Tanzania: Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere - Is He Still Relevant?


Mwalimu has been dead for 21 years. Since then some things have come to be permanent features every time the country remembers his passing: speeches, academic debates and seminars about his life, his writings and what they mean to the country and its people.

This year for the first time, the President who informed a shocked nation back in 1999 of the passing of Mwalimu has since passed on too. Of all the presidents, who came after Mwalimu, former President Mkapa was in a unique position because he was the only President whose two terms in office were almost equally divided with regard to Mwalimu.

This year, the country is headed to the polls and like in previous General Election years, politicians pick and choose which parts of Mwalimu's legacy they want to be associated with.

Over the years, some of these politicians, especially in the opposition have outright questioned Mwalimu's legacy with regard to domestic issues.

This is a young country, in terms of the average age of its population; it is a very young country. The majority of voters today were either too young or were not even born at the time Mwalimu died. What do they make of all they hear and read about Mwalimu? Is what Mwalimu stood for still relevant to them today?

Twenty-one years is a long time. To better understand this, consider the following: if a question was asked about great or influential people in the country back in 1999, chances are that the names on the list might not be the same if the same question was asked after two decades. Crucially such lists will say little about the names on it but say more about those who named the names on such lists.

The country has changed a lot since 1999. Some things are the same as they have been since independence. The party in charge of the country is still the same. The country is still dealing with the same challenges as it did in the 1960s like poverty, education and diseases.

These are the basics. But as people prosper more, get educated more, live longer lives, other pressing matters come into play like the quality of such education, the quality of their long lives, and who has the best ideas on improving their lives more.

It is a classic Marxist question where every stage of development is replaced by another stage in part because of the progress made and in part because of the limits to such progress in the stage giving way.

A society of peasants will give priority to their needs and demands but once that changes and these peasants become entrepreneurs or industrialists then the priorities should change accordingly.

Put differently, a leader who unites her people might not be best suited to guide them to the path towards economic development. It is also true that the same leader might not deliver them to a promised land of a more equitable country.

Is Mwalimu still influential in this changing reality? Can those who ask some of these questions find any answers or relevancy in what Mwalimu stood for? What values do these young people hold dear in their lives? Understanding this will help better place Mwalimu's place, his ideals and ideas in the context of those who will inherit this country in the future.

One of the most enduring appeals about Mwalimu is the sense of unfulfilled dreams, of visions abandoned by some of his political heirs because they became greedy and forgot about service to the people. As corruption swept the country and those without connection to political elites felt left out in the success of their country, the young became even more restless.

To a young country, restlessness can have devastating outcomes.

As the country remembers the passing of Mwalimu, politicians and those who are in charge of the country must understand that it is not enough to pay lip service to his legacy.

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