Julius Nyerere dies

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Fri Oct 15 07:20:32 MDT 1999

NY Times, October 15, 1999

Julius Nyerere of Tanzania Dies; Preached African Socialism to the World


Julius K. Nyerere, the founding father of Tanzania who used East Africa as
a pulpit from which to spread his socialist philosophy worldwide, died
Thursday in London. He was about 77 and was being treated for leukemia, and
he suffered a major stroke last week.

An uncharacteristically humble and modest national leader whose preferred
honorific was Mwalimu, the Swahili word for teacher, Nyerere led his
country into independence and guided it for nearly three decades.

Idealistic, principled, and some would say naïvely misguided, Nyerere
became one of the most prominent of the first generation of politicians to
head newly independent African states as colonialism ebbed, playing a
leading role in the debate over economic inequalities between the Northern
and Southern Hemispheres.

When he guided what had been the British Trust Territory of Tanganyika into
sovereignty in 1961, he was the youngest of the continent's triumphant
nationalists, a group that included Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Jomo Kenyatta
of Kenya, Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia and Félix Houphouët-Boigny of Ivory Coast.

When he stepped down as President 24 years later, he was only the third
modern African leader to relinquish power voluntarily on a continent that
by then included 50 independent states. He went neither to jail nor into
exile, but to a farm in Butiama, his home village, near the shore of Lake

Nyerere ascended to power without a single shot being fired, becoming Prime
Minister and then President of a land that at the time contained nine
million people affiliated with more than 120 tribes, stretching from Lake
Victoria and Lake Tanganyika down to the Indian Ocean.

It was one of the poorest countries in the world. Its mostly illiterate
citizens were scattered over remote regions, often unable to find a common
language, although they shared ample rigors as they wrested a meager
subsistence from the soil or the sea.

Early Progress, Enduring Debate

By the time Nyerere gave up the last vestiges of political power in 1990,
when he retired as chairman of the single political party, Tanzania had
undergone staggering, often traumatic, changes.

The population had doubled, to more than 20 million. It had merged with
Zanzibar in 1964. Almost 70 percent of the people had been prodded to move
from traditional lands into paternalistically planned villages -- ujamma --
in what became Africa's largest and most debated example of social

After vast investment in education, literacy rose phenomenally, and 83
percent of Tanzanians were able to read and write. Nyerere also succeeded
in promoting Swahili so that it superseded dozens of tribal tongues to
become a true national language.

Some Western countries, notably the Scandinavians, were so impressed that
they provided billions of dollars, making Tanzania one of the 10 largest
recipients of foreign aid per capita.

But it was still one of the poorest countries in the world.

The year he left his party post, the World Bank reported that Tanzanians
were surviving on a per-capita income of $200 a year, and that the economy
had shrunk on average half a percentage point a year between 1965 and 1988.

The debate over Nyerere's leadership extended beyond his tenure, with
academics, politicians and development strategists often dividing sharply
over his legacy.

His domestic and international defenders, generally people of the left,
praised his emphasis on social investments and his egalitarian economic
policies, crediting them with creating a culturally cohesive nation that
avoided ethnic conflict while life expectancy, literacy and access to water

His Tanzanian supporters took pride in Nyerere's reputation as one of the
most prominent proponents of a new economic order that would benefit the
developing south in economic relations with the industrial north.

Nyerere also gained international prestige for his principled support of
the struggles for majority rule in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe,
Mozambique and Angola, and for Tanzania's military counter offensive
against Idi Amin of Uganda, which routed the dictator and sent him into
exile. The third world honored him, and he won the respect of such Western
leaders as Olof Palme, Pierre Trudeau, Willy Brandt and Jimmy Carter.

Still, his critics, who included free-market liberals and conservatives,
condemned him for adopting paternalistic and coercive policies like ujamma.
They deplored his insistence on one-party rule and price controls, which
they said stultified Tanzania's economy, shrank agricultural production,
encouraged corruption and led to vast squandering of foreign aid. . .

(full article at

Louis Proyect

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