Julius Kambarage Nyerere
April 13, 1922 – October 14, 1999
Notable: Activist and politician
Julius Kambarage Nyerere was born in Butiama, Tanganyika the son of Nyerere Burito, a minor Zanaki chief, and one of his wives, Mgaya Wanyang’ombe. At the age of 12, he was enrolled at the local mission school for his primary education before moving on to Tabora Secondary School. Nyerere later attended Makerere University in Uganda from which he obtained teaching credentials.
The period during which Nyerere was attending university would have a tremendous impact on the direction of his future. Tabora was a Roman Catholic school and while attending Makerere, Nyerere converted to Roman Catholicism and adopted “Julius” as his baptismal name. A few years later he organized what would become the Tanganyika African Association (TAA). The TAA was Tanganyika’s first student group and Nyerere worked with collaborators to shift the African Association from a broader pan-African perspective toward a more national focus.
With his credentials, Nyerere found a teaching position in Tanganyika at a Catholic mission school. In 1949, Nyerere left the country once more to further his education. This time moving to Scotland where he became the first Tanganyikan to earn a degree upon his graduation from Edinburgh.
During this period, several African nations were beginning to move towards independence from European colonial powers. The time Nyerere spent at Edinburgh and abroad in general, exposed him to new perspectives. And being in Europe allowed him to follow these changes as they were being discussed and debated.
After completing his studies at Edinburgh, Nyerere returned to Dar es Salaam where he found a teaching position. The following year included some personal changes as he married Maria Gabriel Majige who was also a school teacher. Nyerere and his wife would go on to have seven children.
A few months after his marriage, Nyerere became the president of the TAA which he later reconfigured into the Tanganyikan African National Union (TANU), the country’s first political party. While some neighboring nations would undergo brutal revolts against the rule of imperialist powers, TANU advocated for freedom from British rule through peaceful non-violent change. Nyerere called for unity and equality within Tanganyika and attempted to avoid the issues of tribalism and ethnic prejudice that would plague other nations as they became independent.
Nyerere joined the country’s legislative council and testified before the UN Trusteeship Council to further advocate internationally for Tanganyika’s independence. As his national and international profile rose and he became a key spokesperson for the country, Nyerere gave up his teaching career. Now fully focused on politics, he had to contend with Britain’s deliberately slow and obstructive move towards Tanganyika’s independence.
Elections were held in 1958 which saw TANU members win the majority of positions on the legislative council. In response, the British created new positions, more than doubling the number of council positions in an attempt to dilute TANU’s influence. Nyerere and TANU continued the push for independence and were able to win all but one seat in the 1960 election.
On September 2, 1960, Tanganyika gained limited self-government and Nyerere became the chief minister. Over the next two years, Tanganyika would undergo political and structural changes that would result in its independence and Nyerere serving as its first prime minister and then president. Hoping to avoid tribalism and the conflict caused by political parties, Tanganyika adopted a single-party system that would remain in place for several decades.
As president of the Republic of Tanganyika, Nyerere combined some Western ideologies with African political traditions as well as local practices. Tanganyika would be one of the few African nations with a native official language. Decisions would be made through meetings of round table discussions where all parties would have a chance to share their perspective. Following a merger with Zanzibar, the new country became the Republic of Tanzania.
Hoping to alleviate and avoid further economic inequality, Nyerere introduced a form of cooperative farming that was aimed at making the country economically self-reliant. Nyerere recognized the need for African nations to be unified thus he provided support and a haven for anti-apartheid activists. Nyerere also denounced Idi Amin and provided support for rebels as they worked to overthrow Amin’s government.
When Nyerere left office in 1985, he left behind a mixed legacy. Production, commodity prices, and export issues caused by his economic system played a part in Tanzania’s dependence on foreign aid. The conflict with Uganda had also been economically devastating. But the country boasted a 90% literacy rate, political stability, and decreased infant mortality.
Nyerere had remained involved in Tanzanian politics even after leaving office but finally made a complete break in 1990. Julius Nyerere died in London on October 14, 1999, from leukemia. Despite his imperfect record, his intentions earned him the honored title of “Father of the Nation” in Tanzania.
- Beverton, Alys. 2022. “Julius K. Nyerere (1922-1999).” BlackPast.org. June 3, 2022. https://www.blackpast.org/global-african-history/nyerere-julius-k-1922-1999/.
- Boddy-Evans, Alistair. 2019. “Who Was Julius Kambarage Nyerere, the Father of Tanzania?” ThoughtCo. Dotdash Meredith. May 23, 2019. https://www.thoughtco.com/julius-kambarage-nyerere-43589.
- The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, ed. 2022. “Julius Nyerere.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. February 25, 2022. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Julius-Nyerere.
- “Julius Nyerere.” 1999. The Guardian. Guardian News and Media. October 15, 1999. https://www.theguardian.com/news/1999/oct/15/guardianobituaries.
- “Julius Nyerere.” n.d. South African History Online. Accessed July 4, 2022. https://www.sahistory.org.za/people/julius-nyerere.
- Mchie, Benjamin. 2021. “Julius Nyerere, Politician Born.” African American Registry. October 12, 2021. https://aaregistry.org/story/julius-nyerere-first-president-of-tanzania/.
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