Reflections on Mwalimu Julius Nyerere’s legacy on democracy

THIS is the fourth and final article in my October 2018 series of weekly articles on different aspects of Mwalimu Nyerere’s legacy, written in commemoration of his ‘remembrance month’ of October, during which he departed from this world in 1999.

My focus last week was on Mwalimu’s legacy on ‘combating corruption’. Today’s article will focus on his legacy with regard to ‘democracy’.

When he died in October 1999, 19 years ago, Mwalimu Nyerere was genuinely mourned all around the world, by the most humble, as well as the most exalted.

That fact alone was enough testimony of his extraordinary status as an exemplary leader, whose leadership qualities were duly recognised worldwide.

Hence, although he is gone, his ideals must be kept alive, so that they may continue to inspire our nation, in our continued quest for peace and stability, justice and equality, the critical ideals for which he worked and died. Indeed, keeping Mwalimu Nyerere’s ideals alive, is the main purpose of these articles.

This one is presented in a historical format, in order to make it a small contribution to our country’s political history. It is Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), the Scottish historian and essayist, who said the following in his “Heroes and Hero-worship”: “No great man lives in vain.

The history of the world is but the biography of great men”. Undoubtedly, Mwalimu Nyerere was one such great man, and this narrative forms part of his biography. Mwalimu Nyerere on democracy The issue of democracy was one of the issues to which Mwalimu Nyerere paid a great deal of attention during his leadership period.

He did so mainly in response to situations which appeared to pose a threat to democracy, as was the case with regard to the issue of the “tripartite vote” in the pre-independence 1957/58 elections, which is elaborated below. But he did so on other occasions as well, whenever he wanted to underscore the supreme importance of democracy.

For example, when he issued a general warning to the leaders of all categories never to trespass on the ‘sacred grounds’ of democracy, he wrote the following lines in his book titled “Binadamu na Maendeleo” (pages 32- 33): “Kuna demokrasia katika kuamua mambo.

Uongozi maana yake siyo kuwakemea watu; siyo kuwatukana watu au kikundi cha watu usiokubaliana nao. Wala maana yake siyo kuwaamuru watu kutenda hili au lile.

Zaidi ya hayo, Uongozi maana yake siyo kuwanyang’anya watu mamlaka yao ya kuamua. Watu lazima wafanye uamuzi wao wenyewe kuhusu maisha yao, kwa kufuata njia za kidemokrasia” or when he was drafting the “Arusha Declaration” in February 1967.

In that case, he wanted to underscore the inescapable relationship between the concepts of ‘Ujamaa’ (socialism) and ‘democracy’. Mwalimu wrote therein as follows: “The only guarantee for genuine socialist transformation is for the State to take effective control, or ownership, of all the major means of production

. . . But a country does not become socialist simply because its major means of production are controlled by the State. The State itself must be governed by a democratically elected Government”.

In fact, Mwalimu Nyerere’s ‘crusade’ for democracy actually started long before he had assumed the country’s leadership, as will be shown below.

The issue of the tripartite vote The colonial administration had decided that Tanganyika (now Mainland Tanzania) was to hold its first ever general elections in 1957.

As part of the preparations for that event, an elections law was enacted in May 1957, which made provision for a tripartite voting system, whereby every registered voter was required to cast three votes: one for a European candidate, the other for an Asian candidate, and the third for an African candidate.

This racist based electoral system was clearly undemocratic, because, in the normal democratic electoral systems, each voter has only one vote, and is free to give that vote to any candidate of his choice.

Thus, quite understandably, many members and leaders of Tanu, including Mwalimu Nyerere himself, were united in opposition to that arrangement.

But whereas the other party leaders were planning to boycott the said elections as a sign of protest, in the mistaken belief that such boycott would force the colonial Administration to abandon this project; the visionary Mwalimu Nyerere was of the contrary opinion, for he realized the dangers involved in such boycott.

In the first place, he foresaw that such a boycott would never succeed in persuading the colonial Administration to change its stand on this matter. So, he quietly prepared himself to try and persuade his colleagues to abandon their boycott plan.

It was in these tense circumstances that the historic Tanu annual delegates’ conference was held in Tabora, whose agenda included the making a formal decision to boycott those elections.

Mwalimu Nyerere, was fully aware of this resolve by his colleagues, but he was keenly aware of its detrimental effects. He nevertheless kept his apprehensions to himself, while he quietly worked on a strategy to persuade his colleagues to abandon their boycott plan.

His strategy included a surprise move to request the Conference to allow him to leave the Chair during the discussions on that agenda, in order to enable him to argue his case independently from the floor, like all the other delegates, in order that, in case he succeeded, he would not be accused of having manipulated the outcome by utilizing the influence and prestige usually associated with the person presiding at any meeting.

When he made the unusual request, the Conference agreed, and proceeded to appoint a temporary chairman, one Mwalimu Kihere from Tanga, to preside over that particular session.

Mwalimu Nyerere then made good use of his widely acknowledged oratorical skills to argue the case against the proposed boycott.

He pointed out the dangers involved in such action, namely that a boycott would keep Tanu out of the Legislative Council, and this would give the colonial Administration the freedom, which they will obviously cherish, to enact without any challenge, the kind of legislation which would delay the attainment of the unanimously desired goal of independence; apart from enacting other harmful laws designated to stifle Tanu’s efforts in the struggle for independence.

He also revealed to them the other strategy which he had in mind, namely that Tanu would be able to find willing supporters of the independence struggle from among the European and Asian communities, who would be nominated as its candidates, in order to satisfy the requirements of that obnoxious law.

The records of that meeting show that “after a long and heated debate, the Conference eventually agreed to abandon the boycott idea, and agreed to participate fully in those elections”.

“All is well that ends well” is the title of one of the famous English dramatist William Shakespeare’s plays. This meeting eventually ended well, in the sense that the boycott was avoided.

But It was a very difficult meeting , because it caused a split in the party, whereby a relatively small number of dissenting delegates, led by one Zuberi Mtemvu, decided to decamp from Tanu, and went on to form their own new political party, the Tanganyika African National Congress (TANC).

The issue of disenfranchising voters Another democracy-related issue which greatly troubled the mind of Mwalimu Nyerere, was the results of the 1960 preindependence general elections, which actually is what led to his subsequent proposal to introduce the ‘One-Party’ political system, which was eventually embodied in the 1965 Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania.

That proposal emanated from Mwalimu Nyerere’s quest for genuine electoral democracy. The results of the 1960 preindependence general elections showed that Tanu candidates had been returned unopposed in 58 constituencies, out of a total of a mere 71 constituencies.

This means that the voters in the said 58 constituencies had been effectively denied their constitutional right to select leaders of their choice.

In election parlance, this is known as ‘disenfrachisement’ of the voters. It may be remembered that at the material time, the country was operating on the basis of the multi-party political system.

Thus, the Tanu candidates were elected unopposed simply because the other competing political parties were unable to put up candidates for that election.

Mwalimu Nyerere the democrat, felt that this outcome was bad for democracy, so he decided that the system must be changed, in order to avoid this undemocratic disenfranchisement of the electorate.

That is when he opted for a ‘single-party’ political system, but which would allow electoral competition to take place between candidates of the same party.

This was because under this system which was used in the previous general elections of 1957/58, and in which all the Tanu candidates had won all the available seats even in the face of determined competition from the other participating political parties; which were: The United Tanganyika Party (UTP) and the Tanganyika African National Congress (TANC).

This scenario was repeated in the 1960 general elections, where Tanu won 70 out of the 71 seats, with as many as 58 of its candidates being returned unopposed, simply because the other parties had failed to put up candidates.

That is when it dawned upon Mwalimu Nyerere, that such situation was not healthy for democracy, and therefore had to be rectified. His ideal solution was to introduce a new ‘single-party’ political system, in which competition would take place between candidates of that same party.

Mwalimu Nyerere’s initiative eventually resulted in the enactment of the 1965 Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania, which was later replaced by the current 1977 Constitution, which was subsequently amended in 1992, in order to return the country to the multi-party political system.

The exclusion of private candidates in elections This was another challenge on democracy which preoccupied Mwalimu Nyerere’s mind, and which he himself, long after he had retired from public office, loudly expressed his views.

The occasion was a public rally held in Mbeya on May Day 1995, to which he had been invited to grace that occasion as ’guest of honour’. In his keynote address, among many other things, Mwalimu Nyerere said the following: “Ninalo tatizo moja ambalo nataka kulisema hapa, kwa sababu ninaona ni la msingi sana. Mimi nadhani sheria zetu zimekosea sana kwa kuzuia wagombea binafsi.

Hili ni jambo la msingi kwa sababu linahusu haki ya mtu ya kuomba kupigiwa kura. Hiyo ni haki yake ya kiraia. Huwezi kumnyima. It must however be admitted, that the prohibition on the participation of private candidates in elections, was first imposed during his leadership period, and with his approval and consent.

It all started with the enactment of the ‘One-Party’ Constitution in 196 5; which made the following provisions:- For the Presidential elections, article 7(3) of that Constitution provided that “whenever an event occurs which necessitates the election of the President, an electoral conference of the Party shall meet and nominate a person who is a citizen of Tanzania who has attained the age of thirty years, and is a member of the party, as the sole Presidential candidate”.

For Parliamentary elections, article 27 provided that “Any citizen of Tanzania who is a member of the party, shall be qualified for election as a Member of Parliament, and no other person shall be so qualified”.

Similar provision was also made in the Local Government election laws, for candidates seeking to be elected to Local Government Authorities.

But there was a good reason for this, which was “to enable the party to exercise control over the quality of the candidates, specifically with regard to such candidates’ integrity and ethics”.

This was considered to be necessary because there was no other established authority, or organ, which would undertake this task.

Nevertheless, despite this crusade by Mwalimu Nyerere for the rights of the private candidate in elections, the said prohibitions have not yet been lifted.

Fortunately, however, this matter has been taken care of in the proposed new Union Constitution, whose article 88(1) (f) allows the participation of private candidates in Presidential elections; and article 140(1)(c) grants similar relief to candidates seeking election to Parliament.

I am, of course, aware that President Magufuli is not in any hurry to complete the remaining stages of the new constitutionmaking process, for the cogent reason that he is giving priority to other, more important development projects.

This is quite understandable, because it is completely in line with Mwalimu Nyerere’s philosophy of “kupanga ni kuchagua” (proper planning involves the making of proper choices between competing priorities).

Thus, lest we forget, it is important to keep in mind our solemn pledge to honour Mwalimu Nyerere. We therefore have a binding obligation to safeguard and maintain his legacy regarding ‘democracy’, in all our political processes.


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Author: Pius Msekwa

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