RETIRED President Benjamin Mkapa’s autobiography entitled “My Life, My Purpose: A Tanzanian President Remembers” is, indeed, an eye-opener.
In his candid assessment of his stewardship of our country, he talks about his ‘highs’ and ‘lows’ as Tanzania’s Head of State for 10 years, 1995 to 2005.
Oh, how I wish I could write Mwalimu Julius Nyerere’s biography, which would similarly reveal the founder-President’s ‘highs’ and ‘lows’, some of which I happen to know pretty well, because of having had the rare opportunity of working closely with him in different capacities, continuously for up to two decades.
There is an English proverb which says: “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride”. I do fervently wish I could write the biography of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere.
However, as the Holy Bible says, “the spirit is willing, but the body is weak”. The writing of such monumental works like retired President Mkapa’s tome (which task, we are told, was supervised and coordinated by the professional Uongozi Institute; that it took four years of hard work to complete, and at a high cost of 230m/-!
It is, quite obviously, an unbearable task for a single individual like myself, working alone. Nevertheless, through the medium of this column, it is possible to share the little that I know about some of Mwalimu Nyerere’s ‘highs’ and ‘lows’, when he was in charge of the country’s welfare, and the well-being of its people.
What I would include in President Nyerere’s biography If I were to write the biography of Tanzania’s founder- President Julius Nyerere, I would talk candidly about some of his ‘highs’ and ‘lows’; Staring with the ‘lows’, i.e. those events which caused him agony , or pain, or frustration and anger; Such as the following:- (i) His forced resignation by the colonial Administration, from his teaching job at Pugu Secondary School.
Mwalimu Nyerere started his public service career as a teacher at a school operated by the Catholic Church, then known as St Francis College, Pugu, in 1953, on his return to Tanganyika after his graduation with a Master’s Degree at Edinburgh University in Scotland. By the beginning of 1954; He started engaging himself in political activities, with a group of fellow political activists based in Dar es Salaam; Aimed at securing the independence of the country in due course.
The colonial authorities soon got that information and conspired with the headmaster of the school to ask him to choose between teaching at that school and undertaking his political activities away from that secure job. It pained him, but he boldly chose to resign from the teaching job, being fully aware of the associated economic risks to himself and his young family.
It was a huge personal sacrifice on his part, undertaken solely to work for the country’s liberation from colonial rule. (ii) The army mutiny of January 1964 In the early hours of January 20, 1964, a group of noncommissioned African officers of the Tanganyika African Rifles (which was the Tanganyika army’s official designation), staged a mutiny against their commissioned British officers.
For his personal safety, President Nyerere had to be whisked away in the middle of the night from State House to a safe location in nearby Kigamboni.
The mutineers were soon subdued and arrested, but the event pained him greatly, as evidenced by his radio broadcast to the nation the next day, wherein he said: “Yesterday was a day of great shame and disgrace to our nation. I thank all the people who helped to keep this disgrace from getting out of hand.
I hope that our country will never again witness a repetition of such disgrace”. Thereafter, President Nyerere announced the disbanding of the Tanganyika Rifles, and its replacement by an entirely new army, which was appropriately named “the Tanzania Peoples’ Defense Forces” (TPDF).
(iii) The suffocation and death of persons for failure to pay poll-tax Poll-tax had been introduced during the colonial administration of Tanganyika.
It imposed an obligation on every male adult to pay that tax, as a normal Government tax collection strategy. But the problem arose in respect of its administration. In early 1963, A large number of male adults were rounded up for the crime of failing to pay that tax, and detained in an over- crowded cell, situated in Ilemela of Mwanza District.
They were left there, unattended, for several days. As a result of this negligence, a number of them, reportedly forty-six, died from suffocation.
On hearing this, President Nyerere was greatly distressed and annoyed. He angrily responded by abolishing the said tax, in addition to other measures which he took to punish the negligent officials who caused these unnecessary deaths.
“The lives of citizens cannot be treated like a pawn in the payment of a Government tax” he declared. (iv) The torture and killing of a person by the security apparatus in Shinyanga, 1976 In the course of the year 1976, a major security operation was carried out in Shinyanga and Mwanza regions, as a result of a large number of people being killed mysteriously by unknown people, allegedly because the victims were suspected to be practicing witchcraft.
In the course of that operation, many people were tortured, and at least one person was killed. This information made President Nyerere furious and he immediately took such measures as were necessary to demonstrate his anger and disappointment.
They included the dismissal from office of the two ministers responsible for security organs, namely Home Affairs Minister Ali Hassan Mwinyi and Minister for Security Peter Siyovelwa plus the regional commissioners of Shinyanga and Mwanza.
(v) The military invasion of Tanzania by Iddi Amin, then President of Uganda General Iddi Amin Dada’s military coup which ousted President Milton Obote in January 1971, had created sufficient reason for President Nyerere to hate, nay abhor, Iddi Amin.
The idea of a forceful removal of a democratically elected Government from office, was anathema to Mwalimu Nyerere; and so was the culprit who did it.
That is what accounts for President Nyerere’s extreme abhorrence of Iddi Amin Dada. Thus his sudden invasion of Tanzanian Territory in Kagera Region, was just like rubbing salt into the wound.
President Nyerere was justifiably pained and angered; and his response was immediate and furious.
“Tutampiga”! Mwalimu Nyerere declared and continued thus: “Uwezo wa kumpiga tunao, sababu ya kumpiga tunayo na nia ya kumpiga tunayo”.
Historic words that created a popular new entry into the Kiswahili vocabulary. No wonder he did not stop at only chasing the invader from Tanzanian soil, but went on to chase Iddi Amin out of Uganda as well.
Some of President Nyerere’s ‘highs’ If I were to write former President Nyerere’s biography, I would include the following pleasant events, each of which, to the best of my knowledge and recollection, literally “made his day”.
For he was seen showing, or heard expressing, genuine feelings of happiness and joy at the time of their respective occurrences.
Some of which are the following:- (i) The achievement of the country’s independence in December 1961 The achievement of independence was, of course, a cause for celebration and joy for everyone who had sound health of the body and mind.
But it was more so for Mwalimu Nyerere, the person who worked so hard for it, and even made some personal sacrifices in pursuit of its achievement.
On the eve of independence, Mwalimu Nyerere penned some beautiful Kiswahili verses of poetry, urging the people to be thankful to the Lord God.
(Mwalimu was an accomplished Kiswahili linguist). Its first four-line stanza reads as follows:- “kumekucha kuchele, na kulala kukomele. Kupata kwakaribia, na kupata ni kwa Mungu, Tutakaposhangilia, wanachi ndugu zangu, Na sala pia tusali, tuepushwe na uchungu, Kumekucha kuchele, na kulala kukomele.”
(ii) The Union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar, April 1964 The creation of the political Union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar in 1964, was one of Mwalimu Nyerere’s happiest moments.
When, after the successful Zanzibar revolution which put President Karume at the helm of the Zanzibar Government, and President Karume quickly indicated that he was willing and ready to form a political union with Tanganyika, the opportunity had presented itself for this union to be created.
The deed was done, and the Union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar came bouncing into existence on April 26, 1964. But President Nyerere’s moment of merriment came after the legislative process for the ratification of the Union Agreement had been completed. I was Katibu wa Bunge at that time.
He had earlier instructed me to deliver the ratification Bill promptly to him at State House, immediately after its endorsement by Bunge, for he wanted to sign it into law on that same day. I did as instructed, and thus became witness to his boundless happiness.
For, before signing the Bill, he poured for himself a glass of champagne, and offered the same to me, to Vice-President Rashidi Kawawa, and to a couple of Ministers who had informally assembled there to share the joy that evening.
Clear evidence that this was, no doubt, Mwalimu Nyerere’s moment of happiness. (iii) The merger of Tanu with ASP in February 1977 The merger of the Tanganyika African National Union (Tanu), with the Zanzibar Afro-Shirazi Party (ASP); was yet another moment of extreme happiness for Mwalimu Nyerere.
The decision to merge the two political parties was taken in May 1976, by the relevant decision-making organs of the two parties.
Thereafter, a 20-member commission was appointed, and tasked to make all the necessary preparations for the proposed merger.
Lucky me, I was appointed one of its members, and also Secretary to that Commission. The omnibus expression “all that was necessary”, included making recommendations for the Constitution of the proposed new political party (which would also specify its name), plus the associated Rules and Regulations thereof; Recommendations for its symbols, namely, the party flag and emblem; and any other relevant items. I believe we did a really magnificent job.
Then came the climax of that long process, namely, the inauguration of the new political party, on February 5, 1977. Since I am recounting President Nyerere’s ‘highs’, I must describe the moment when he demonstrated his genuine happiness.
It came after both President Jumbe and himself, had delivered their speeches for the occasion at the Amaan Stadium in Zanzibar, which was the venue of this grand event.
The climax was the ceremonial flag raising ceremony, i.e. the solemn act of hoisting the new party’s flag on its majestic mast.
That is when the excitement around the stadium reached fever pitch. At the VIP podium, the jubilant 20-member commission suddenly engaged themselves in an impromptu dancing spree.
And that is when President Nyerere, in an unprecedented mood of happiness, showed clear signs of wanting to join the dancing group; but he was, for reasons of protocol, restrained by his security personnel. The occasion was, undoubtedly, another of Mwalimu happiest moments.
There are other such stories that could be told, but my editorial space is exhausted. Oh, how I wish I could write Mwalimu Nyerere’s biography. But wishes are not horses.