Sunday, 26 August 2007


Nyerere in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, June 1991...
Mwalimu Nyerere flanked by assistants, officials and bodyguards asking Freddy Macha about  life in Brazil. Pic by Vantoen Perreira...

When we speak of great Africans and role models, an image of a smiling Nelson Mandela with those troubled but noble, yet kind shining eyes, comes to mind. Nelson Mandela is the chap that everyone wants to take a photo with. Twenty six years in jail for sticking his tongue at racial hatred, then stepping out of jail, waving a hand, smiling, saluting the world, forgiving…
Before Nelson Mandela there was Julius Kambarage Nyerere.
But who is Nyerere?
Many do not recognise the name. Known in his time as "Mwalimu", which means teacher in Swahili, Nyerere was born in 1922 and while still at Makerere University, Uganda, at the tender age of 21, started an association for the improvement of Africans. Those were colonial days. Two years passed. He wrote an essay: “The Freedom of Women.”
His father, a tribal chief, had 22 wives. It was part of the “idea of moving towards freedom theoretically,” he told Dr. Ikaweba Bunting of the Internationalist magazine in one of his last major interviews in 1999.
On July 7th, 1954, Mwalimu Nyerere formed TANU which led Tanzania to independence. Here the idea of using Swahili as a unifying language was hatched and fundamental in keeping the peace as there are more than hundred tribes and languages in Tanzania. “The only tribalism that exists in Tanzania is teasing each other.” Nyerere would say in one of his speeches, decades later. Between all this he found time to translate two works of William Shakespeare (Julius Caesar and Merchants of Venice) to Swahili.

 Then came 1963...
Significant moment.
Nyerere, Haile Sellasie of Ethiopia and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana formed Organisation of African Unity (nowadays known as the African Union) in Addis Ababa.
Those were tough times. Two years before, Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba  had been murdered. A recent book by Ludo de Witte “Assassination of Lumumba” (Verso, 2003) claims that the then USA, President Eisenhower, sanctioned the CIA to hatch a plot to get rid of the Prime Minister.
Soon the same sinister forces toupled Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah in the infamous military coup of 1966. He died, sadly, in exile a few years after, while Emperor Haile Sellasie was assassinated in a 1975 coup.
Nyerere was the only survivor…In 1965 he forged the Union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar islands to form Tanzania. 1967 the Arusha Declaration was made official policy thus turning Tanzania towards self reliance. It’s major aim was to improve the lives of the poor peasants who form more than 80% of the working population through an ideology of “Ujamaa” or familyhood.
By 1979, Nyerere led Tanzanian army to topple dictator Idi Amin of Uganda. Amin’s terror had ended the lives of almost half a million of his own people and forced multitudes into exile. During the short war Nyerere’s own son, a pilot, was amongst the casualties.
Mwalimu Nyerere resigned in 1985 the second leader in Africa (other was Leopold Senghor of Senegal) to relinquish power willingly. He had wanted to do so much earlier but was requested to carry on by the ruling CCM party because of the economic hardships following Idi Amin's war post- 1980.
Nyerere is revered not just for his national contribution but what he did internationally. Between 1963 till the time of Mandela’s freedom from prison, in 1990, Tanzania was home to many refugees from neighbouring countries still under colonial rule or civil trouble. To this day, she still is. UN sources, quoted by New African magazine in 2002 claimed half a million refugees camping peacefully in Tanzania. Speaking at a business dinner in London on May 2005, the former Ambassador of Tanzania to the UK, Mr. Hassan Kibello said there were at least 1.2 million refugees in Tanzania.
After resigning Mwalimu had many respected roles, one being chair of the South to South Commission. That is why he visited Rio De Janeiro.
This was an especially difficult time for Brazilians. A corrupt President Collor de Mello was in power. The following year Collor was to be impeached.
Mwalimu insisted on relations between Southern countries, by showing us a book that had just come out. The publication, “Challenge to South”, he promised, would soon be in various languages.
“Brazil is a South country. She should not only co-operate with the United Sates (which is wealthy) but take a leading position within Latin America; and also other parts developing countries, Angola, India, Mozambique, China…There is very little trade between South countries…”
During the question and answer session someone wondered how come Tanzania under Mwalimu had only one party? And what did he think of the recent surge of “multi-parties” in Africa?
Mwalimu explained:
“Democracy is not a bottle of Coca-Cola which you can import. Democracy should develop according to that particular country. I never went to a country, saw many parties and assumed that it is democratic. You cannot define democracy purely in terms of multi-partist parties…”
Speaking immediately, Secretary Abdeas Nascimento, added, that “there are thirty parties in Brazil, but no democracy!”
A big applause was heard from the audience.
Few moments after the speeches I went over to Mwalimu.
“What are you doing here?” He chuckled. He had not expected to meet any Tanzanian in Brazil. At close range Mwalimu was like a regular guy, no airs, extremely warm, relaxed, very welcoming, no arrogance, no intimidation. They call such individuals charismatic. Meeting them is like winning the lottery. You feel refreshed for a long, long time.
As we chatted local Brazilian photographer, Vantoen Perreira, snapped pictures.Eight years went by.
I was part of a long queue of mourners paying tribute to Mwalimu Nyerere’s coffin at London’s Westminster Cathedral. He had died of leukemia aged 77.
The mainstream press in the West did not say much. It made me wonder why do Africa’s bad guys get so much publicity while the good ones are unmentioned? There were brief shots from CNN and SKY plus a reasonable long narration by Euro-News television.
“He was untainted by corruption…the only African leader…” something of the sort.
A unique decent report was by Channel Four’s Jon Snow, who remembered interviewing Mwalimu back in the 1970’s at the height of the Southern Rhodesian (now Zimbabwe) conflict… “He tried to help his own people,” Snow recalled , “a rarity amongst African peers.”
I kept wondering, meantime, if Nyerere’s demise had been reported in the Brazilian media; and if so, by who. I also asked myself… how many from that day at Estaçio in June 1991, Rio De Janeiro, were aware of this remarkable man’s passing?


Jeff Msangi said...

I never get tired to read anything about Nyerere.This one was indeed enlightining.One thing that I did not know is the issue of Nyerere loosing his own son in the war against Iddi Amin.What was his son's name?

dara said...

very enlightening. and much more interesting than anything i would ever read in an encyclopedia.

freddy macha said...

Thanks for your comments, Dara and Jeff. There is more coming on the subject. Don't miss this space.

ndesanjo said...

What was Nyerere saying to you while the photo was taken?

A great piece about a great man.

charahani said...

I love the great man and i wish i would have atleast 1/10th of his wisdom, iam tying to read and reread his works and i never get tired.

freddy macha said...

What was Nyerere saying?
The man was surprised to see a Tanzanian in Brazil. He was asking what i was doing here, at the same time, like a typical politician he was aware of those around us, bodyguards, other delegates and officials (most who did not speak Kiswahili) so he was making jokes. It reminded me when i was a young reporter in the 70's and he would crack jokes around the media. He was always in sync with whoever was around him, aware, modest, easy going. Like great individuals in history they make big things, huge moments appear simple almost vague. Think of Mandela today. Charisma. No airs, no gimmicks. Easy. It was like meeting a friend.

Ludovick Simon Mwijage said...

It's a great site. Whatever views Mr. Nyerere had on multi-paryism, was not a justification for usurping sovereign authority and instituting a regime of personal rule. Democracy, is not quantified by views espoused by an individual ruler. Rather, it is defined by cherished (democratic)principles and precepts which aspire to genuine democratic practice. These, derive their binding force from international instruments.

Chemi Che-Mponda said...


Thanks for this wonderful article. It paints a great picture of Mwalimu and his thinking.