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Nyerere, one of Africa’s most respected elder statesmen

IN his clinic at Bukoba Municipal Council, Dr Charles Timbigambirwa (53), sits silently on a chair against the wall where a large portrait of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, the founding father of the nation, hangs.

“Without Mwalimu Nyerere I would not have become a doctor. I would not afford pay school fees because I hail from a poor family. “During his tenure we enjoyed free education from primary to university level,” he recalls with tears running down his cheers.

Mwalimu Julius Nyerere was one of Africa’s most respected elder statesmen and left a firm legacy. His global standing for justice, equal humanity and egalitarian economic policies still holds today. Today, Tanzania mark 21 years after his death on October 14, 1999.

Since Mwalimu Nyerere died, Tanzania’s population has shot up and many young people, who constitute half of population, never saw the man. Others, who are in leadership positions, young as well, only reach out to people to share stories they have read about Tanzania’s first president.

Several young men including Conrad Kato, an advocate based in Mwanza City who was born in 1987 have been asking questions to have some background about the Kagera war. One of the questions was…“Why did Tanzania government send its troops to Uganda and why were several Ugandan soldiers buried at Kaboya TPDF Camp in Muleba District, Kagera Region?.

Before the 1978/79 Kagera War with the then dictator Idi Amin of Uganda, people in the Kagera lived peacefully. They were cultivating various cash and food crops including bananas, coffee, maize, cassava and millet on their farms. Many people were killed by Idi Amin’s forces in the Kagera.

The Uganda–Tanzania War, known in Tanzania as the Kagera War and in Uganda as the 1979 Liberation War, was fought between Uganda and Tanzania from October 1978 until June 1979, and led to the overthrow of Idi Amin’s regime. Amin’s forces included thousands of troops sent by Libya.

In 1971 Colonel Idi Amin launched a military coup that overthrew the President of Uganda, Milton Obote. He installed himself as President of Uganda and ruled the country under a repressive dictatorship. Soon after coming to power, soldiers loyal to Idi Amin kidnapped the then Kagera Regional Police Commander (RPC), Mr Hans Poppe who was on patrol mission in Missenyi Division.

The soldiers took him to Kampala, where Idi Amin wrongly identified him as a Chinese due to his complexion and accused him of training rebels in Tanzania. He later tortured and killed him. The killing of Hans Poppe triggered a brief exchange of military confrontation between Tanzania and Idi Amin’s forces.

The matter was solved through diplomatic dialogue termed as the “Mogadishu Pact” of 1972. Uganda also disputed its border with Tanzania, claiming that the Kagera Salient—a 720 square mile stretch of land between the official border and the Kagera River 18 miles to the south, should be placed under its jurisdiction, maintaining that the river made for a more logical border.

However, again in October 1978, Idi Amin forces invaded Tanzania and annexed the Kagera Salient extending from Mutukula to Kyaka (over 60 kms). The late Father of the Nation Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere, who was also Commander in-Chief of Tanzania Armed Forces could not tolerate such nonsense.

He declared war to the invaders with orders to repel the enemy from Tanzanian soil. The ensuing war was bitter and expensive.

Tanzanian Commanders including Major Generals Abdallah Twalipo, Silas Mayunga, Mwita Marwa, Tumainieli Kiwelu and Brigadiers Imran Kombe and John Walden, just to mention a few, did a commendable job at the battle front leading gallant Tanzanian forces.

The task was successfully accomplished in October 1979 with Idi Amin fleeing to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The Tanzanian forces received a heroes welcome at Bunazi, in Missenyi District led by Mwalimu Nyerere from where he addressed the nation and awarded medals to the commanders.

The event was also witnessed by former Ugandan ruler, Godfrey Binaisa. During his national address, Mwl Nyerere emphasized the importance of patriotism. He commended all men and women who took part in liberating Uganda from Amin’s dictatorship.

About 619 fallen heroes including Tanzanians and several Ugandans who died during the war were buried at Kaboya TPDF Camp, in Muleba district, in Kagera Region. A white monument was erected in the cemetery and adorned with the names of the dead.

Nyerere was one of the leading figures in Africa’s struggle for independence and in its post-colonial era. He led his country to independence from Britain in 1961 and served as president from 1962 to 1985, when he became one of the first post-colonial African leaders to leave office voluntarily.

His uniqueness was in his lifestyle and in the strategies he advocated and put in place as matters of principle. True to his religion, Nyerere extolled justice and peace wherever he went. He denounced violence, describing it as “a confession of failure because it does not solve the basic problem of injustice nor put suffering in a positive context.

After his retirement as president, he remained one of Africa’s most respected elder statesmen, playing an important advisory role in Tanzanian and regional politics. His last mission was to mediate talks aimed at ending a six-year civil war in neighbouring Burundi.

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