Julius Kambarage Nyerere (April 13, 1922 – October 14, 1999)
was President of Tanzania (previously Tanganyika), from the country’s founding
in 1964, until his retirement in 1985. Born in Tanganyika to a local Zanaki
chief called Nyerere Burito, Julius Nyerere was known by the Swahili name
Mwalimu, or “teacher,” because of his profession before becoming
active in politics. Nyerere was the first African head of state to retire
voluntarily. He stepped down because he realized that his socialist policies of
communal ownership of farms and state ownership of services were not working.

Under his Presidency,

Tanzania slipped from being the
largest exporter of food in Africa to the biggest importer of food. However, he
made no attempt to cling to power or to influence his successors, who restored
capitalism. Nyerere had wanted to make Tanzania self-reliant, free from
indebtedness to former colonial powers or to the West. Like other leaders of
former colonies, he saw colonialism and capitalism as responsible for the subjugation
of their people. A devout Catholic, Nyerere often fasted and did not enrich
himself at his nation’s expense.

His preferred dress, a Mao tunic, contrasted with the flamboyant uniforms worn
by some of his contemporary heads of African states. While his policies may
have proved disastrous for his country, few question his sincerity. Tanzania
remains one of the poorest countries in the world, but its economy has grown
since Nyerere’s retirement, reaching 6 percent during 2006. While his economic policies
are acknowledged as having failed, other policies succeeded. For example, under
Nyerere literacy and health care “surpassed anything most African
countries had achieved,” thus, his legacy has been described as “rich
and varied” and his intentions as always “noble.”

He also battled the International Monetary Fund over the issue of Third World
debt, and created “a genuine national entity out of a hotch-potch of some
120 ethnic groups” which some consider to be his most “enduring
achievement.” Even after the failure of his socialist experiment, he
retained, says a Guardian obituary, his “worldwide moral authority.”


Nyerere began attending Government Primary School, in Musoma, at the age of 12,
where he completed the four-year program in three years and went on to Tabora
Boys Government Secondary School. He received a scholarship to attend Makerere
University (at that time it was the only tertiary education institution in East
Africa), where he obtained a teaching diploma. He returned to Tanganyika and
worked for three years at St. Mary’s Secondary School in Tabora, where he
taught biology and English. In 1949, he got a scholarship to attend 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)
where he obtained his Masters of Arts degree on economics and history in 1952.
In Edinburgh, partly through his encounter with Fabian thinking, Nyerere began
to develop his particular vision of connecting socialism with African communal

Political career

On his return to Tanganyika, Nyerere took a position teaching History, English,
and Kiswahili at St. Francis’ College, near Dar es Salaam. It is at St.
Francis’ College that he founded TANU. His political activities attracted the
attention of the colonial authorities, and he was forced to make a choice
between his political activities and teaching.

He was reported as saying that he “was a schoolmaster by choice and a
politician by accident.” He resigned and continued with his work on his
goal to bring a number of different nationalist factions into one grouping,
which was achieved in 1954. Nyerere traveled throughout the country, speaking
to common people and tribal chiefs, trying to garner support for the movement
towards independence. He also spoke on behalf of TANU to the Trusteeship
Council and Fourth Committee of the United Nations, in New York.

His oratory skills and integrity helped Nyerere achieve TANU’s goal for an
independent country without war or bloodshed. The cooperative British governor
Sir Richard Turnbull was also a factor in the struggle for independence.
Nyerere entered the Colonial Legislative council in 1958, and was elected chief
minister in 1960. In 1961, Tanganyika was granted self-governance and Nyerere
became its first Prime Minister on December 9, 1961. A year later, Nyerere was
elected President of Tanganyika when it became a Republic. Nyerere was
instrumental in the union between the islands of Zanzibar and the mainland Tanganyika
to form Tanzania, after a 1964 coup in Zanzibar toppled Jamshid bin Abdullah,
who was the Sultan of Zanzibar.

Government positions held

* 1954 A Founding Member of TANU
* 1958-1960 Member of the Legislative Assembly in the first elections in which Africans
were allowed to vote
* 1958 Leader of the Opposition in Parliament
* 1960 Chief Minister of the first Internal Self-Government Administration
* 1961 Prime Minister of the first Government of Independent Tanganyika
* 1962 Elected President of Tanganyika when it became a Republic
* 1963-1970 Chancellor of the University of East Africa
* 1964-1985 President of the United Republic of Tanzania
* 1970-1985 Chancellor of University of Dar-es-Salaam
* 1977-1990 Chairman of Chama Cha Mapinduzi which was formed by a merger
between TANU and the Afro-Shiraz Party of Zanzibar. CCM was born in Zanzibar on
February 5, 1977.
* 1984-1985 Chancellor of Sokoine University of Agriculture
* 1985 Retired from Presidency

Economic policies

When in power, Nyerere implemented a socialist economic program (announced in
the Arusha Declaration), establishing close ties with the China, and also
introduced a policy of collectivization in the country’s agricultural system,
known as Ujamaa, or “familyhood.” Nyerere believed that people truly
become “persons” within community-starting with the family, then
moving into an extended family, and from there into the wider community. Small
scale village industry, similar to M. K. Gandhi’s model, was ideal for Africa.
Influenced by the Mahatma, Nyerere was awarded the Gandhi Peace Prize in 1995.
Personhood leads to service to the community. Wealth would thus spread
horizontally, not vertically. Although some of his policies can be
characterized as socialist, many regard that Nyerere was first and foremost an
African, and secondly a socialist. He was what is often called an African

Nyerere had tremendous faith in rural African people and their traditional
values and ways of life. He believed that life should be structured around the
ujamaa, or extended family found in traditional Africa. He believed that in
these traditional villages, the state of ujamaa had existed before the arrival
of imperialists. All that needed to be done was to return to this state and
capitalism would be forgotten. He believed that this would be a true
repudiation of capitalism, since his society would not rely on capitalism for
its existence.

This ujamaa system failed to boost agricultural output and by 1976, the end of
the forced collectivization program, Tanzania went from the largest exporter of
agricultural products in Africa to the largest importer of agricultural
products in Africa. With the realization that the Tanzanian economy did not
flourish, and being unwilling to lead Tanzania using an economic model he did
not believe in, Nyerere willingly announced that he would retire after
presidential elections in 1985, leaving the country to enter its free market
era under the leadership of Ali Hassan Mwinyi.

Nyerere was instrumental in putting both Ali Hassan Mwinyi and Benjamin Mkapa
in power. He remained the chairman of Chama Cha Mapinduzi (ruling party) for
five years following his presidency until 1990, and is still recognized as the
Father of the Nation. However, he did not interfere in his successors policies,
which reversed many of his own.

Foreign policy

Nyerere was one of the African Leaders during the Pan-African movement that
swept the continent in the 1960s. He was a larger-than-life person, a seemingly
incorruptible individual and a committed Pan-africanist. Nyerere was also one
of the founders of the Organization of African Unity in 1963. 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 it sought to overthrow Portuguese rule in Mozambique, and ZANLA
(and Robert Mugabe) in its struggle to unseat the white regime in Southern
Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).

From the mid-1970s, along with President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, he was an
instigator and leader of the “Front Line States,” which provided
uncompromising support for the campaign for Black Majority Rule in South
Africa. In 1979, he led Tanzania into war against Uganda, then under the
dictatorship of Idi Amin, resulting in the defeat of Uganda and exile of Amin.
However, Nyerere also instigated the 1977 coup d’etat that ousted the first
president of the Seychelles, James Mancham, and replaced him with socialist
France-Albert René, a move regarded to have set back development in the
Seychelles for many years.

Nyerere’s foreign policy overall emphasized neutrality in the Cold War, and
under his leadership, Tanzania enjoyed friendly relations with both the West
and the East.

Outside of Africa, Nyerere was a model to Walter Lini, Prime Minister of
Vanuatu, whose theories on Melanesian socialism owed much to the ideas he found
in Tanzania, which he visited. Lecturers inspired by Nyerere also taught at the
University of Papua New Guinea in the 1980s, helping educated Melanesians
familiarize themselves with his ideas.

After the Presidency

After the Presidency, Nyerere remained the Chairman of CCM until 1990, when Ali
Hassan Mwinyi took over. Nyerere remained vocal about the extent of corruption
and corrupt officials during the Ali Hassan Mwinyi administration. He also
blocked Jakaya Kikwete’s nomination for the presidency, citing that he was too
young to run a country. Nyerere was instrumental in getting Benjamin Mkapa
elected (Mkapa had been Minister of Foreign Affairs for a time during Nyerere’s

In one of his famous speeches during the CCM general assembly, Nyerere said in
Swahili “Ninang’atuka,” meaning that he was pulling out of politics
for good. He moved back to his childhood home village of Butiama in western
Tanzania. During his retirement, he continued to travel the world, meeting
various heads of government as an advocate for poor countries and especially
the South Center institution. Nyerere traveled more widely after retiring than
he did when he was president of Tanzania. 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 leukemia on October 14, 1999.

Positions held after Presidency

* 1985-1990 Chairman of Chama Cha Mapinduzi
* 1987-1990 Chairman of the independent International South Commission
* 1990-1999 Chairman, South Center, Geneva & Dar es Salaam Offices

Beatification inquiry

In January 2005, the Catholic diocese of Musoma opened a cause for the
beatification of Julius Nyerere. Nyerere was a devout Catholic who attended
Mass daily throughout his public life and was known for fasting frequently.

As African leader

The African Union, formerly the Organization of African Unity, which Nyerere
was largely responsible for establishing, is increasingly taking on an
important role in stabilizing the region, in peacekeeping and peace-building in
collaboration with the United Nations. Nyerere’s example of voluntary
retirement from power has set a standard that few African heads of state have
yet met. His strong opposition to Idi Amin’s dictatorial regime in Uganda and
his 1979 invasion, in retaliation for Amin’s 1978 incursion into Tanzania,
toppled the dictator to popular acclaim, setting an example of Africa policing

In retirement, he continued to work for African unity and also to resolve
conflicts, including the civil war in Burundi and to find ways of lessening the
rich-poor gap between the developed and developing nations of the world,
chairing the South Commission. Despite the failure of his economic policies, he
remained convinced that socialism was the right direction for poor countries to
take. His modest lifestyle added to his moral authority. He was untainted by
scandal or by charges of corruption. Family was central to his concerns. He
married Maria Magige in 1953. They had five sons and two daughters. In addition
to political writings, he translated two Shakespearean plays into Swahili.


* Nehru Award for International Understanding, 1976
* Third World Prize, 1982
* Nansen Medal for outstanding services to Refugees, 1983
* Lenin Peace Prize, 1987
* International Simón Bolívar Prize, 1992


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