Nyerere, flawed fighter of colonialism, buried as hero

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The Independent Online

Tanzania's late president, Julius Nyerere, was yesterday hailed as one of the century's great freedom fighters by the US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright. She told thousands at his state funeral in the national stadium that Nyerere enshrined the same values which inspired her country's independence leaders.

Tanzania's late president, Julius Nyerere, was yesterday hailed as one of the century's great freedom fighters by the US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright. She told thousands at his state funeral in the national stadium that Nyerere enshrined the same values which inspired her country's independence leaders.

But the official celebration for Nyerere, who died aged 77 in London last week, was filled with contradictions. The man known as Mwalimu (the teacher) was praised for setting an example to African leaders by stepping down voluntarily.

Next to the podium, the Princess Royal sat between two of Africa's longest- serving and most unrepentant presidents, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Daniel Arap Moi of Kenya. Between them, they have been in power for 40 years, and brought little benefit to their people.

Mrs Albright said: "The United States and Tanzania are far apart in many ways but we are bound together by our belief in human liberty. Mwalimu was every inch a builder who insisted on complete freedom and peace. He set a standard for humanitarianism in the world by offering a haven for refugees. He had faith in the power of liberty.''

Nyerere, who died from lymphocytic leukaemia, ruled Tanzania from 1962 until 1985, after independence from Britain. He was a visionary, and overthrew Idi Amin in Uganda. He believed in African co-operation and backed the Zimbabwean, South African and Mozambican independence struggles. But at home he suppressed liberty, ordered forced removals to collective farms and imprisoned thousands of opponents of his strict Maoist regime.

Yesterday's funeral, after hundreds of thousands of Tanzanians filed past his body in a glass structure at the 40,000-seat stadium, was that of a hero. The stadium, decorated with green and black drapes, the Tanzanian flag at half-mast, choirs in cassocks and military bands was packed with Tanzanians, many in tears. President Moi said Nyerere was one of the "African political leaders of my generation who fought the coloniser and worked together for the independence and liberty of the continent''. President Mugabe, now infamous for his regular outbursts against Britain, shifted uneasily from his neighbour, the Princess Royal. They spoke only to greet each other.

Further back, two countries at war were alphabetically close: the Eritrean President, Isayas Afewerki, was seated in front of Ethiopia's Meles Zenawi. They did not speak.

The former Zambian president, Kenneth Kaunda, a friend of Nyerere, was seated among the ambassadors, far from the official party of the country's present leader, Frederick Chiluba, who would like to see him stripped of his nationality.

After the speeches, the coffin was taken on a gun carriage then flown to Nyerere's home village, Butiama, by Lake Victoria. There, on Saturday, he will be laid to rest, alongside his father.

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