Julius Nyerere Underreported Panafrican Legacy

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Aug 31

Julius Nyerere Underreported Panafrican Legacy

Posted by: msiaclark in 2012 Blogs

Tagged in: Africa

Msia Kibona Clark is an Assistant Professor of Pan African Studies at California State University, Los Angeles. Originally from Tanzania, she has a Phd in African Studies from Howard University.

Julius Kambarage Nyerere, the first President of the United Republic of Tanzania, was one of Africa’s giants. He stood amongst leaders like Kwame Nkrumah, Amilcar Cabral, and Patrice Lumumba as a revolutionary thinker who helped lead his nation to political independence. Nyerere was known for many accomplishments, but his two biggest legacies may have been in the areas of Pan Africanism on the international front, and nationhood building domestically. As a Pan Africanist, Nyerere took African liberation seriously. Under Nyerere, Tanzania was the head of the Frontline States (FLS); which was formed in 1970 to bring about majority rule in southern Africa, and to support liberation movements in the region. The FLS had its roots in the Pan-African Freedom Movement for East, Central and Southern Africa (PAFMECSA), which was formed in Tanzania (then Tanganyika) in 1958. Members of PAFMECSA would go on to form the FLS in the 1970s.

Nyerere provided land and resources to the African National Congress (ANC), the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU), the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), the South West African People’s Organisation (SWAPO), FRELIMO and the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). For many years South African exiles worked and organized in Tanzania. Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the armed wing of the ANC, set up training camps in Tanzania in the 1960s. Many also arrived in Tanzania to study and work at the ANC’s Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College (SOMAFCO).

Elsewhere in Africa… after the assassination of Patrice Lumumba in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), then Zaire, Nyerere assisted Che Guevara and the Cuban government’s efforts as they used Tanzania to enter the DRC to aid in the rebellion in that country. Closer to home Nyerere was crucial in forming the East African Community, with Uganda and Kenya. Later Tanzania ousted Idi Amin from power in Uganda after Amin bombed western Tanzania. Nyerere’s efforts led to the end of Amin’s oppressive regime in Uganda.

Under Nyerere the city of Arusha would take a central role in East African politics. It was where Nyerere and others would form the Tanganyika African National Union in 1954, and it went on to be the site where Nyerere wrote the Arusha Declaration (detailed later). It is also where numerous peace talks took place, including talks around the conflicts in Burundi and Rwanda. The city would later host the International Criminal Tribunal for the Rwanda Genocide, serve as the headquarters for the East African Community, and be the site of the Nyerere Centre for Peace Research. A legacy of Nyerere’s Pan-African ideals, Tanzania’s open door policy with concern to refugees has meant Tanzania has at many times hosted Africa’s largest refugee population, welcoming refugees from Burundi, The DRC, Mozambique, and Rwanda.

Nyerere would also welcome the voluntary arrival of many from the Diaspora and around Africa, including those that arrived for the 1974 Pan African Congress held in Dar es Salaam. Nyerere’s Tanzania inspired a vibrant scene on the campus of the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) (with the motto Hekima Ni Uhuru/"Wisdom is Freedom"), where activists, militants, and intellectuals gathered to exchange ideas. In the 1960s and 1970s UDSM was THE hotbed of intellectual activity in East Africa. Mahmoud Mamdani, Claude Ake, Boutros Ghali, Yoweri Museveni, Walter Rodney, Issa Shivji, and John Garang were among the many who spent time on campus in the 1960s and 1970s.

“Haraka haraka, haina baraka”, a Swahili saying that loosely translates to “rushing will bring you no blessing”. In the Pan African movement much is known of Nyerere’s differences with Kwame Nkrumah over the pace and trajectory of Pan African unification. Issa Shivji (2009) recently pointed out that the differences between the two were more rooted in their political evolutions. Nyerere’s ideological influences were born out of his experiences in the more moderate political movements and communities in 1940s and 50s England. According to Shivji “his anti-colonialism was moderate, his approach to change gradualist”. Kwame Nkrumah, on the other hand, came out of the more radical environment of the political movements in the African American community and through his contact with African American and West Indian Pan Africanists. I would also add that Nyerere’s approach may have been more consistent with patterns found in Tanzanian political and cultural institutions, where conservatism and moderation are often valued when it comes to fundamental change.

Nationally, Nyerere is a much beloved figure. Nyerere helped form a national identity among Tanzanians, who belong to 120 different ethnic groups. He did this in large part by making Swahili, an African language, the national and official language. The promotion of Swahili because Nyerere wanted to forge a united Tanzanian identity that would surpass ethnic divisions. He further implanted this national identity by often sending government employees and students to posts outside of their home region.
Nyerere, a member of one Tanzania’s smallest ethnic groups, the Zanaki, once said “I’m a good Mzanaki, but I won’t advocate a Kizanaki-based political party. ... So I’m a Tanzanian, and of course I am Mzanaki; politically I’m a Tanzanian, culturally I’m Mzanaki” (Shivji, 2011).

One of Nyerere’s biggest achievements is the Arusha Declaration, one of the most important political documents in Africa’s history. C. L. R. James once described the Arusha Declaration as “the highest stage of resistance ever reached by revolting Blacks” (Bunting, 1999). The Arusha Declaration, or the Policy on Socialism and Self Reliance, was written in 1967. The Declaration outlines Tanzania’s model of African Socialism, as well as the basic rights of citizens and the duties of both citizens and government to each other.

Economic justice was a core principle of the Declaration, which states “That it is the responsibility of the State to intervene actively in the economic life of the Nation so as to ensure the well being of all citizens and so as to prevent the exploitation of one person by another or one group by another, and so as to prevent the accumulation of wealth to an extent which is inconsistent with a classless society”. The document put limits on the excesses of political leaders and warns of the dangers of external aid. The document put forth that control of the major means of production and exchange should be under the control of the peasants and the workers.

In conclusion, like many independence leaders, Nyerere’s ideas and policies have been largely forgotten by younger generations of Africans and discarded by new generations of African leaders. For Nyerere, however, his role in southern African liberation remains and is secured in part by Tanzania’s continued connections with southern Africa and the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Tanzania has also continued Nyerere’s commitment to liberation and Pan Africanism in its hosting of refugees from the region and regional peace talks. Nationally, while many of the tenets of the Arusha Declaration have given way to greed and corruption, it remains an important historical documentation in Africa’s history. Swahili, however, does remain the official and national language of the country, and Tanzanians have largely maintained the primacy of a national identity over ethnic identities. One can still travel to any region or district in Tanzania and communicate in Swahili, an African language. The importance of this in the solidification of a national identity cannot be underestimated. Thanks to the contribution of Nyerere, Swahili is one of the most widely spoken languages throughout Africa. Thus, it could be the lingua franca that would help to recreate the linguistic and cultural identity of Africans as part of the

Panafrican construction.

To the world Julius Nyerere was a Pan Africanist and freedom fighter, who played an important role in African liberation struggles. At home, he was Mwalimu (teacher) and Baba wa Taifa (father of the nation); a visionary who was responsible for solidifying a unified Tanzanian identity.


"Pan-African Freedom Movement of East and Central Africa (PAFMECA)." 1962. International Organization 16 (2, Africa and International Organization): pp. 446-448. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2705401.
Bunting, Ikaweba. 1999. The Heart of Africa. Interview with Julius Nyerere on Anti-Colonialism. New Internationalist Magazine, I. 309, January-February 1999
Cilliers, Jakkie. 1999. Building Security in Southern Africa: An Update on the Evolving Architecture. Pretoria: Institute for Security Studies (ISS).
Morrow, S., B. Maaba, and L. Pulumani. 2005. Education in Exile: SOMAFCO, the African National Congress School in Tanzania, 1978-1992. Human Sciences Research Council.
Shivji, Issa G. 2009. Pan-Africanism in Mwalimu Nyerere’s Thought: Being both King and Philosopher. Pambazuka. http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/comment/56108
Shivji, Issa G. 2011. Nyerere, Nationalism and Pan-Africanism. Pambazuka. http://pambazuka.org/en/category/features/71793
Books by Julius Nyerere
Freedom and Unity, Our Leadership and the Destiny of Tanzania, Ujamaa: Essays on Socialism
Freedom and Development, Africa's Freedom, Arusha Declaration Ten Years After, On Socialism, Crusade for Liberation, and Man and Development.


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