Remembering the other Julius

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FOR what many people would consider to be plausible reasons, I have recently been reviewing the life and times of one of Africa’s most illustrious sons, Julius Kambarage Nyerere. My plausible reason would be the exploits of one 30-year-old ANC youth leader, Julius Malema. Now, it did occur to me to wonder if his parents named him Julius after The Mwalimu (teacher), who died a few years after relinquishing, in 1985, the presidency of Tanzania and the ruling party, Chama Chamapinduzi. Apart from stepping down without much fuss, Nyerere’s claim to fame would be that he did so after explaining to his people that he felt he had failed them. He became prime minister of Tanganyika at its independence in 1961 and president of Tanzania after the amalgamation with Zanzibar a few years later. Some of his critics have said he was “a great man who made great mistakes”. The island nation had experienced serious upheavals before an amalgamation was initiated and consummated with the mainland. But Nyerere’s problems had little to do with the union. They probably related to his own concept of what independence ought to mean – self-reliance and a distinctly socialist political dispensation. It was called Ujamaa. I have wondered for a number of years whether Nyerere so admired Julius Caesar, his illustrious namesake, that he sought to emulate his politics – such as they were all those centuries ago.
Some of the admiration could be interpreted as having persuaded him to translate Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar into Swahili. As a work of literature it is much admired by Swahili fundis.
The one-party system he instituted was not peculiar to him: Kwame Nkrumah, Sekou Toure, Hastings Kamuzu Banda, Kenneth Kaunda, Jomo Kenyatta and most of their contemporaries were so enamoured to that system, it must be blamed for most of the early upheavals on the continent. But Nyerere distinguished himself with his decision to vacate the presidency. He was frank enough to tell his people that he had failed them – not in so many words. He said he still believed in his brand of socialism, but would not ram it down the people’s throats – or words to that effect. Tanzania is no longer a one-party state, but its development could not have benefited from Nyerere’s years as its leader. Unfortunately, many other African leaders seem to view his action as those of a coward. Kamuzu and Kaunda soldiered on in their respective policies until they were humiliated by the people in the first free and fair elections years into their reigns. It’s painful to imagine what progress there would have been in both countries if they had seen the error of their ways fairly early in their administrations. Kaunda’s philosophy was something related to socialism but there is no suitable description of what Kamuzu did, although it would be fair to characterise it as a benevolent dictatorship. It is probably futile and ambitious to seek some kind of admission of failure from all those African leaders who favoured systems of government which did not promote real pluralism and free enterprise – which many Africans now endorse wholeheartedly. It is to be sincerely hoped that the land in which Malema has made his mark will not repeat the mistakes of the early leaders – hanging on, dogmatically, to concepts which are dominated by Stalinism in their systems of government. The ANC’s proposed punishment of whistleblowers on matters of government “security” has been described by some as an evil attempt to allow all senior government people to practise corruption without the danger of being punished for it. A comparison with similar legislation in Canada is amazing – Canadians would never countenance a law similar to the one proposed by the ANC. The entire nation would rise in protest. It is not too late for Jacob Zuma to do “a Nyerere” – tell the people the ANC’s proposed law is patently anti-democratic and must be shelved until it conforms to the norms which are universally accepted as democratic. Already, one of his confidantes has been portrayed as having benefited illicitly from the deal. He cannot allow this to be one of his “great mistakes”, for he still has an opportunity to be written about as another “great” African leader.

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