Julius Kambarage Nyerere was Tanzania's first president, anti-colonial activist, politician, and political theorist. He is perhaps one of Africa's least loved and recognized anti-colonial heroes - something which many critics say is as a result of his personal ideologies and face-off with Kwame Nkrumah, who naturally has a bigger fan-base within the African continent.
Love or hate Nyerere, it is difficult not to admit that he meant good for his people and the continent in general. He also deserves some accolades for his contribution and commitment to the development and recognition of Kiswahili as a lugha ya wanyonge.
It is not news that Nyerere’s personal contribution to Kiswahili enabled the language to overcome some critical years when and where the political climate was much in favor of consolidating the position of English in Tanganyika/Tanzania. Today, it is obvious that Kiswahili has a strong base in the East African country as well as in neighboring countries like Kenya.
Nyerere, like every man, has his faults and notably among them was his pragmatism and unwillingness to accept change. Perhaps his training and practice as a teacher contributed to shaping this character. He understood the linguistic situation in his country and knew its impact in helping to shape the young nation. This is not to say however that his bias to the English language and his approach in demanding to make Kiswahili a medium of instruction in secondary and tertiary institutions are completely justifiable.
We must not fail to accept the fact that shortcomings are of very minor importance when considering Nyerere’s overall personal impact in the fight against colonialism and implementation of an African language policy in Tanzania.
Julius Nyerere is famous for preaching African socialism. Influenced by the ideas of African socialism in 1967, Nyerere issued what would later become the Arusha Declaration, in which he outlined his vision of Ujamaa (translated to mean “familyhood” or “socialism").
But again, his pragmatic attitude would come to do him very little favors. Not willing to listen to others or heed to advise, the Ujamaa concept which encapsulated his African socialism concept did not deliver the much-needed transformation which he promised.
Rather, it led to economic decline, systematic corruption, and unavailability of goods.
In the 1970s, Nyerere ordered his security forces to forcibly transfer much of the population to collective farms and, because of opposition from villagers, often burned villages down.
In 1985, after over than two decades in power, he handed over power to his hand-picked successor, Ali Hassan Mwinyi. At this time, Tanzania was one of the poorest and most foreign aid-dependent countries in the world.
Till date, Nyerere remains a controversial figure in Tanzania.
Header Image Credit: Zimbabwe Today