Nyerere - the passing of a giant.


We dedicate this month's column to one of Africa's greatest leaders, Mwalimu (teacher in Kiswahili) Julius Kambarage Nyerere who died of leukemia on 14 October, 1999. Although he had given up the Presidency of his beloved Tanzania 14 years ago, Mwalimu Nyerere's stature as an international peace broker was such that he dwarfed many current African Heads of State.

His passing was mourned by the whole world with fulsome obituaries appearing in newspapers from Beijing to Seattle. His death unleashed an unprecedented outpouring of mourning not only in his native Tanzania but across the east and southern African regions. His funeral resembled a Who's Who of the world's most powerful and influential individuals.

On a continent where the passing of a long entrenched leader is often cause for rejoicing rather than sorrow, why is the death of Nyerere felt so keenly and regarded as such an unmitigated loss? What was so special about him?

To answer this question is to try and solve the enigma of Julius Nyerere. As a leader, he was loved by his people right up to the time of this death; yet his economic policies were regarded as complete failures. He was a socialist who looked to Chairman Mao for inspiration; yet he was the darling of the Western world. He was solidly against handouts and promoted self reliance; yet Tanzania received more aid per head than any other African country. He nationalised most foreign businesses; yet he was given the red carpet treatment whenever he visited metropolitan capitals. He ruled through a one-party system; yet he was regarded as the premier democrat in Africa.

Despite all the contradictions, Nyerere remained not only an African but a world hero. Nyerere's greatest quality, a quality sadly denied most of his contemporaries, was his unshakeable honesty. He was a true leader. He put the interest of his people well above his own. His only interest in life was to serve the people to the best of his ability. He made mistakes - who doesn't?- but his intentions were only of the best.

He used the power entrusted to him wisely and for the purpose it was intended. He did not allow power to use him.

Such people are very rare. This is what the world recognised in Julius Nyerere and this is what the world saluted.

One of the things that caused him immense pain throughout his life was corruption. He could never understand how anybody, especially Africans who had sacrificed so much to regain their dignity, could allow themselves to...

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