One of Africa’s most respected figures, Julius Nyerere (1922 – 1999) was a politician of principle and intelligence. Known as Mwalimu or teacher he had a vision of education and social action that was rich with possibility.
Julius Kambarage Nyerere was born on April 13, 1922 in Butiama, on the eastern shore of lake Victoria in north west Tanganyika. His father was the chief of the small Zanaki tribe. He was 12 before he started school (he had to walk 26 miles to Musoma to do so). Later, he transferred for his secondary education to the Tabora Government Secondary School. His intelligence was quickly recognized by the Roman Catholic missionaries who taught him. He went on, with their help, to train as a teacher at Makerere University in Kampala (Uganda).
On gaining his Certificate, he taught for three years and then went on a government scholarship to study history and political economy for his Master of Arts at the University of Edinburgh (he was the first Tanzanian to study at a British university and only the second to gain a university degree outside Africa. In Edinburgh, partly through his encounter with Fabian thinking, Nyerere began to develop his particular vision of connecting socialism with African communal living.
On his return to Tanganyika, Nyerere was forced by the colonial authorities to make a choice between his political activities and his teaching. He was reported as saying that he was a schoolmaster by choice and a politician by accident. Working to bring a number of different nationalist factions into one grouping he achieved this in 1954 with the formation of TANU (the Tanganyika African National Union). He became President of the Union (a post he held until 1977), entered the Legislative Council in 1958 and became chief minister in 1960. A year later Tanganyika was granted internal self-government and Nyerere became premier. Full independence came in December 1961 and he was elected President in 1962.
Nyerere’s integrity, ability as a political orator and organizer, and readiness to work with different groupings was a significant factor in independence being achieved without bloodshed. In this he was helped by the co-operative attitude of the last British governor – Sir Richard Turnbull. In 1964, following a coup in Zanzibar (and an attempted coup in Tanganyika itself) Nyerere negotiated with the new leaders in Zanzibar and agreed to absorb them into the union government. The result was the creation of the Republic of Tanzania.
As President, Nyerere had to steer a difficult course. By the late 1960s Tanzania was one of the world’s poorest countries. Like many others it was suffering from a severe foreign debt burden, a decrease in foreign aid, and a fall in the price of commodities. His solution, the collectivization of agriculture, villigization (see Ujamma below) and large-scale nationalization was a unique blend of socialism and communal life. The vision was set out in the Arusha Declaration of 1967 (reprinted in Nyerere 1968):
The objective of socialism in the United Republic of Tanzania is to build a society in which all members have equal rights and equal opportunities; in which all can live in peace with their neighbours without suffering or imposing injustice, being exploited, or exploiting; and in which all have a gradually increasing basic level of material welfare before any individual lives in luxury. (Nyerere 1968: 340)
The focus, given the nature of Tanzanian society, was on rural development. People were encouraged (sometimes forced) to live and work on a co-operative basis in organized villages or ujamaa (meaning ‘familyhood’ in Kishwahili). The idea was to extend traditional values and responsibilities around kinship to Tanzania as a whole.
Julius Nyerere on the Arusha Declaration
It is particularly important that we should now understand the connection between freedom, development, and discipline, because our national policy of creating socialist villages throughout the rural areas depends upon it. For we have known for a very long time that development had to go on in the rural areas, and that this required co-operative activities by the people . . .
When we tried to promote rural development in the past, we sometimes spent huge sums of money on establishing a Settlement, and supplying it with modern equipment, and social services, as well as often providing it with a management hierarchy . . . All too often, we persuaded people to go into new settlements by promising them that they could quickly grow rich there, or that Government would give them services and equipment which they could not hope to receive either in the towns or in their traditional farming places. In very few cases was any ideology involved; we thought and talked in terms of greatly increased output, and of things being provided for the settlers.
What we were doing, in fact, was thinking of development in terms of things, and not of people. . . As a result, there have been very many cases where heavy capital investment has resulted in no increase in output where the investment has been wasted. And in most of the officially sponsored or supported schemes, the majority of people who went to settle lost their enthusiasm, and either left the scheme altogether, or failed to carry out the orders of the outsiders who were put in charge — and who were not themselves involved in the success or failure of the project.
It is important, therefore, to realize that the policy of ujamaa Vijijini isnot intended to be merely a revival of the old settlement schemes under another name. The Ujamaa village is a new conception, based on the post Arusha Declaration understanding that what we need to develop is people, not things, and that people can only develop themselves . . .
Ujamaa villages are intended to be socialist organizations created by the people, and governed by those who live and work in them. They cannot be created from outside, nor governed from outside. No one can be forced into an Ujamaa village, and no official — at any level — can go and tell the members of an Ujamaa village what they should do together, and what they should continue to do as individual farmers . . .
It is important that these things should be thoroughly understood. It is also important that the people should not be persuaded to start an Ujamaa village by promises of the things which will be given to them if they do so. A group of people must decide to start an Ujamaa village because they have understood that only through this method can they live and develop in dignity and freedom, receiving the full benefits of their co-operative endeavour . . .
Unless the purpose and socialist ideology of an Ujamaa village is understood by the members from the beginning — at least to some extent it will not survive the early difficulties. For no-one can guarantee that there will not be a crop failure in the first or second year — there might be a drought or floods. And the greater self-discipline which is necessary when working in a community will only be forthcoming if the people understand what they are doing and why . . .
Nyerere on The Arusha Declaration - Excerpts from J.K. Nyerere,Freedom and Development (Government Printer, Dar-es-Salaam, (no date) Reprinted in Freedom and Development (Oxford University Press, 1973). Copyright retained by the President.
Within the Declaration there was a commitment to raising basic living standards (and an opposition to conspicuous consumption and large private wealth). The socialism he believed in was ‘people-centred’. Humanness in its fullest sense rather than wealth creation must come first. Societies become better places through the development of people rather than the gearing up of production. This was a matter that Nyerere took to be important both in political and private terms. Unlike many other politicians, he did not amass a large fortune through exploiting his position.
The policy met with significant political resistance (especially when people were forced into rural communes) and little economic success. Nearly 10 million peasants were moved and many were effectively forced to give up their land. The idea of collective farming was less than attractive to many peasants. A large number found themselves worse off. Productivity went down. However, the focus on human development and self-reliance did bring some success in other areas notably in health, education and in political identity.
As Yusuf Kassam (1995: 250) has noted, Nyerere’s educational philosophy can be approached under two main headings: education for self-reliance; and adult education, lifelong learning and education for liberation. His interest in self-reliance shares a great deal with Gandhi’s approach. There was a strong concern to counteract the colonialist assumptions and practices of the dominant, formal means of education. He saw it as enslaving and oriented to ‘western’ interests and norms. Kassim (1995: 251) sums up his critique of the Tanzanian (and other former colonies) education system as follows:
Nyerere set out his vision in ‘Education for Self Reliance’ (reprinted in Nyerere 1968). Education had to work for the common good, foster co-operation and promote equality. Further, it had to address the realities of life in Tanzania. The following changes were proposed:
Judged today, the educational reforms met with some success and some failure. The policies were never fully implemented and had to operate against a background of severe resource shortage and a world orientation to more individualistic and capitalist understandings of the relation of education to production. However, primary education became virtually universal; curriculum materials gained distinctively Tanzanian flavours; and schooling used local language forms (Samoff 1990).
In the Declaration of Dar es Salaam Julius Nyerere made a ringing call for adult education to be directed at helping people to help themselves and for it to approached as part of life: ‘integrated with life and inseparable from it’. For him adult education had two functions. To:
Julius Nyerere – The Declaration of Dar – es – Salaam
[Page 27] Man can only liberate himself or develop himself. He cannot be liberated or developed by another. For Man makes himself. It is his ability to act deliberately, for a self-determined purpose, which distinguishes him from the other animals. The expansion of his own consciousness, and therefore of his power over himself, his environment, and his society, must therefore ultimately be what we mean by development.
So development is for Man, by Man, and of Man. The same is true of education. Its purpose is the liberation of Man from the restraints and limitations of ignorance and dependency. Education has to increase men’s physical and mental freedom to increase their control over themselves, their own lives, [page 28] the environment in which they live. The ideas imparted by education, or released in the mind through education, should therefore be liberating ideas; the skills acquired by education should be liberating skills. Nothing else can properly be called education. Teaching which induces a slave mentality or a sense of impotence is not education at all — it is attack on the minds of men.
This means that adult education has to be directed at helping men to develop themselves. It has to contribute to an enlargement of Man’s ability in every way. In particular it has to help men to decide for themselves —in co-operation—what development is. It must help men to think clearly; it must enable them to examine the possible alternative courses of action; to make a choice between those alternatives in keeping with their own purposes; and it must equip them with the ability to translate their decisions into reality.
The personal and physical aspects of development cannot be separated. It is in the process of deciding for himself what is development, and deciding in what direction it should take his society, and in implementing those decisions, that Man develops himself. For man does not develop himself in a vacuum, in isolation from his society and his environment; and he certainly cannot be developed by others. Man’s consciousness is developed in the process of thinking, and deciding and of acting. His capacity is developed in the process of doing things.
But doing things means co-operating with others, for in isolation Man is virtually helpless physically, and stultified mentally. Education for liberation is therefore also education for co-operation among men, because it is in co-operation with others that Man liberates himself from the constraints of nature, and also those imposed upon him by his fellow-men. Education is thus intensely personal. In the sense that it has to be a personal experience— no one cam have his consciousness developed by proxy. But it is also am activity of great social significance, because the man whom education liberates is a man in society, and his society will be affected by the change which education creates in him.
There is another aspect to this. A Man learns because he wants to do something. And once he has started along this road of developing his capacity he also learns because he wants to be; to be a more conscious and understanding person. Learning has not liberated a man if all he learns to want is a certificate [page 29] on his wall, and the reputation of being a ‘learned person’— a possessor of knowledge. For such a desire is merely another aspect of the disease of the acquisitive society – the accumulation of goods for the sake of accumulating then. The accumulation of knowledge or, worse still, the accumulation of pieces of paper which represent a kind of legal tender for such knowledge, has nothing to do with development.
So if adult education is to contribute to development, it must be a part of life — integrated with life and inseparable from it. It is not something which can be put into a box and taken out for certain periods of the day or week—or certain periods of a life. And it cannot be imposed: every learner is ultimately a volunteer, because, however much teaching he is given, only he can learn.
Further, adult education is not something which can deal with just “agriculture”, or “health”, or “literacy”, or “mechanical skill”, etc. All these separate branches of education are related to the total life a man is living, and to the man he is and will become. Learning how best to grow soy-beans is of little use to a man if it is not combined with learning about nutrition and/or the existence of a market for the beans. This means that adult education will promote changes in men, and in society. And it means that adult education should promote change, at the same time as it assists men to control both the change which they induce, and that which is forced upon them by the decisions of other men or the cataclysms of nature. Further, it means that adult education encompasses the whole of life, and must build upon what already exists.
Extract from Julius K. Nyerere ‘”Development is for Man, by Man, and of Man”: The Declaration of Dar es Salaam’ in Budd L. Hall and J. Roby Kidd (eds.) (1978) Adult Education: A design for action, Oxford: Pergamon.
Nyerere’s view of adult education stretched far beyond the classroom. It is ‘anything which enlarges men’s understanding, activates them, helps them to make their own decisions, and to implement those decisions for themselves’ (Nyerere 1978: 30). It includes ‘agitation’ and ‘organization and mobilization’. There are two types of educator involved:
Adult education, for Nyerere, doesn’t have a beginning or an end. It should not be pressed into self-contained compartments. Rather we need to think of lifelong learning. Living is learning and learning is about trying to live better. ‘We must accept that education and working are both parts of living and should continue from birth until we die (1973: 300-301).
In terms of method, two aspects stand out:
[B]y drawing out the things the learner already knows, and showing their relevance to the new thing which has to be learnt, the teacher has done three things. He has built up the self-confidence of the man who wants to learn, by showing him that he is capable of contributing. He has demonstrated the relevance of experience and observation as a method of learning when combined with thought and analysis. And he ha shown what I might call the “mutuality” of learning—that is, that by sharing our knowledge we extend the totality of our understanding and our control over our lives. (1978: 33)
The teacher of adults is , for Nyerere, a leader – ‘a guide along a path which all will travel together’ (ibid.: 34).
In practical terms this approach proved successful. Mass literacy campaigns were initiated and carried through (for example, between 1975 and 1977 illiteracy fell from 39 to 27 per cent – by 1986 it was at 9.6 per cent); and various health and agricultural programmes were mounted e.g the ‘Man is Health’ campaign in 1973, and ‘Food is Life’ (1975) (Mushi and Bwatwa 1998). Adult education initiatives have made a significant contribution to mobilising people for development (Kassam 1979).
A committed pan-Africanist, Nyerere provided a home for a number of African liberation movements including the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan African Congress (PAC) of South Africa, Frelimo when seeking to overthrow Portuguese rule in Mozambique, Zanla (and Robert Mugabe) in their struggle to unseat the white regime in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). He also had some political differences with the regime of Idi Amin in Uganda. Following a border invasion by Amin in 1978, a 20,000-strong Tanzanian army along with rebel groups, invaded Uganda. It took the capital, Kampala, in 1979, restoring Uganda’s first President, Milton Obote, to power. The battle against Amin was expensive and placed a strain on government finances. There was considerable criticism within Tanzania that he had both overlooked domestic issues and had not paid proper attention to internal human rights abuses. Tanzania was a one party state – and while there was a strong democratic element in organization and a concern for consensus, this did not stop Nyerere using the Preventive Detention Act to imprison opponents. In part this may have been justified by the need to contain divisiveness, but there does appear to have been a disjuncture between his commitment to human rights on the world stage, and his actions at home.
In 1985 Nyerere gave up the Presidency but remained as chair of the Party – Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM). He gradually withdrew from active politics, retiring to his farm in Butiama. In 1990 he relinquished his chairmanship of CCM but remained active on the world stage as Chair of the Intergovernmental South Centre. One of his last high profile actions was as the chief mediator in the Burundi conflict (in 1996). He died in a London hospital of leukaemia on October 14, 1999.
Tom Porteous, writing in The Independent (October 15, 1999) summed him up as follows:
Slight in build, somewhat austere in manner, Nyerere was neither vain nor arrogant. He set great store by honesty and sincerity. A family man devoted to his wife and children, he was extremely loyal to his friends – sometimes to a fault. He inspired among his people both devotion and respect and returned the compliment by complete dedication to his work on their behalf as head of state. He was ready to admit his mistakes, and to show flexibility and pragmatism, but never if this meant compromising his cherished, humanist and socialist ideals.
Nyerere’s life and career are an inspiration to the many Africans who dismiss the notion current in elite African circles today that justice, dignity and freedom should be subordinated to the single-minded pursuit of prosperity through economic liberalisation and structural adjustment. Africa needs more leaders of Nyerere’s quality, integrity and wisdom.