April 19, 2024

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African hero Julius Nyerere honored by African Union statue

Julius Nyerere, Tanzania’s founding father, has been honored with a statue outside the African Union headquarters in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.

Nyerere led Tanzania from its independence in 1961 to 1985. He was a committed pan-Africanist known as Mwalimu, which means “teacher” in Swahili and hosted independence fighters in southern Africa who opposed white minority rule.

He was instrumental in establishing the Organization of African Unity, which evolved into the African Union. AU Commission leader Moussa Faki Mahamat unveiled the statue at a ceremony attended by numerous African heads of state, saying, “The legacy of this remarkable leader encapsulates the essence of Pan Africanism, profound wisdom, and service to Africa.”

He recalled Nyerere’s comments at the first OAU summit in 1963. “Our continent is one, and we are all Africans.”

Haile Selassie became a symbol of African nationalism after resisting Italy’s attempts to colonize the country in the 1930s.

However, when he became Prime Minister of what was then Tanganyika in 1961, his priority was to unite the new country, which comprised over 120 different ethnic groups, including Arab, Asian, and European minorities. He accomplished this by promoting Swahili as a common language and his vision of “African Socialism” or ujamaa (familyhood).

Tanzania was formed in 1964 when Tanganyika and the Zanzibar archipelago merged. It eventually became a one-party state. Nyerere justified the lack of multi-party elections by claiming that Tanzanians had far more freedom under him than British rule and that the one-party system was necessary for stability.

Known for his modest lifestyle, Nyerere attempted to establish an egalitarian society based on cooperative agriculture, which meant farmers no longer worked their fields but instead collaborated on communally owned land. He wanted Tanzania self-sufficient rather than relying on foreign aid and investment.

However, this was largely unsuccessful, and Tanzania’s economy was in dire straits when he resigned in 1985.

Nyerere, seen here with British Prime Minister Harold Wilson in 1975, lobbied Western governments against white-minority rule in southern Africa.

Nonetheless, he oversaw significant improvements in healthcare and literacy and is widely respected in Tanzania. Many roads, bridges, and stadiums in the country, as well as the main international airport, are named after him.

During the 1970s, Nyerere lobbied Western governments to take a stronger stance against white-minority rule in Rhodesia, later Zimbabwe, and South Africa, and he supported armed groups fighting those regimes.

Tanzania’s President Samia Suluhu Hassan paid tribute to Nyerere, saying, “To him, Africa’s wellbeing came first, before popular approval, personal fortune, or country wellbeing.”

Nyerere was strongly opposed to Idi Amin’s 1972 expulsion of Asians from neighboring Uganda. Relations continued to deteriorate, and seven years later, Nyerere dispatched an army into Uganda to depose Amin.

He was a trained teacher who became the first Tanganyikan to study at a British university when he went to Edinburgh in 1949. He died in 1999 at the age of 77, and his death anniversary, October 14, is a public holiday.

Under Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana became the first former British colony to achieve independence in 1957.

Nyerere is the third leader to be honored with a statue outside the AU headquarters, following Ghana’s founding father and pan-Africanist Kwame Nkrumah and Ethiopia’s Emperor Haile Selassie, who became a symbol of African nationalism by resisting Italy’s attempts to colonize the country in the 1930s and later agreed to host the OAU.

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