Homage to Nyerere, the village-wise statesman

Homage to Nyerere, the village-wise statesman Julius Nyerere
Julius Nyerere

Julius Nyerere

Stanely Mushava Literature Today

As a statesman and intellectual, Nyerere is a league apart. He processed grand ideas from lenses of a villager; high office and deep intellect did not detach him from the least of the poor.

When politicians run their tenure, they are survived by our monuments, but statesmen are survived by their legacy.

Pan-Africanist father-figure Julius Nyerere towers immortally in his manifold legacy for the continent, chiefly freedom, unity and development.

Although there are still promises to keep, at a time when inequality and disunity stand contrary to the gains of independence, Nyerere finished well and scaled up the bar for subsequent administrations.

As a statesman and intellectual, Nyerere is a league apart. He processed grand ideas from lenses of a villager; high office and deep intellect did not detach him from the least of the poor.

In a day when the world revolves around capital, Nyerere is an enduring example of what African politics can be once again: people-themed, pure, primitive and pertinent to context.

The village-wise statesman, both for what he taught and for what he built, is essential reading for the moral regeneration black leadership, region-wide, desperately needs.

It is pertinent, therefore — notwithstanding the lapse of almost two decades since his death — that we bring Nyerere back to the public square, hear him in his own words and re-route to the nirvana that Africa could have been.

To this timely objective, five major publishers — The House of Books, African Publishing Group, Southern Research and Documentation Centre, Mkuki na Nyota Publishers and National Gallery of Zimbabwe — have jointly produced a book titled “Julius Nyerere: Asante Sana, Thank You, Mwalimu.”

The tribute anthology, prefaced by President Robert Mugabe, chiefly comprises excerpts from Nyerere’s speeches, but also carries contributions from the late journalist and historian David Martin and Prof. L.D.B Kinabo.

It was recently launched at State House in Harare where President Mugabe affirmed Nyerere’s immense contribution to the liberation and unification of Africa and gave a nod to his forward-thinking economics.

“He never lost sight of the challenge that remains in Africa for people to be empowered, and for them to direct their economic destiny. Africa is richly endowed with resources, too rich to be poor, a point often made by Mwalimu Nyerere,” President Mugabe says in the foreword.

President Mugabe has directed Zimbabwe from this compass of resource nationalism, not without heavy costs as this has situated the country in an economic warpath with Western imperialists whose tentacles run the tapestry of the continent.

Nyerere’s labour of love for the continent, and Zimbabwe in particular, was not only visionary but logistical.

President Mugabe thanks him for being one of the founding pillars of the Organisation of African Unity (now African Union) and for offering to host the OAU Liberation Committee in Dar es Salaam which liberation movements would frequent for diplomatic support, materials and training.

The period remains a golden age of African fraternity, an example of one black nation bearing another’s burden, even with the birth pangs of liberation being felt by the host economy.

If this sounds naïve now, it attests to how far the continent has regressed from its founding fundamentals.

Even so, Nyerere remained bent on the total liberation of the subcontinent because, according to President Mugabe, he knew that “this new country of Tanzania could never be politically free until the rest of Africa was also free from colonialism and apartheid.”

This enduring labour of love starkly contrasts with the seeds of regress such as Afrophobia and the complacent distance one African keeps from the suffering of another.

President Mugabe affirms the bearing of the work: “. . . when we gained our independence in Mozambique and Angola in 1975, in Zimbabwe in 1980, Namibia in 1990, and a new democratic dispensation in South Africa in 1994, we said. . . Asante sana, thank you, Mwalimu.”

David Martin, who knew Nyerere from his posting as an Africa correspondent in Tanzania, the processing unit of the continent’s liberation activity, offers a collage of the village teacher’s close-up portraits.

“Apart from his simplicity and piercing intellect, one of Nyerere’s most endearing traits was his honesty. Today it is no longer fashionable among journalists (and much of the public) to take politicians at their word or even imagine in advance what those words might be,” Martin recalls.

As a geopolitical strategist, it seems Nyerere sometimes had no appreciation for operating at manifold layers, glossing over fundamental rifts or managing information to the disadvantage of the enemy.

Principle was indivisible such that honesty was the strategy. His predictable sequence left no prizes for guessing that Tanzania would pull out of the Commonwealth if Britain insisted on supplying arms to apartheid South Africa.

When West Germans threatened to withhold support for Tanzania’s air force if the latter allowed an East German consulate in Dar es Salaam, Nyerere showed West Germans the door and partnered Canada in their stead.

Martin recalls Nyerere’s mastery of literature and picks up his “mental verbal fencing match” with the controversial then US secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

“One began a quote from Shakespeare (several of whose works Nyerere translated into Swahili setting them in an African context) or a Greek philosopher and the other would end the quotation.

“Then Nyerere quoted an American author. Kissinger laughed: Nyerere knew Kissinger had written the words,” recalls Martin.

Nyerere’s modest retirement house, pictured in the tribute anthology, contains the village teacher’s personal collection of more than 8 000 books on various subjects such as economics, history, philosophy, literature, politics, agriculture and botany, and three of his own manuscripts.

For the astute villager, honesty was never naivety. When he engaged the US’s diplomatic fox for talks, he had his own stratagems in place to forestall American duplicity.

Besides the village-wise statesman’s tangible legacy for a free Africa, Nyerere is also an indispensable thinker of the third world.

Unlike his great Pan-Africanist peer, Kwame Nkrumah, who is brilliant and eloquent but sometimes inaccessible, Nyerere’s thoughtful sayings are also fit to scale, broken down to the lowest common denominator.

At the outset, I attempted to keep track of each dazzling aphorism in Nyerere’s speeches but soon gave up lest I would have to fold every page.

Throughout my literary wanderings, I am not sure I have come across a pro-poor advocate of Nyerere’s stature in terms of both honesty and relevance.

His forecast to toll inequality, economic injustice, and ethnically, ideologically and religiously themed fragmentation would take on the continent if not demobilised in their infancy has proven accurate.

“We can try to cut ourselves from our fellows on the basis of the education we have had; we can try to carve out for ourselves an unfair share of the world of the society.

“But the cost to us and to our fellow citizens will be very high. It will be high not only in terms of satisfaction, but high also in terms of our security and well-being,” Nyerere said.

There is good reason to suspect that the communication for development modules are largely inspired by Nyerere. He faults the macro-indicated economics with wisdom that cannot be gainsaid: “To measure a country’s wealth by its gross domestic product is to measure the things not the satisfactions.”

Ultimately, Nyerere is not a messenger of the African community against the world but a proponent of universal goodwill.

He is the missing dimension in global discourse, the prophet who would stall the fermenting clash of civilisations. We close with the instalment with his opening speech: “. . . we cannot, like other countries, send rockets to the moon. But we can send rockets of love and hope to all our fellow human wherever they may be.”

Nuff respect, Mwalimu!

Stanely Mushava at upstreamafrica.blogspot.com

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