Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point

In Depth

On Air

Low Graphics

Thursday, October 14, 1999 Published at 09:08 GMT 10:08 UK

World: Africa

Julius Nyerere: The conscience of Africa

Julius Nyerere: A vision of self-reliance for Africa

The BBC's James Robbins on the life of Julius Nyerere
Dr Julius Nyerere, who has died aged 77, led the former British protectorate of Tanganyika to independence in 1961, becoming its first prime Minister and later its first president.

His country was withdrawn from British rule without violence and with comparatively little racial bitterness. Dr Nyerere acquired in the process the reputation of being a moderate, an idea that was encouraged by his personal modesty and his preference for Western values.

[ image: Independence Day, 1961]
Independence Day, 1961
In both Africa and the West his prestige, when he first became President, stood high. It was seriously shaken, however, early in 1964, by a mutiny of the Tanganyikan Army that spread to other parts of East Africa and was only put down with British help.

Later, as President of Tanzania, formed by the joining of Tanganyika and Zanzibar, Nyerere instituted a one-party system, together with other forms of government that smacked of a police state.

Yet he always defended his position declaring that Tanzanians had far more freedom under his rule than they had ever had under the British, and that the one-party system was vital for stability.

[ image: Nyerere embraced Mao and his theory of collective farming]
Nyerere embraced Mao and his theory of collective farming
Over the years, he became increasingly anti-British and anti-European, and entered into close relations with Beijing. He accepted large numbers of Chinese military instructors and technicians, a development that angered the United States, which cut off aid.

President Nyerere was outspoken in his criticism of British Prime Minister Harold Wilson's government for not taking military action against the Ian Smith regime in Rhodesia when it issued its unilateral declaration of independence in 1965.

[ image: Nyerere urged Harold Wilson to send troops into Rhodesia]
Nyerere urged Harold Wilson to send troops into Rhodesia
In common with other African leaders, he was greatly concerned about the possibility of the UK resuming limited arms sales to South Africa. Nevertheless, by November 1975 he came to London and was accorded the full honours of a state visit.

He was then the longest serving head of a Commonwealth African state, and the UK government regarded him as a major stabilising force in an increasingly turbulent region.

As the crisis over Rhodesia worsened in the late 1970s, President Nyerere played a campaigning role in moves by the so-called frontline states - Tanzania, Zambia, Botswana, Mozambique and Angola - to hasten majority rule.

[ image: His agricultural ideas proved disastrous]
His agricultural ideas proved disastrous
He also came to have an important influence with the nationalist guerrilla groups in what was to become Zimbabwe, and was a key figure in the formulation of the peace plan that was concluded at the Lancaster House conference in London in 1979.

It was in that year that Tanzanian forces invaded Uganda forcing an end to the murderous regime of Idi Amin.

In Tanzania itself, President Nyerere attempted to achieve his goal of a socialist and self-supporting state. In 1967 this policy of self-reliance had been enshrined in the Arusha Declaration (named after the northern Tanzanian town where it was announced). It came to be regarded as one of the most important political documents to have emerged in the developing world.

[ image: Nyerere was respected for his idealism]
Nyerere was respected for his idealism
Yet his policy of "ujama", community-based farming collectives, proved disastrous. The idealism of the grand project was overwhelmed by the lack of individual incentive.

Ten years later, taking stock, President Nyerere issued a remarkably honest booklet which gave as much prominence to the failures as well as the successes.

"There is a time for planting and a time for harvesting", he wrote.

"For us it is still a time for planting".

It was his abject failure at home that will blight the reputation of a man who had gained respect as one of the few African leaders of his time who stood for idealism and principle.

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©

Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia

Relevant Stories

14 Oct 99 | Africa
E-mails tell of Nyerere's honesty and humility

14 Oct 99 | Africa
Text of President Mkapa's address to the nation

14 Oct 99 | Africa
Nyerere: A personal recollection

14 Oct 99 | Africa
Songs of grief for Tanzania's founder

14 Oct 99 | Africa
Tanzania's Nyerere dies

Internet Links

Government of Tanzania

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

In this section

Dam builders charged in bribery scandal

Burundi camps 'too dire' to help

Sudan power struggle denied

Animal airlift planned for Congo

Spy allegations bug South Africa

Senate leader's dismissal 'a good omen'

Tatchell calls for rights probe into Mugabe

Zimbabwe constitution: Just a bit of paper?

South African gays take centre stage

Nigeria's ruling party's convention

UN to return to Burundi

Bissau military hold fire

Nile basin agreement on water cooperation

Congo Brazzaville defends peace initiative

African Media Watch

Liberia names new army chief