Third World visionary who brought socialism to the villages

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The Independent Online

JULIUS NYERERE was among an elite club of African statesmen - including Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah, Zambia's Kenneth Kaunda and Kenya's Jomo Kenyatta - who led their countries out of British rule into self-determination and provided the backbone for independence movements which changed the face of the continent.

JULIUS NYERERE was among an elite club of African statesmen - including Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah, Zambia's Kenneth Kaunda and Kenya's Jomo Kenyatta - who led their countries out of British rule into self-determination and provided the backbone for independence movements which changed the face of the continent.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s they believed in seeking ''the political kingdom'' which would ultimately lead to independence for all of Africa and solidarity between people whose countries, they pragmatically agreed, would be determined according to colonial boundaries.

The Nyerere generation espoused old-fashioned socialism, collectivism, even Maoism - ideological concepts which now seem redundant and damaging but which were crucial, in their day, to nation-building. Those concepts were certainly founded on more substance than the greed and power-hunger which have discredited the "strong new leaders'', such as Congo's Laurent Kabila, heralded less than two years ago as "beacons of hope'' by the US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright.

The legacy of Nyerere - or Mwalimu, meaning "teacher'' in Kiswahili - is that of a political activist and, to his fans, a visionary who detribalised the country. His critics point to the poverty and decrepitude of Tanzania today. You have to take your pick.

Post-war Britain, which was administering Tanganyika under a League of Nations mandate, was ready to be shot of it. This was not Kenya or Uganda which with their wealth could help bridge the dollar-gap; it had more than 100 tribes and the Tanganyika African National Union (Tanu) was a convincing movement.

Tanu's president, Nyerere, in common with a whole generation of Africans, had studied in Europe or fought in the Second World War. They had returned home with new ideas of justice - linked to the view that Britain had gone to war to defend an oppressed minority like the Poles - and a whole philosophy built around melding African rural tradition with European-style government.

After 12 December 1961, when Tanganyika became the first east African nation to gain independence, Nyerere as its prime minister and president-to-be wasted no time in bringing Zanzibar into the fold.

Nyerere's triumph was to build a lasting physiognomy for a place which had no logical raison d'etre apart from in the pencil and ruler of a 19th century map-maker. He ruled that Kiswahili be spoken nationwide, introduced a consistent education policy and rotating official posts.

Along with the idea of centralised socialist government, he imposed " ujamaa'' - communal land ownership which he said was a national extension of African village co-dependency. Naturally, it led to a nation of farmers who drove their tools into the soil, then leant against them and nodded off.

Stanley Meiser, who was a foreign correspondent in Tanzania in the 1960s, said: ''He nationalised the banks, plantations and manufacturing plants when he did not have personnel to run them. He pressured farmers into becoming ujamaa villagers even though Tanzanians found collective farming abhorrent. He broke relations with Britain, Tanzania's chief aid donor, because he wanted the rest of the world to "take Africa's word seriously''.

He retired in 1985, becoming the first African leader ever to step down voluntarily. To some, it was 24 years too late. But even if his Maoist economic policies were disastrous, Nyerere was modern enough to understand that "debt, development and drought'' were Africa's greatest challenges.

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