Nyerere has been one of Africa’s most highly regarded statesmen in the post-independence period. He was head of state until retiring from the presidency in 1985. Born in 1922 in Butiama into one of the smallest ethnic groups in the country, the Zanaki, he trained as a teacher in Uganda and taught for several years in Tabora. From 1949 to 1952 he was a student at the University of Edinburgh where he became his country’s first graduate. He returned home to teach and begin his political career. In 1954 he founded the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU), which was to become the ruling party, and became its president. In the 1958 and 1960 elections T ANU won overwhelming majorities and became one of the very few nationalist parties to experience no serious opposition in the late colonial phase. Nyerere became chief minister in the pre-independence government and in December 1961 the country’s first post-independence prime minister. Shortly afterwards he resigned the premiership for a few months to devote himself to reorganizing the party, and with the creation of a republic in 1962, when the British monarch ceased to be the formal head of state, he became the country’s first president. There is linle doubt that under Nyerere’s leadership Tanzania has been amongst the more politically stable states in Africa, although there is considerable debate as to how far this is a result of leadership or how far it is due to an absence of significant ethnic and regional cleavages of the sort which have afflicted other African states. It is probably accurate to say that Tanzania has faced less intractable political difficulties than most states in black Africa. Apart from an army mutiny in 1964, which was not a coup and was easily dealt with by British forces , and a genuine but unsuccessful coup attempt in 1983, the regime has not been subjected to any very serious challenges . In 1964 Nyerere negotiated the union of mainland Tanganyika and the offshore island of Zanzibar to form a single state, although for many years the union was stronger on paper than in fact and still contains unresolved tensions. Before the 1965 elections he altered the political system in Tanzania (excluding Zanzibar) to a single-party state, but with some allowance for electoral competition between candidates within T ANU. In 1977 a new pany, Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM-Pany of the Revolution) was formed with the merger of T ANU and the Zanzibari Afro-Shirazi Pany (ASP). Nyerere was continuously leader of T ANU and CCM until he retired from the leadership of the latter in 1990. In 1967 the Arusha Declaration established a leadership code for pany and government elites in an attempt to prevent single-pany dominance leading to abuse of office, but it is generally agreed that this has been at best only panially successful. Although he was for many years the most aniculate defender of the single-pany state in Africa, by the late 1980s Nyerere was becoming increasingly critical of this form of government and was arguing that lack of opposition had produced complacency and neglect of the public interest in Tanzania.
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Some of his critics put it more strongly and claimed that the dominance ofTANU and CCM had created a new elite which had used its undisputed control to further its own interests. In terms of economic development the period of Nyerere’s presidency produced extremely disappointing results. Following the adoption of”African socialism” the most significant sectors of the economy were nationalized and placed under the control of the state and the party, but performance standards have been very poor. In the 1970s a major attempt was made to restructure agricultural production with the creation of “ujamaa” (communal) villages. At first this was done on a voluntary basis, but when the peasants failed to respond, compulsion, often involving high levels of coercion, was used. The whole scheme is now recognized as a failure . By the late 1980s Tanzania was moving slowly toward a more liberal form of economic policy . In the international arena Nyerere has rightly been regarded as one of Africa’s leading statesmen. Although Tanzania has received aid from a variety of sources, especially the USA, it has managed to follow a policy of genuine non-alignment. Nyerere has been amongst the leading critics of apartheid in South Africa but has also attacked abuses of human rights in black-ruled states, and in 1979 the Tanzanian army overthrew the despotic rule of Idi Amin in neighboring Uganda. Nyerere has also been a leading supporter of economic cooperation between the black-ruled states of the Southern African region.
He has also emerged as the leading intellectual amongst Africa’s political leaders, and his numerous writings on “African socialism” have been extremely influential, although by the 1990s they were viewed with increasing criticism. His literary achievements include the translation of Shakespeare’s plays into Swahili. In 1985 Nyerere retired from the presidency, although he continued to lead the ruling pany until 1990. Although the fruits of his period in power were not entirely positive, nobody can doubt his integrity, personal humility and dedication to improving the lot of the Tanzanian people who continued to respect “Mwalimu” (Swahili for “teacher”) in spite of the problems that Tanzania has continued to experience.