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Annar Cassam discusses two historic interviews conducted with Mwalimu Nyerere, the .

The theme and title, 'Nyerere on Nyerere', suggests itself spontaneously when I read these two interviews, interviews which are not very long and in which Nyerere speaks in clear and concentrated form about some of the profound issues that guided his action. For example, in the 1984 interview with Nawal El Saadawy of Egypt's El Mussawar, he gives a brief record of his 30 years of leadership, of the independence struggle, of nation-building based on the foundations of equality, democracy and socialism, of the liberation struggle and of African and international solidarity.

Looking back at the historical record of all that has happened since 1984–1985, his achievements in building a peaceful, stable and united Tanzania and his strategies for the liberation struggles of southern Africa speak for themselves.

A second reason for choosing these two interviews is their timing. The year 1984 was the last year of Mwalimu's presidency; he retired as head of state exactly a year later in November 1985 after the presidential elections in which his successor, Ali Hassan Mwinyi, was elected president.

The 1991 interview in Madrid with Ana Camacho of El País occurred at a major turning point in post-war world history, a moment symbolised by the collapse of the Soviet Union and its empire and by the subsequent jubilation expressed by the capitalist West. The imploding of the soviet system, caused mainly by its own contradictions, was seized upon by the US and Europe as being a vindication of their own form of capitalism. It was irrefutable proof of the superiority of the West for all time, according to them. Mwalimu, no longer president and having resigned from the chairmanship of CCM in 1990, speaks with insight and foresight about the Soviet collapse and about the ensuing Western victory dance. About the Soviet Union, he says it is not possible to build socialism without freedom and about capitalism, he warns against worshiping a “new god” whose days too are numbered.

Finally, these two interviewers (both women) demonstrate in their choice of questions serious background knowledge about Mwalimu's career and beliefs in Tanzania and beyond as well as a real understanding of his place in the history of Africa and the world. And both of them refer Mwalimu's comments back to their own countries and show the relevance of his analyses to the political situations in Egypt, the Middle East and in Europe respectively.


QUOTE: "Our generation was a generation of nationalists struggling for the independence of our own countries – that is what we were there for."

COMMENT: The interviewer herself places him within the first generation of founding leaders of the Third World and the non-aligned countries such as Nkrumah, Nasser, Nehru and Tito. These were the men who emerged as the European empires crashed all over the globe and a host of freedom-fighters and nation-builders worked to pick up the pieces and re-anchor their separate and varied countries into two new and unifying networks at the OAU (Organization of African Unity) and the NAM (Non-Aligned Movement).

In Africa, Nyerere, alone of his generation of nationalists, ran the full race and stayed the course; he alone never forgot what he was there for. He alone could say 30 years later, at his moment of choosing, that he had done what had to be done and it was time he and the country moved on. These were three decades during which many of his contemporaries lost their way (Nkrumah and Kenyatta), were assassinated (Limumba and Mboya), or whose health and careers were broken in their own homelands (Nasser and Ben Bella).

QUOTE: “The plight of the Palestinians is very different and much worse. When we were fighting for our independence, I was in Tanganyika, Kenyatta was in Kenya. But the Palestinians have been deprived of their own country…”

COMMENT: In the 60 years since the creation of Israel on dispossessed Palestinian land, this basic fact is the one reality that has yet to be faced by the “international community”, including Barack Obama. The idea that a "2-state solution” can be magically fashioned out of the rubble of biblically-inspired colonisation and military occupation is a costly miscalculation based on an erroneous diagnosis of the Palestinian–Israeli tragedy. As Mahatma Gandhi put it in 1938, "A religious act cannot be performed with the aid of the bayonet and the bomb.”

The Arab countries, however, would be wrong in thinking their separate freedoms (and oil wealth) are secure while their Palestinian brothers and neighbours live in danger of extinction. And this same logic, which Nkrumah pronounced and Nyerere applied to the African liberation struggle, will ensure that even when every Palestinian has been hounded out of every inch of occupied territory, the Middle East will still not attain peace and stability.

QUOTE: “I believe very strongly in unity. Sometimes, I am accused of supporting unity for its own sake but I believe unity is an instrument of liberation.”

COMMENT: This is the central pillar of his belief, his view of the world and of his strategy for change. The idea of unity is not sentimentally exclusive, nor merely a political slogan. For Nyerere, it was what he was and what we are, "a part of each other". In this interview, the context is the altercation between himself, on the one hand, and Nasser and Nkrumah, on the other, who both became very “impatient” with the “reactionaries” (who shall remain nameless) at the OAU in those early years. By the same token, he then defended Egypt from being expelled from the OAU (and later from the NAM) when Sadat “went too far” at Camp David in 1979. And in defending Egypt, he was protecting the unity of the OAU because the “oppressed must not give up their unity – only the enemy can rejoice at its loss.”

Later in this interview, he explains another dimension of the meaning of the unity principle when describing the stages and the reasoning that led to one- party democracy within TANU (Tanganyika African National Union). This development not only brought about democracy and debate to the country, it also brought unity, one of Tanzania's major strengths, for “it allowed the party to articulate the reasonable aspirations of the majority of our people”.

This almost instinctive drive for unity enabled him to forge the Tanzanian nation and identity out of 127 tribes and different racial and religious affiliations very soon after independence. It was the strategic imperative guiding his initiatives at the OAU and elsewhere on behalf of the liberation struggles of southern and South Africa. It was manifest in his leadership of the FrontLine States and of the different historical, linguistic, political, administrative and economic characteristics of countries such as Zambia, Mozambique, Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, which he later forged into the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

QUOTE: “It is true I am going. I am not very old, I am 62 but that is not the point. The point is that I have been leading my country since the beginning of the struggle for independence 30 years ago and since the Union with Zanzibar 20 years ago. So I think by now I have done all that I can do to help my country. One could go on but I do not believe that “going on” is the issue. It is much more important to look to the future…”

COMMENT: Mwalimu's first attempt at retiring at the end of the previous presidential mandate of 1975–80 was not successful and he had to abandon the attempt. In 1980, the country was not ready for it and was shocked to learn of the very idea. Mwalimu realized this and so stayed for another five years, giving plenty of prior notice and reassuring the nation there was no need to fear his departure.

On the eve of his retirement, in November 1985, he thanked the 3,000 CCM delegates and all citizens at the farewell meeting at the Diamond Jubilee Hall for “having made Tanzania what it is today. Together, we have built a Nation; what more can I say?”


QUOTE: “Our first recommendation (in the Report of the South Commission) is that if African countries want to develop in freedom, they must first put their own people, their own money and their own resources to maximum use. Another problem is that when our countries talk of external cooperation partnerships, they only think of the North. They never consider the possibility of South–South cooperation, say between Southern Africa and Latin America.”

COMMENT: In 1995, four years after the above interview, Nyerere and the highly respected Tanzanian permanent representative to the UN in Geneva, Amir Jamal, successfully negotiated with the Swiss authorities the establishment of the South Centre in that city. The main goal of this unique inter-governmental institution was to promote solidarity and cooperation among all the countries of the South and to strengthen their collective presence in the economic and commercial arenas of the UN. As the South Centre's first executive director, Mwalimu chose India's ManMohan Singh, now prime minister of his country.

If the never-ending, never-completed Doha Development Round concocted by the World Trade Organization, also based in Geneva, has achieved anything, it is surely the opportunity to teach the South some very important lessons about the North–South gap or abyss. Since the Doha exercise began in 2001, the emergent, the developing and the very poor members of the South have seen at first-hand – and under laboratory conditions– the importance of the expert advice and analysis available at their own centre in order to face the Northern bulldozers disguised as “trade talks and development rounds”.

And today, at this moment of writing, the leading countries of the South – China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Venezuela – have at last got their act together to put into place some of the concrete forms of South–South cooperation that Nyerere talked of years ago.

QUOTE: "Yes, now we see the birth of a new god, one called capitalism which supposedly has all the answers” and “At present we are living a moment of deception. But the conditions being created on the ground by this euphoria over capitalism gives me reason to believe that, in about 10 years or so, the ideal of socialism will return. And more forcefully than before.”

COMMENT: It is difficult, this side of the worst crisis since 1929, or this side of the banking binge, to be more precise, to recall the gross, self-congratulatory triumphalism that gripped the mind of so many citizens and leaders when the Soviet Union collapsed and the Berlin Wall was brought down in 1989. Some very bizarre exaggerations were invented to promote the theory that three saints, Reagan, Thatcher and Milton Friedman held up the capitalist sky over all our heads for which we should be eternally grateful. And in any case, there was no alternative…

Two years later, in 1991, Nyerere tells the Madrid journalist not to get carried away and even more, not to believe that the purpose is General Motors. He then goes on to point out that unregulated bouts of over-indulgence will inevitably lead to severe hangovers in about 10 years or so. And then what some call a mistake, that is, the ideal of a just society, socialism, will be back. And perhaps he is right.

QUOTE: “I belong to a dying breed, one that resists reneging on its own ideals.”

COMMENT: This is pure Mwalimu, laughing quietly at himself, using self-deprecating but gentle irony to drive home a very unpopular point in 1991, namely that history never ends, it only repeats itself. And that it is better to stand firm by your beliefs, if you have beliefs, and not to follow the herd and not to deny reality. And that has nothing to do with ideology.


* This article will be a contributing chapter to a forthcoming Pambazuka Press book entitled 'Nyerere's Legacy', edited by Chambi Chachage and Annar Cassam.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.