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Julius Nyerere: Pioneer in the liberation of Africa

Reviewing the Tanzanian experience 10 years since the passing of Mwalimu

Published Oct 29, 2009 8:29 PM

A decade ago on Oct. 14, 1999, Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere passed away in his East African nation of Tanzania. Nyerere was one of the leading political figures to emerge during the post-World War II era of anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggles that swept through Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Nyerere was born in Butiama near Lake Victoria on April 13, 1922. Trained as a schoolteacher, he became involved in the independence movement during the 1950s and later headed the Tanzania African National Union, which transformed into the Chama Cha Mapenduzi (CCM) in the late 1970s. He was the contemporary of such other liberation movement leaders as Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Sekou Toure of Guinea, Gamal Abdel Nassar of Egypt, Nnamdi Azikiwe of Nigeria, Patrice Lumumba of Congo, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Amilcar Cabral of Guinea-Bissau, Eduardo Monlande of Mozambique, Kenneth Kuanda of Zambia, among many others.

Germany initially colonized Tanganyika during the late 19th century and renamed it German East Africa. Its seizure grew out of the European drive toward the imperial takeover of the continent as a whole. The British had control of neighboring Kenya, Uganda and Nyasaland.

After the conclusion of World War I, when Germany faced defeat and the loss of its colonies in Africa, the British took control of the area and reinstated the name Tanganyika. Resistance to the imposition of British rule gained momentum during the 1920s with the formation of the Tanganyika African Association.

As a result of the economic crisis of the 1930s and reliance by Britain on the cotton produced in the colony, the country experienced limited economic development. During the 1950s a mass cooperative movement arose which sought to organize against the exploitation of Africans within agricultural industry.

Building a postcolonial society

The cooperative movement took on a political character and led to the transformation of TAA into the Tanganyika African National Union under the leadership of Julius Nyerere. TANU was formed in 1954 as a mass political movement seeking independence for the colony. The British, who saw the potential for an effective anti-colonial struggle that would displace the Europeans from political control, eventually banned the movement.

Known by Tanzanians and people all over the world as “Mwalimu” (a Kiswahili word for teacher), Nyerere became prime minister and later president of the Republic of Tanganyika at its independence on Dec. 9, 1961. Some three years later in the aftermath of the revolution in neighboring Zanzibar Island, the two territories merged and became the United Republic of Tanzania on April 26, 1964.

In 1967 the ruling party issued the Arusha Declaration, which sought to articulate a program for the construction of socialism in Tanzania. Imperialist politicians and their allies inside the country and throughout the African continent assailed the document. During this period tremendous political and ideological debates were taking place over the question of which social system would lead Africa toward economic and social development.

Even prior to the publication of the Arusha Declaration, Nyerere had written on the role of political parties in fostering genuine democracy in a postcolonial society. In 1963, Nyerere wrote: “Where there is one party and that party is identified with the nation as a whole, the foundations of democracy are firmer than they can ever be where you have two or more parties, each representing only a section of the community.” (Speech, Jan. 14, 1963)

Even before that, at a press conference held on Jan. 23, 1962, Nyerere stated: “A strong political organization active in every village, which acts like a two-way all-weather road along which the purposes, plans, and problems of the government can travel to the people at the same time as the ideas, desires and misunderstandings of the people can travel directly to the government [—this] is the job of the new TANU.” (Tanganyika Standard, 1962)

The Arusha Declaration initially lays out fundamental principles of belief and conviction embodied within a socialist party and state. The tenets uphold the notion of equality among people, the right to freedom of expression, just compensation for labor, the total liberation of Africa, and public ownership of the wealth within the society.

The document states: “A truly socialist state is one in which all people are workers and in which neither capitalism nor feudalism exists. It does not have two classes of people, a lower class composed of people who work for their living, and an upper class of people who live on the work of others. In a really socialist country no person exploits another; everyone who is physically able to work does so; every worker obtains a just return for the labor he performs; and the incomes derived from different types of work are not grossly divergent.

“In a socialist country, the only people who live on the work of others, and who have the right to be dependent upon their fellows, are small children, people who are too old to support themselves, the [disabled], and those whom the state at any one time cannot provide with an opportunity to work for their living.

“Tanzania is a nation of peasants but is not yet a socialist society. It still contains elements of feudalism and capitalism—with their temptations. These feudalistic and capitalistic features of our society could spread and entrench themselves.”

Therefore, the Tanzanian government and party during this era understood the necessity of having people work to control the economy and the state. This process of building socialism cannot take place in isolation from other developments in the international community. In Tanzania relations were established between other African states and liberation movements organizing and fighting to reclaim their independence and sovereignty.

Tanzania and its implications for socialism in Africa and the developing regions

From the earliest days of independence, Tanzania under TANU served as a base for various liberation movements fighting against colonialism and settler-colonialism. Particularly after the reactionary CIA coup against Nkrumah’s Convention People’s Party government in Ghana, Tanzania became a focal point where various movements received training and organizational support for ongoing political activities.

The Organization of African Unity Liberation Committee was based in Tanzania. This body supplied material aid to the various mass organizations and independence movements. Liberation fronts from Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa, Namibia and others had bases of operations in Tanzania. This effort by TANU under Nyerere was key in the process of defeating classical and settler colonialism in the Southern Africa region.

The Tanzanian government during the 1980s and 1990s was forced to compromise with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank by accepting Structural Adjustment Programs so prevalent during this period. The role of the socialist countries in support of the national liberation movement and progressive governments in Africa was inadequate to prevent the ideological and political assault on the movement toward socialism in Tanzania and other countries on the continent.

Tanzania had developed close links with the People’s Republic of China during the post-independence period. Since both countries relied on the peasantry as the principal base of support in their respective development processes, TANU and later the CCM saw China as providing an effective model for fostering economic progress.

In fact one major project, the Tanzania-Zambia Railway, was built with Chinese assistance and support during the early 1970s. However, with the advent of the Sino-Soviet dispute during the 1960s and 1970s, competition was fierce between the two major socialist states for influence in Africa and other developing regions.

After the U.S. shift in foreign policy toward China after 1971, through the overtures of the Nixon administration and the eventual establishment of diplomatic relations between the People’s Republic of China and the United States in 1979 under President Carter, Washington sought to enhance dialogue and relations with Tanzania during this period.

This was done in part to counter Cuban influence after Cuba’s intervention in Angola and Ethiopia during the period between 1975 and 1978. The Cuban internationalists were instrumental in the consolidation of Angolan independence in 1975-76 and the defeat of the U.S.-backed invasion of Ethiopia by Somalia in 1978.

Nyerere maintained the commitment of TANU/CCM to provide maximum support for the liberation movements still waging struggles in Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa. The ruling party never allowed the relations between the Soviet Union and China or the United States and China to influence its policies toward national liberation in Africa and socialism in Tanzania.

Within intellectual circles in Tanzania these issues were debated with vigor during the 1970s and 1980s. African Guyanese historian Walter Rodney taught at the University of Dar es Salaam, the Tanzanian capital, off and on between 1966 and 1974. His essay “Tanzanian Ujaama and Scientific Socialism,” published in the inaugural issue of African Review in 1972, generated fierce discussion internally and internationally.

Rodney maintained that despite the unique character of TANU’s interpretation and implementation of socialist policies (called “Ujaama”), the process in essence represented a progressive force within Tanzania history and had broad implications for Africa as a whole. However, others inside Tanzania held different perspectives on the character of the Ujaama process.

According to Yash Tandon, a scholar teaching at the University of Dar es Salaam during this period, the debate over the character of socialism in Tanzania culminated between 1976 and 1978. In the article “Arguments Within African Marxism: The Dar es Salaam Debates,” Tandon writes: “The 1976-78 phase of the debate generated a good bit of discussion on the character of the present international conjuncture. The focus of the discussion was the General Line of the International Communist Movement as enunciated by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China during its polemic with the CPSU in 1960-63, and the four fundamental contradictions identified by the General Line.”

Tandon continues: “Whereas one view held that the principal contradiction in the present epoch was between imperialism and the oppressed nations, the other view held that all four contradictions were fundamental to the epoch and that it was metaphysical to isolate one of them as principal. The latter view held that some people confused the distinction between fundamental and principal contradictions. A contradiction was fundamental when it was inherent in the capitalist production itself, and cannot be done away with until capitalist production is no more.” (Journal of African Marxist, Issue 5, February 1984).

Nonetheless, with specific reference to the African continent, the shift inward in China, as it related to the international class struggle after 1972 and the collapse of Soviet Union and the Eastern European socialist countries between 1989-1991, had a profound impact on social processes on the continent. By the time Namibia and South Africa gained national independence in 1990 and 1994, respectively, the socialist alternative to capitalist development models had been severely weakened.

Tanzania and other countries on the continent seemed to move away from the open advocacy of socialism. However, the contradictions between the imperialist states and the developing regions intensified. In the 21st century, these contradictions have manifested themselves in a greater reliance by imperialism on Africa for the supply of raw materials and cheap labor. At the same time the world economic crisis that erupted in 2007 is having a profound and detrimental impact on the African continent, throwing tens of millions more into poverty.

Consequently, despite the apparent setbacks in the movement toward socialism in Africa and other geopolitical regions, the application of anti-capitalist theory is as valid, if not more so, than during the immediate postcolonial period. If Latin America is an indication of the future of developing regions, the nations there are moving in the direction of socialism and the necessity of continental unity in opposition to the increasingly aggressive character of U.S. imperialism.

In regard to Tanzania, Nyerere resigned as president in 1985 and as leader of the ruling CCM party in 1990. Democratic elections have maintained CCM control since the Nyerere’s departure. Ali Hassan Mwinyi served two five-terms, followed by Benjamin Mkapa and the current head of state President Jakaya Kikwete, who will seek reelection in 2010.

See panafricannews.blogspot.com for more news on Africa by Azikiwe.