4 Lesson We Can Learn From The Everlasting Life of Julius Nyerere

4 Lesson We Can Learn From The Everlasting Life of Julius Nyerere

Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere (April 13, 1922 – October 14, 1999) is one of the principal architects of modern Pan-Africanist thought.


As the first leader of Tanzania, he showed us how to put the African principles of ubuntu and ujamaa – cooperative economics – into practice. He proved to the world that African Socialism works, and his leadership is the reason why Tanzania is ranked 7th among 47 countries in the Sub-Saharan Africa region today.

Every Pan-African should make the philosophies and opinions of Julius Nyerere a part of their studies. This article attempts to outline his teachings, his legacy, and his leadership by example for those who would follow in his footsteps.

Who Is Julius Nyerere

Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere was the first President of Tanzania. Much has been written about his early life here and here. This article, however, will focus on lessons that the student of Pan Africanism should learn from his time as the ‘Father of the Nation’ and his legacy.

4 Lesson We Can Learn From The Everlasting Life of Julius Nyerere

If there was just one document that captured Julius Nyerere’s philosophy, it was the Arusha Declaration. It is from this document that we learn of the four concepts that Nyerere preached and practiced. They were:

  1. Ujamaa
  2. Umoja
  3. Kujitegemea, and
  4. The eternal struggle against white supremacy and neo-colonialism

The Arusha Declaration was delivered in 1967, and quickly became Africa’s most most prominent political statement regarding what it means to be African and socialist.

The following are lessons learned from the Arusha Declaration, as well as practical applications of the philosophies outlined therein.

Ujamaa – Julius Nyerere on Development

The development of a country is brought about by people, not by money. Money, and the wealth it represents, is the result and not the basis of development. The four prerequisites of development are … (i) People; (ii) Land; (iii) Good Policies; (iv) Good Leadership.

The Arusha Declaration

When Nyerere inherited Tanganyika in 1961, he inherited a people devastated by white values and exploitation. The people had suffered greatly under the Germans and later under British colonial rule. Literacy was non-existent and life expectancy was abysmal.

To repair the damage done by a century of colonialism, Nyerere set about developing his newly liberated nation by implementing ujamaa – a kiSwahili word that translates as cooperative economics.

In Western terms, ujamaa looked alot like socialism – a fact that Nyerere embraced when he said the following:

“I am a socialist. I do not, and cannot, believe that we can leave economic questions out of account, when we are considering human freedom. For the freedom to starve, to be diseased, or ignorant is not a freedom which I am willing to accept, for myself or for others. And I cannot believe that the poverty of our people was irrelevant to their struggle against colonialism.

Julius Nyerere understood that White nations did not release African nations from colonial rule out of the goodness of their hearts. They did so out of efficiency. For it was less costly to allow Africans to govern their own Black nations while maintaining white control over the economy.

To take control back from colonial powers who still held on to the means of production, he nationalized banks, industry, and agriculture. While this move did not win him friends in the Western world, it meant he was able to empower his own people with access to resources.

For a colonial power, the continuation of its rule over a colony, therefore, becomes primarily a question of how best to safeguard continued access to markets, and to raw materials, on an exploitative basis. And this exploitation is not affected by flag independence, as such. The colonial power may, consequently, decide to agree to political decolonization, and it will often make this decision with the active support of powerful economic interests in its own country.

Not only did Nyerere change the economic system of the nation, he worked to change the values and behaviors used to turn Africans into wage slaves interested in little more than consumption. In his work titled Freedom and Liberation, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere writes the following:

“It must be clear that liberation from neo-colonialism also involves, for our poor countries, the deliberate rejection of western standards of consumption, both for individuals and for the society. Instead we have to establish, and to implement, economic goals more appropriate for our present and our expected level of national wealth production.

An African country which looks at the pattern of consumption in the United States, and Western Europe, and decides to “catch up”, is bound to fail! … Western standards of living are based on the exploitation of the rest of the world, and of their own poor people.

Umoja And Julius Nyerere on Pan-African Unity

Umoja – a kiSwahili word meaning ‘unity’ or ‘familyhood’ – is the foundation of Pan-Africanism. If the ultimate objective of Pan-Africanism is a sovereign state free of colonialism in all its forms and with the veracity to withstand the weapons of white supremacy, then that objective can never be achieved if we allow ourselves to be divided and conquered.

The challenge for any Pan-African leader is unification of the people within their national borders across ethnic lines. This challenge was no less formidable for Julius Nyerere than it was for any other leader of his kind. Tanzania is a nation of more than 100 ethnic groups, and each had their own self-interests to look after.

4 Lesson We Can Learn From The Everlasting Life of Julius Nyerere

Nyerere understood that if he could not communicate to the various groups that made up his nation, he could not convince them to subordinate their interests for those of the collective.

His solution was to implement one language for one people. With a collective language, he could influence the collective mind of the nation.

Professor Father Juvenalis Baitu is the former Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the Catholic University of Eastern Africa and knew Julius Nyerere personally. He regards kiSwahili as one of Nyerere’s greatest achievements.

One of the achievements of Nyerere was toning down ethnicity in Tanzania. Tanzania has KiSwahili as a national language. Nyerere used this to unify the people of Tanzania.

(Nyerere) needed a medium through which he could communicate his ideas of what Tanganyika (as it was known at independence) needed to become. So, the language was extremely important (for Nyerere), and he succeeded in that. KiSwahili united us (Tanzanians), and it brought us together as a people.

Vatican News

4 Lesson We Can Learn From The Everlasting Life of Julius Nyerere


Nyerere with Kwame Nkrumah – a Founding Father of Pan-Africanism

With the establishment of a national language, Nyerere emphasized collectivism across ethnic lines. He wrote

“We can concentrate on our personal advancement and individual freedom from restraint. Or we can choose to give service to our fellow-men, and thus, to ourselves as members of the society. If we choose the latter, we shall be working for social and economic justice, with emphasis on the needs of those underprivileged and deprived, who now constitute the majority of our fellow citizens. We shall be working for liberation.”

Nyerere’s legacy lives on: when asked by the Afrobarometer survey in 2017 whether they identified more with their national or ethnic identity, 88% of Tanzanian respondents chose the former, compared to a continent average of 42% and only 17% in Nigeria .


For, the community as for the individual, self-determination is both a moral and a spiritual necessity in order to be, we have to be responsible, even, and perhaps especially, for our mistakes.

Julius Nyerere Quotes

Since the earliest days of Pan-Africanism, our leaders emphasized the importance of ‘do for self’. They were aware that if Africans were to be saved, liberated, and prosperous, Africans themselves would need to be responsible for bringing it about.

Nyerere, like his predecessors, understood the dangers of depending on other nations who did not have the best interests of Africans at heart. Thus, he emphasized cooperation between African nations, and encouraged the people of the nation to be self-reliant.

Kujitegemea, according to the Julius Nyerere philosophy, was one of the best defenses against the threat of neocolonialism.

Nyerere’s Fight For Liberation From White Supremacy and Neocolonialism

In his book titled Freedom and Liberation, Mwalimu Nyerere writes:

Liberation is a historical process. It is not a single action which can be completed and have that completion celebrated annually. And, for Africa, liberation has four aspects or stages:

1. First is freedom from colonialism and racial minority rule.

2. Second is freedom from external economic domination.

3. Third is freedom from poverty, injustice and oppression, imposed upon Africans by Africans.

4. Fourth is mental liberation – an end to the mental subjugation which makes Africans look upon other people or other nations, as inherently superior, and their experiences as being automatically transferable to Africa’s needs and aspirations.

He continues:

For, colonialism implies the inferiority of the colonized, acceptance of it means an automatic limit to self-respect. Further, a people who do not rule themselves have no power to control their own economic progress, or to fight against other inequities, or injustices, within their own community.

They are not full members of one world community of mankind, because they are prevented from acting as they determine to, and, therefore, from being responsible to their fellow-men for what they do.

Once it is attained, political power has to be used, and used aggressively, if it is to be followed by an improvement in the day-to-day lives of the mass of the people.

That is the lesson of the last fifteen or sixteen years. It has to be aggressively not against other peoples of Africa, or against any particular external power, but against the next obstacle to liberation, neo-colonialism.

The reality of neo-colonialism quickly becomes obvious to a new African government which tries to act on economic matters in the interests of national development, and for the betterment of its own masses.

For such a government discovers immediately that it inherited the power to make laws, to direct civil service, to deal with foreign governments, and so on; but that it did not inherit effective power over economic developments of our country. Indeed, it often discovers that there is no such thing as a national economy at all!

Julius Nyerere Achievements, Legacy, And Warnings From The Grave

By the time, he died (in 1999) Nyerere did not seem to have a mansion, or even money stashed away in Switzerland. We do not see that kind of President in Africa nowadays or for that matter elsewhere in the world?

Professor Father Juvenalis Baitu – Former Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA)

Mwalimu Julius Nyerere was not without his controversy. Like all leaders, he faced criticism for failed policy and slow economic development.

But to his credit, he crushed opposition to give his administration the space it needed to enact his agenda. And he was willing to experiment with new ways of managing his nation – albeit with limited success.

Despite his failures, there are people alive today who would not be where it not for his successes, which notably include the following:

Infant Mortality Was Cut In Half

By improving access to medical facilities and education, Julius Nyerere was able to reduce infant mortality rates from 138 per 1000 live births in 1965 to 110 in 1985.

Literacy Rates Exploded

Under Julius Nyerere, the adult literacy rate rose from 17% in 1960 to 63% by 1975 (much higher than in other African countries) and continued to rise.

Girls Gained Access to Education

Primary school enrollment for girls was raised from 16% of the age group in 1960 to 85% of females by age group in 1985.

Tanzanians United Across Ethnic Lines

By unifying his people under one language and promoting nationalism, Julius Nyerere was able to avoid the “tribal” and political tensions that affected the rest of Africa.

Julius Nyerere voluntarily retired from office in 1985 to encourage new leadership. His peaceful transfer of power stood in stark contrast to the coups that sadly characterize many African nations.

Throughout his retirement he lived out his days on his farm only occasionally intervening in politics. He would develop leukemia towards the end of the century – a disease from which he would never recover.

On October 14, 1999, Mwalimu Nyerere joined the Ancestors. He is buried in Tanzania, but his spirit lives on across the African Diaspora.

4 Lesson We Can Learn From The Everlasting Life of Julius Nyerere


The Tomb of Julius Nyerere.

Julius Nyerere is survived by his seven children: Makongoro Nyerere, Madaraka Nyerere, John Nyerere, Anna Nyerere, Rosemary Nyerere, Andrew Nyerere, and Magige Nyerere.

Julius Nyerere is often called ‘Mwalimu’ – a kiSwahili word that means ‘teacher’. True to his honorific, he continues to instruct us from the Ancestral realm.

Julius Nyerere Books

The Most Frequently Asked Questions About Mwalimu Julius Nyerere

When and Where Was Julius Nyerere Born

Julius Nyerere was born on April 13, 1922 in Butiama, Tanzania

What Is Julius Nyerere Famous For?

Nyerere was a Pan-Africanist, famous for putting into practice the principles of African Socialism. While his attempts were met with limited success, he was able to create a vision for a new African system of government based on indigenous values.

Why is Julius Nyerere Important

Nyerere was the First President of free and liberated Tanzania, also known as Baba wa Taifa (Father of the Nation), Julius Kambarage Nyerere was the author of ‘The Arusha declaration’, a five part manifesto that outlined the creed of the political party of which he was the head, the Policy of Socialism, the Policy of Self Reliance, the TANU Membership; and a Resolution. It is for this declaration and his intellectual contribution to political philosophy that he is considered one of The 50 Most Important Pan-Africanists In History.


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