Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere
There was a time, following the fall of President Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana in 1966, when it seemed that Dar es Salaam would succeed Accra as the Mecca of radical African and irredentist black political thinkers. Spared at last of the overwhelming magic of Nkrumah’s oratory power, Tanzania under its President, Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere, fired the imagination loaded with it a distinct flavour of the page from the Africa of yore.
Like all great men, Mwalimu was a man of many legends. He minced no words when it came to discussing issues like Socialism, Capitalism, Christianity, Self Reliance, the Party State or Human Rights. What was his particular stand on all these?
Indeed, we are very rich in literature on the subjects, some of which were authored by Mwalimu himself. But suffice it to dwell just on some percepts from interviews by some international journalists to know who Mwalimu was and what he stood for.
In an interview with Peter Enahoro, Editor-In-Chief of “Africa Now” Magazine in 1983, Nyerere is quoted tracing his background from a very poor rural area in Musoma. He says, “In spite of this nonsense of being son of a chief, I put on my first clothes the day I was taken to school at the age of 12 years”.
Mwalimu notes that there was no difference between himself and other boys in the village. So the atmosphere in which he was brought up was one of basic rural equality.
He had once disclosed to Ad’Obe of the “African Forum” Magazine is 1991, about his childhood family status saying: “My father had 22 wives. My mother was the fifth. By Christian rules I’m illegitimate, and even under Islam my father had gone beyond what was allowed”.
Mwalimu favoured simplicity and hated too much protocol. He had a serious aversion to wealth. On this he says, “I am basically a peasant and a socialist, which carries with it some element of radicalism. No body can be rich through his own work. No millionaire is a millionaire through his own work. He has exploited others”.
Mwalimu notes that exploitation occurs at the point of relations of production. He jabs: “Just take one of these people who brag: ‘This is my work’, and give him an island for himself and see if he can become rich. People become rich through exploiting others always”.
As to why people want to exploit others, Mwalimu says: “Because what they really want is power”.
Mwalimu once told an international gathering that the acquisition of power was not intended to be the use of wealth. “Wealth is intended to feed you, to give you clothing, to give you shelter, to give you good health, to give you good education” he said.
“Wealth was never intended to give power to one person over another. But what do you want to be a millionaire for, if all you want is food and clothing and shelter”, he asked?
Mwalimu did not hate all rich people as some people may think; what Mwalimu did not want to see is wealth being used for the imposition of poverty. “So I say, I have no aversion to a rich man because as far as I know some rich people could be very saintly, could be very good people”, he affirmed.
Mwalimu said emphatically that he did not need wealth: “What do I need wealth for? I have survived for all these years, I do not know how many more years I still have to go”, he posted.
And like the Biblical Job who saw his wealth wither away, yet remained a happy and dependent on the will of God, Mwalimu said, “….But I came to this world naked, I’ll go back naked. I do not see why I should be so worried about wealth. I am working for my people, what do I want wealth for?”
Mwalimu died poor yet a very happy man. Who among our leadership today is prepared to emulate him and his ways?
That was Mwalimu’s position on Socialism or “Ujamaa”. Mwalimu began thinking about socialism during his student days in Britain, but he was never a Marxist, partly because Karl Marx was influenced by Darwinist racist theories that relegated African people to second-rate human beings.
He also did not import European socialism because it derived its arguments from class conflicts. Mwalimu’s well known argument for African socialism (Ujamaa) was summed up thus: “For a Third World country, once you have accepted the idea of Socialism, there is the problem of succumbing to the ideology of evolution”.
“Marx says backward countries go through stages of development, with one stage leading to the other, and Socialism is the product of developed capitalism……..Our aim was to destroy backwardness while preserving the community sense”, Mwalimu said.
Mwalimu was a frequent Churchgoer. There was a time when some wondered how he could reconcile that with his radicalism in a world where radicalism seemed to look askance at organized worship, even to the concept of God.
To his doubters, Mwalimu was quick to disarm them in a prophetic presentation. He said, like all revolutionaries, Jesus roused bitter opposition; and the worst clash was with the rulers whose authority he challenged: “No-one can be His disciple who does not hate his father and mother (Luke 14: 26) – for he is come to set fire to the earth; he comes not to bring peace but the sword” (Luke 12: 49 – 53).
By further inference, Mwalimu seemed to remind his fellow Christians that on the very eve of the Crucification, Jesus told his followers to sell their tunics and buy swords. Indeed, it is hard to interpret these words in a pure pacific vein but in a radicalistic one.
However, Mwalimu’s position was much clear on this. He positioned: “If I had feared radicalism under the pretext of religion, I could have not led a liberation movement (TANU) for our people. It would have been an insult to Christianity and Christ, who, himself was a revolutionary who stood odd against the Scribes and the Pharisees, by challenging them to rise up from the quagmire of human injustice”.
Christianity developed during the Roman Empire was accused of radicalism. Actually, the first Christians were accused of “Communism”.
Mwalimu was once asked whether it was an embarrassment to Africa, that none of the two big religions – Christianity and Islam originated from Africa, and he quipped in a philosophical – theological way:
“People who want to debate with God can call and debate it with God. I am a Christian, I cannot have a political discussion with God and say: “Why not Africa?” “God might say: What do you mean? I have called Jesus out of Africa. First he fled into Egypt and it was from Egypt. He came back and began his mission”, Mwalimu argued.
“There is also a story”, Mwalimu continued, that the Prophet Mohamed ran into trouble and went to Ethiopia in Africa……Christianity and Islam have had a tremendous influence on the world, but every major influence does not have to originate in Africa”.
Mwalimu did not admit failure of Ujamaa. He said, “What is failure? ….the fact that I have a severe balance of payment problem – so what?….….In that case America’s capitalist policies have failed and that is why they have nearly 3.5m unemployed inspite of the gold and the oil and the inheritance of the empire”.
However, Mwalimu was quick to admit the obvious: “It is true, capitalism is extremely dynamic and one reason why it is so dynamic is because it is very ruthless and that ruthlessness feeds on itself”.
But Mwalimu was always quick too to identify the evils of capitalism: “Capitalism will throw people into the streets……To the entrepreneur, he wants the freedom to exploit, the incentive is tremendous. Give him labour and he will push; unlike the manager of parastatal organization. So I accept this is true”.
Yet Mwalimu did not believe that Socialism breeds poverty: “The incentive to exploit others is very different from the incentive to develop yourself within the limits of a fair society. ….we want to build a society of equals, a civilized society, given time”.
Mwalimu was against blind imitation in the mode of development when the situation did not warrant so:
“Look how they live in the United States. If you admire them at the expense of your own people then pack and go and live like they live. Here you should look at the village in Tanzania; do not look at the two cars and the fridges and all those things in the capitalist countries, in the exploiting countries; they are still exploiting us now”, he cautioned.
“You should not look at them and say that is what we want to be. Apart from being immoral, it is ridiculous”, he remarked.
Mwalimu was sick at heart when he discovered that corruption in governance was taking the form of privatization of the state itself. The party which was supposed to speak for the weaker was now existing for the purpose of elections only. He said, “A weak party breeds a weak government” (Chama legelege huzaa Serikali legelege). And on retirement from the Presidency he went back to the village to strengthen the party.
That is where he discovered that the party had shifted from being a party of members to being a mere party of leaders. He henceforth initiated the debate on the essence of multipartism in Tanzania.
Mwalimu is quoted saying: “Ideologically, I’m a one party man. But I have introduced the debate on multipartism because the idea that it is taboo to question our Constitution is undemocratic…. I mean I cannot accept this…. Now I am saying if these fellows (the people) want to start a multiparty system, then let them start it…”
Indeed, what is taking place now in our midst in terms of governance is not what Mwalimu advocated for. Our desire now is no longer the reformation of the society for better, but to join a rat-race for material wealth.
Mwalimu is no longer with us. Indeed, he came on earth naked and returned to the earth naked, as he had earlier vowed to; yet his memories live.
Indeed, we have become a gullible and confused lot; we fail to remember the past grim colonial days from which Mwalimu liberated us and are condemned to repeat it. We lack national feeling which gives birth to patriotism, heroic sacrifice and dedication.
Real leadership has passed into the hands of selfish elites who pretend not to understand the problems of the people, but are also allergic to them. A complex of network of corruption is organized with their national and foreign mentors.
They squeeze the poor to enrich a few capitalists. From being the servant of the people, they now constitute themselves their masters, and pursue their selfish and parochial aims to avoid “going back naked” as Mwalimu did.
To these political elites, democracy has become a design to capture the attention of uniformed multitude and push their way to the top of political ladder. Under this condition democracy is made to work at best for the myopic interest of the elite.
It is only when leaders regarded themselves as servants of the people, and the people as workers for social good, then can democracy work for the generality of the populace.