By HILAL K. SUED
– their families, allies and friends.
The Kiswahili saying “Penye miti hukosa wajenzi” (literary translation: a place with an abundance of trees is usually devoid of builders) is undeniably appropriate here. After endowing the continent with vast natural resources, he apparently handed it over to the Mafiosi to rule it. Because, why should he deliver only a handful of shining leaders – about one or two in every 25 countries and after every 50 years or so?
Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere was one such endowment. He has been honored by the liberal left of the world for his passionate advocacy of his style of African socialism, but manhandled by his critics as a pompous autocrat, whose idealism has failed to bring prosperity to his people.
To his credit, Nyerere resigned peacefully and voluntarily, long before it became fashionable – albeit painfully – for Africa’s self-proclaimed life presidents to submit to their peoples’ verdict in elections. multi-stakeholder.
Granted, he had many faults, but he is at least remembered for providing moral leadership to Tanzania, and even Africa, since the days when the continent took its shaky first steps after independence. .
As today we commemorate 21 years since his departure and (two months from now) 60 years from the night he proudly stood at the National Stadium to salute as the Union Jack was lowered and the new Tanganyika flag was brought down. green, black and gold was hoisted, let’s take a moment to think about what Mwalimu meant for Tanzania.
Yes, moral leadership. This is what Tanzania lacked and I personally anticipated the signs of it almost three decades ago when I first visited Mwalimu’s residence in Msasani in 1992. It was then. where I worked as an editorial assistant reporter for The Family Mirror, a hothead in English who rarely stayed on newsstands more than two hours after landing.
The newspaper was among the first to hit the streets – three years earlier after the government liberalized the media.
I was among the journalists who attended a press conference Mwalimu called to speak on the famous “Tanganyika debate” presented to Bunge by lawmakers who had formed the G55 bloc.
After registering our names at the main gate, we walked along the worn tarmac driveway towards the one-story building that loomed in the distance. I noticed the lawns on either side of the driveway called for a mower, but more importantly the whole place looked desolate and had an odd feel to it.
Well, after all, Presidents’ residences are not places of hectic activity, much less one the occupant of which was in the seventh year of retirement. But uncut grass? But wait.
As I approached the building, I was struck by its modest appearance. At first I thought it was the servants / administration block and the real residence was behind it. But it was Mwalimu’s Msasani residence built under mortgage from a mortgage.
It could have been any building in the Magomeni or Mwananyamala regions that you come across that hardly needs a second glance.
The light green walls surely needed painting, some windows had their screens torn and louvers were broken or missing in some places. As we entered the lobby the dusty terrazzo floor greeted us and I thought: is this really the residence of one of Africa’s greatest sons? I have not finished yet.
We were ushered into a veranda overlooking the garden and the Indian Ocean in the distance. From the photographs I saw in the Daily News and Uhuru, this is where Mwalimu, as president, used to meet and chat with world leaders and other dignitaries.
His famous rocking chair was in a corner, with his back to the sea, and two deep sofas with wide wooden armrests – for visiting dignitaries – on either side. Did Mwalimu suffer from thalassophobia? – the morbid fear of the sea? Otherwise, I couldn’t understand why he hated to sit facing the sea.
The condition of this furniture showed that it had seen better days. The leather seat of the rocking chair needed to be replaced while its woodwork, and that of the sofas should have been revamped. Well was it probably because he was no longer the head of state? That fewer and fewer world dignitaries were visiting his residence?
After we were seated, some missing chairs, Mwalimu descended the stairs in the company of his longtime secretary, Joan Wickens, an English lady, then in her twilight years, and another male assistant.
We stood up, we all shook his hand – it was the first time I had done so – and we motioned to be seated. As the press conference went on, most of the time my mind was elsewhere – trying to figure out how this truly famous man could – a giant in the struggle for African independence, a man who retained his world moral authority even after his vision of rural socialism has faltered. – live in such an undemanding environment?
Moreover, his way of life must have been this way throughout his presidency and this explains a lot why he dominated many other African leaders (if not the whole world) in matters of morals and personal habits without ostentation. How can a human being choose to be so loath to live lavishly? Because he was there all the time, at the snap of his fingers.
As I half-listened to Mwalimu’s tirades at the G55 to want to “break the Union” by saying that they could only do it on his corpse, anger rose in me, directed towards the heads of government, those with who he had given the reins of leadership seven years earlier.
Why did they allow him to live in a neglected environment? I doubt he would have preferred it that way himself, because I never imagined him chasing a group of workers sent for repairs or men delivering new furniture.
The next day, the front pages of many newspapers spoke about the state of Mwalimu’s house in Msasani and not what he had said about the G55 debate. It must have surprised him too.
A few weeks later, on assignment from my editor (Anthony Ngaiza), I revisited Mwalimu’s residence for a response from Mama Wickens to our question of whether or not Mwalimu had objections to the decision of the authorities of the city of Dar es Salaam – then under Kitwana Kondo City Hall – to rename the historic ‘Pugu Road’ to become ‘Julius K. Nyerere Road’.
She said yes, Mwalimu objected, at least not when he was still alive. However, the City Fathers simply removed the “Mwalimu Julius K.” from the street identification plates. Of course, he wasn’t the only Nyerere born into this world.
During this brief visit, I also saw workers renovating the house, repainting it, replacing the shutters, etc. So they heard the cries of the newspapers!
But this was perhaps the first and last time renovations were made to the residence until his death on October 14, 1999. Many mourners who visited the residence have told heartbreaking stories about the residence. pitiful state of the residence. As people gathered, workers were busy painting walls, replacing curtains, and fixing broken water pipes.
As I said, only a few leaders on the continent could be compared to him – not even Nelson Mandela. The few exceptions may include General Murtala Mohamed of Nigeria (ruled 1975-76) and Captain Thomas Sankara of Burkina Fasso (1983-87).
The former was so fond of knowing how his subjects lived while traveling in an unmarked car through the streets of Lagos. He would arrive unexpectedly at post offices and join those in line, throwing great astonishment at those he found after being recognized. However, such a lifestyle resulted in his death – he was killed in a failed coup attempt when his car was ambushed in traffic in Lagos.
Capt Sankara was the poorest president in the world. He was so incorruptible that after his death a major anti-corruption panel initiated in 1987 by his successor revealed that Sankara had a salary of only $ 450 per month and that his most valuable possessions were a car, four bikes, three guitars, a broken fridge and freezer.
Sankara refused to use air conditioning in his office on the grounds that such luxury was only available to a handful of Burkinabés.
And when asked why he let it be known that he did not want his portrait hung in public places, as is the norm for other African leaders, Sankara replied “seven million ago. of Thomas Sankaras ”, that is to say the entire population of his country.
Nyerere was among only a handful of African presidents to voluntarily step down. He must have seen the futility of his socialist policies and must have sensed the coming clamor for the democracy that then swept across the continent after the collapse of communist regimes in Eastern Europe and Russia.
But as he resigned, Nyerere said that even if socialism had failed in Tanzania, he would remain a socialist because, he said, he believed socialism was the best policy for poor countries like Tanzania.
His successor decided otherwise, he committed the country to capitalism and the free market, but with questionable benefits for the country – especially the poor majority.
May God rest him in peace