By Mobhare Matinyi, Washington DC. October 21, 2011. The Citizen, Tanzania.
LAST week on Friday, Tanzanians marked the 12th anniversary of the passing of the Father of the Nation, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, following a brief but tough battle for his life in a London hospital. Luckily though, Mwalimu left us a legacy that can easily be retrieved from many of his words.
In one of the his interviews, Mwalimu spoke to Dr Ikaweba Bunting, an African American who lived in Tanzania for almost three decades following Nyerere’s invitation when he visited Harlem, New York, in the late 1960s. Dr Bunting also served in the Burundi Peace Negotiation Facilitation Team under Mwalimu and later under Nelson Mandela.
Dr Bunting interviewed Nyerere in December 1998 in Butiama village, Tanzania. Thus, on January 1, 1999, the first day of the year that Mwalimu passed away, the London-based magazine, New Internationalist, published a along article titled - The Heart of Africa. In that article, Nyerere addressed the key issues that haunt Tanzania and Africa even today.
This was one of the Bunting’s questions - a question that many people would have asked Nyerere even today: “Does the Arusha Declaration still stand up today?”
Nyerere replied: “I still travel around with it. I read it over and over to see what I would change. Maybe I would improve on the Swahili that was used but the Declaration is still valid: I would not change a thing. . . . We articulated a new national objective; we stressed that development is about all our people and not just a small and privileged minority. The Arusha Declaration was what made Tanzania distinctly Tanzania.”
Today Tanzania is thinking of borrowing a page from the Arusha Declaration about the leadership code. What did Mwalimu say about leaders? “We stated what we stood for, we laid down a code of conduct for our leaders and we made an effort to achieve our goals. This was obvious to all, even if we made mistakes – and when one tries anything new and uncharted there are bound to be mistakes.”
Mwalimu was proud of his achievement: “The Arusha Declaration and our democratic single-party system, together with our national language, Swahili, and a highly politicized and disciplined national army, transformed more than 126 different tribes into a cohesive and stable nation.”
Nyerere added: “However, despite this achievement, they say we failed in Tanzania; that we floundered. But did we? We must say no. We can’t deny everything we accomplished. The floundering of socialism has been global. This is what needs an explanation, not just the Tanzanian part of it.”
On the unification of East Africa in particular, Nyerere dropped a bombshell: “I respected Jomo immensely. It has probably never happened before in history; two heads of state, Milton Obote and I, went to Jomo and said to him: ‘let’s unite our countries and you be our head of state’. He said no. I think he said no because it would have put him out of his element as a Kikuyu Elder.”
Dr Bunting at one time asked: “What were your main mistakes as Tanzanian leader? What should you have done differently?” Nyerere started by saying: There are things that I would have done more firmly or not at all. For example, I would not nationalize the sisal plantations. This was a mistake. I did not realize how difficult it would be for the state to manage agriculture.”
On the topic of his failure and success, Nyerere gave a story of his encounter at the World Bank in Washington: “At the World Bank the first question they asked me was ‘how did you fail?’I responded that we took over a country with 85 per cent of its adult population illiterate. The British ruled us for 43 years. When they left, there were two trained engineers and 12 doctors. This is the country we inherited. When I stepped down there was 91percent literacy and nearly every child was in school. We trained thousands of engineers and doctors and teachers.”