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Julius Nyerere

[nyuh rAr' E] the first President of Tanzania

Julius Nyerere

Kambarage Nyerere was born in Butiama, Musoma District, Tanganyika, on April 13, 1922, the son of a Zanaki chief. He was 12 before his father allowed him to attend a school at a Musoma, 26 miles from the village, but he quickly impressed the priests who ran the school, and in 1936 he placed first in the entire territory on an entrance exam for the Tabora Secondary School, from which he graduated in 1943. He went on to Makerere College in Uganda, from which he received a teaching diploma in 1947. It was about this time that Nyerere was baptized into the Roman Catholic Church, with Joseph as his baptismal name. After teaching for two years in a church school, he won a scholarship to Edinburgh (Scotland) University, making him the first Tanganyikan to study at a British university. He graduated with an M.A. in history and economics in 1952, and then returned to Tanganyika to teach at the St. Francis School in Dar es Salaam.

Independence Leader

From his early school days Nyerere was a rebel against the colonial system and a proponent of nationalism, and upon returning to Tanganyika he joined the Tanganyika African Association, an elite social organization. He became the Association's president in 1953, and in 1954 converted it into the politically oriented Tanganyikan African National Union (TANU). Under his leadership TANU espoused peaceful change, social equality, and racial harmony, and rejected tribalism and all forms of racial and ethnic discrimination.

In 1955 and 1956, Nyerere traveled to the United Nations headquarters in New York, New York, as a petitioner to the Trusteeship Council and the Fourth Committee on Trusts and Non-Self-Governing Territories. After a debate that ended in his being granted a hearing, he asked for a target date for the independence of Tanganyika. The British administration rejected the demand, but Nyerere had established a dialogue with British authorities and had emerged as the preeminent nationalist spokesman for his country. The British administration nominated him to the Tanganyikan Legislative Council, but he resigned in 1957 in protest against the slowness of progress toward independence.

In elections held in 1958-59, TANU won a large number of seats on the Legislative Council. In a subsequent election in August 1960, TANU won 70 of 71 seats in the new Legislative Assembly. Meanwhile, Nyerere continued independence negotiations with British Governor Sir Richard Turnbull, and Tanganyika finally gained responsible self-government in September 1960, with Nyerere as Chief Minister.


Tanganyika became independent on December 9, 1961, with Nyerere as its first Prime Minister. The next month, however, he resigned from this position to devote his time to writing and synthesizing his views of government and of African unity. When Tanganyika became a republic in 1962, he was elected President, and in 1964 he became president of the United Republic of Tanzania (Tanganyika and Zanzibar). Reelected President of Tanzania in 1965, he was returned to serve three more successive five-year terms before resigning in 1985 and handing over his office to Ali Hassan Mwinyi. From independence on Nyerere also headed Tanzania’s only political party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM).

Upon becoming President, Nyerere chose to be known by the honorary title of Mwalimu, a Swahili word meaning "teacher," because he believed that leaders should teach by example. A devout socialist, he collectivized village farmlands, carried out mass literacy campaigns, and instituted free and universal education. He also emphasized Tanzania’s need to become economically self-sufficient rather than remain dependent on foreign aid and foreign investment. Nyerere termed his socialist experimentation ujamaa (Swahili: “familyhood”), a name that emphasized the blend of economic cooperation, racial and tribal harmony, and moralistic self-sacrifice that he sought to achieve. Although Tanzania never achieved the economic prosperity Nyerere sought, it did achieve an unprecedented 83 percent literacy rate. And, unlike most other new African republics, Tanzania remained politically stable throughout Nyerere's presidency.

As President, Nyerere played a dominant role in the search for peaceful settlements in the conflicts over Rhodesia and Namibia, and was one of the founders of the Organization of African Unity (OAU). In July 1978, he visited Ethiopian leader Lieutenant Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam to confer on developments in East Africa.

One of the most serious incidents of Nyerere's presidency occcurred in October 1978, when Ugandan troops occupied the Kagera region of Tanzania. Nyerere responsed by pledging to personally do everything possible to bring about the downfall of Ugandan President Idi Amin. In December, he rebuked the chairman of the OAU, President Gaafar Nimeiry of Sudan, for calling for a cease-fire while Ugandan forces still occupied Kagera. Nyerere demanded that the OAU condemn Amin's regime and that Uganda renounce its claims to Kagera. In 1979 Nyerere followed through on his pledge by sending the Tanzanian army into Uganda in support of a local movement to overthrow Amin.

Only the third modern African leader to leave office voluntarily, Nyerere continued as chairman of the CCM until 1990. Thereafter he assumed the role of elder statesman and was regularly called upon to act as arbiter in international crises such as those in Rwanda and Burundi. He died of leukemia in a London, England, hospital on October 14, 1999.


Encyclopędia Britannica
New York Times

See Also

Organization of African Unity
Idi Amin

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The Robinson Library >> Tanzania

This page was last updated on 02/10/2019.