Julius Nyerere, the elder statesman of post-colonial Africa, dies, aged 77

Joe Khamisi
Wednesday 21 September 2011 16:58

THE TANZANIAN nation was in shock yesterday following the death of the country's founder Julius Nyerere, one of Africa's elder statesmen.

THE TANZANIAN nation was in shock yesterday following the death of the country's founder Julius Nyerere, one of Africa's elder statesmen.

At exactly noon yesterday, a sombre President Benjamin Mkapa went on national television to announce - his voice cracking with emotion - that the man known to all as "Mwalimu" (teacher) had finally succumbed to leukaemia at the age of 77.

Nyerere, the father of African socialism who led his country to independence from Britain in 1961, had been in a London hospital in critical condition since 9 September.

"Today, I have the sad duty to announce that Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere has died," said Mr Mkapa, as senior officials around him struggled to hold back tears. He ordered a 30-day mourning period.

This port city of almost three million citizens virtually came to a standstill as people huddled around televisions and radios. Running documentaries on Nyerere's life were broadcast throughout the day.

Mr Mkapa summarised Nyerere's achievements in fighting colonialism, his vision that led him to forge the union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar in 1964, and his role in the independence struggle of several southern African nations.

"There may be those who may fear that the country would plunge into instability or that our relations with our neighbours would suffer," said Mr Mkapa. "Nyerere bequeathed this nation with peace and stability and I want to appeal to all to unite and co-operate to accord Mwalimu the respect that he deserves."

Nyerere remains a revered figure in Tanzania and abroad, despite his disastrous introduction of Maoist-style policies in the 1960s, which led to the forced relocation of millions of people into the countryside in an attempt to boost agricultural production. The experiment began to crumble in the late 70s when it became clear that the policy had brought farming to a standstill and plunged the East African country into debt.

Nyerere commands respect for being one of the first post-colonial African leaders to hand over power voluntarily. He retired in 1985 after 23 years as president, admitting that development policies he so vigorously advocated had failed.

Yesterday, world leaders praised his statesmanship. Tony Blair stressed Nyerere's achievement in subordinating tribal rivalries to national identity. "The fact that Tanzania is today a country at peace with itself and its neighbours is in large part a tribute to Mwalimu," said Mr Blair.

From elsewhere in Africa tributes poured in, especially from Uganda - where he was admired for sending troops to chase out the dictator Idi Amin - and from Zambia, where he is credited with securing the release from jail of the former president Kenneth Kaunda after Mr Kaunda was blamed for a failed coup in 1997.

Nyerere's death had been expected after a brain scan earlier this week showed that he had suffered a severe stroke. Family members at his bedside had been debating whether to switch off a life-support system when he suffered a further stroke. Preparations for a state funeral were well under way yesterday. The government has already taken block bookings in major hotels to ensure accommodation for foreign leaders. Repair work is being carried out on the airport road and on the national stadium in Dar es Salaam, where his body is expected to lie in state following repatriation.

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