Reviewed by Desmond Davies, Africa Editor, North-South magazine, London.
Fitting tribute to Mwalimu
The late Tanzanian President, Julius Nyerere, was greatly misunderstood when he was in power. It was only when he stepped down that his critics realised that he meant well for his country and Africa. And that his ideas might have been well ahead of their time ‘ just as was the case of Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana.
But all is not lost. Nyerere’s ideas live on ‘ again, just as in the case of Nkrumah. Africa’s Liberation: The Legacy of Nyerere is a true tribute to Mwalimu. The book revisits his revolutionary ideas, which continue to inspire Africans.
A veritable list of pan-African heavyweights, from Africa and beyond, contributed the book: Horace Campbell, Nawal El Sadawi, Mohamed Sahnoun, Haroub Othman, Issa G. Shivji and Chris Maina Peter, to name a few. They address issues that were close to Nyerere’s heart and are still of great concern to many in Africa today.
The contributors have provided readers with what co-editor Chambi Chachage calls ‘the multidimensional thought and practice of Nyerere’. The thorny issue of human rights is dissected by authors who argued that Nyerere did his best attempts to finely balance the protection of human rights and the dispensation of justice.
Nyerere’s critics felt that certain actions that he took in the name of development, such as Ujaama, violated people’s rights. But the criticism was mainly coming from the West, which feared that the policy, established in 1967, would undermine Western influence over Tanzania. Ujaama was based on African Socialism, which would empower the people economically and socially.
‘One cannot be successful economically when the majority of the population is without food, clothing, shelter and healthcare,’ writes Horace Campbell. ‘…the Ujaama project was valid and its validity will be tested in another period when the struggles for peace and reparations move from opposition to structural transformation of the old colonial economic realities.’
While other African leaders faded into obscurity after they left power, it was the other way round for Nyerere. He was feted around the world ‘ and even in the West where his ideas became better understood and it was realised that he had meant well for his country. After all, that is the essence of political leadership at the highest level.
When Nyerere died in 1999, he left a vacuum in African thinking that has been difficult to fill by the current crop of leaders in Africa. That is why his ideas are so important today. And those leaders who are failing to live up to the expectations of their people ‘ who are finding it difficult to deliver on their promises ‘ would do well to read a copy of Africa’s Liberation: The Legacy of Nyerere. The authors have dissected and analysed Nyerere’s policies and ideas so that his words, actions, achievements and shortcomings have acquired a sharper focus and relevance to today.
This is not just a book that has been written in and abstract manner, either. Many of the contributors stood should-to-shoulder in the fight against colonialism and imperialism and as such they know that they are talking about. Nyerere is quoted extensively ‘ to add to the importance of this work.
Their contributions adequately capture the thoughts of Nyerere in so far as they reflect on the liberation struggle in Africa, the Commonwealth, leadership, economic development, land, human rights and education. All in all, this is a book that should be made available in schools and universities throughout Africa because it appears that the pan-African spirit that burned so brightly in the 1960s and 1970s appears to be fading today ‘ leaving today’s generation of Africans struggling to find a meaning of their existence and to understand the importance of being committed to their continent.