his support - unlike some leaders who did little more than pay lip service to the cause of liberation and others who betrayed the movements in Angola and Zimbabwe at key moments. &break; He was one of the few leaders that truly deserves to be called ‘charismatic’ . The Review hopes to be able to reproduce a number of different views from those who were exposed to the spell and influence of Mwalimu as well as others who may have seen him from a more critical distance.