Saturday, October 16, 2010

Who amongst us fits into the shoes of Nyerere?

By MAKWAIA WA KUHENGA, 14th October 2010 @ 12:00, Total Comments: 4, Hits: 379

ON Thursday was the eleventh anniversary of the death of the Father of this Nation, Founder President Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere. Going by African tradition, one does not mark the death of a dear one by any festivities such as going on holiday!

It is always a somber and not festive moment. For African animists, they have their own mode of prayers, normally invoking on the spirits of the ancestors of the deceased to either keep well the departed loved one or invoking on them, including the spirit of the departed one, to bless those left behind.

As for the religious ones of today’s major religions, they either say special mass for the deceased or invoke special prayers - du’a or hitma. One is not sure how we marked the 11th anniversary of the departure of the Father of this Nation yesterday, which was a public holiday.

Coming into the midst of campaigns towards elections, the anniversary was certainly low key with only presentations by activists at the University of Dar es Salaam and publishing of bumper editions by the major dailies like this newspaper, which published special editions. But as I have had occasion to point out in this column in the past, it may be appropriate in the future to commemorate Mwalimu’s birthday and death anniversaries separately in compliance with African culture and tradition.

So we could have April 13th every year to celebrate posthumously his birthday anniversary and October 14th his death anniversary. For Mwalimu Nyerere deserves such commemoration because he lives with us and indeed, is a living comprehensive textbook in terms of personal conduct, leadership and vision for this country and the wider world. For today, let us address the question constituting the theme of this subject: Who amongst us fits into his shoes?

Well, if I have included you, the reader of these lines into trying his shoes to see whether we fit into them is for a good reason. As everybody may agree, Nyerere offers a good example for emulation, even by ordinary individuals if one was to take his personal conduct at private level in terms of humility and integrity.

These virtues of humility, especially integrity, makes one stand tall and distinguishes one from others in the pack, isn’t it? But these two virtues can make a huge difference, wouldn’t they, if they are seen in a leader of a nation, especially of poor people like us. Those who saw him in his lifetime may remember that Mwalimu always scorned pomposity in his life style.

He could have opted for top of the market western suits especially tailored for him directly from France or Italy. But he didn’t. He preferred simple suits, easily affordable, the type of suits we called those days ‘Kaunda’ or ‘Chou En Lai’ suits. Such was his life-style – simplicity couched in humility.

A graduate of Edinburgh University, where he earned his Masters Degree, many a reputable universities across the globe had honoured him with honorary doctorate degrees. When people began addressing him, ‘Dr Nyerere’, Nyerere cut them short by these words: “….Oh! No! I will have none of this stuff… I am a teacher (Mwalimu) by profession anyway.

So please just call me Mwalimu…’ In power, Mwalimu never allowed his family to run for political office or run Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), least of all his wife and children. If they did, it was only when he had formally retired as Head of State. He also never allowed himself to be overpowered by the trappings of power like awarding himself tenders or businesses.

Seeing the poor condition of his simple house at his home village as he moved closer to retirement, some public institution offered to rebuild and renovate the house for him! One can go on and on in one’s memory lane in so far as Mwalimu’s humility and integrity is concerned. Today, what ordinary people can say without blinking is that Mwalimu Nyerere was not personally a thief.

This explains why even after his retirement he continued to wield unprecedented moral clout and power. He spoke what he himself practised and people believed him because they had empirical evidence in his person! But there is one aspect in his person that made a huge difference and which literally put this country on international map. He knew exactly where to draw the line between personal likes and dislikes and matters of leadership in ethics and national principles.

For the two things, ethics and principles are the ones, which transcend one given leader – they also embody a given nation because they literally translate for a given nation’s self respect. Your memory lane and mine would remember that Tanzania was principled on the question of liberation of other countries in Africa and the principle of relationships with other nations based on sovereignty and genuine independence based on equality and not appendage.

On the latter, Tanzania was taken seriously in all international forums as ‘Africa’s moral voice of conscience.’ The super powers of this world knew the stand of this country, much earlier and they dared not push this country to their line of thinking! At home, everybody knew there was no “friendship” with the president on matters of ethics and national principles and bad leaders knew their place.

The questions to ask ourselves apart from whether we would ever fit into the shoes of Mwalimu Nyerere is what of the many aspects of the qualities of Mwalimu as a human person and a leader have we been able to emulate 11 years on after his death. Of course, there will and there can be only one Mwalimu Nyerere. But surely we have to try, at all levels, to emulate even one aspect of his many virtues, isn’t it?

As Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda asked the other day, does it make sense for a leader or an agricultural field officer to visit peasants at their small farms clad in a three-piece suit or top of the market blazer while the peasants he is visiting are clad in tatters or clothes which have not seen soap for six months?

Makwaia wa KUHENGA is a Columnist for this newspaper. E-mail:


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