I first met Julius Kambarage Nyerere in 1955. At this time I was assigned by Msgr. Gerard Grondin, Prefect Apostolic of the Prefecture of Musoma, Tanzania (formerly called Tanganyika) to open a new mission among the Zanaki Ethnic Group (formerly called tribe). When I first arrived in Tanzania in late 1951, after spending some months in Nyegina Mission, I went with another Maryknoll priest, Father Edward Bratton, to begin a mission among the Simbiti Ethnic Group at Komuge.
It was during my work in Komuge that I first came in contact with Maria Waningo the daughter of Gabriel Magige and his wife Anna Nyashiboha. She was living in Baraki village with her parents at that time. She would later marry Julius Nyerere. Her father Gabriel Magige was one of the pillars of the Catholic community in Komuge. He had been one of the first five Simbiti men to be baptized in 1933 in a new mission that the Missionaries of Africa (formerly called the White Fathers) had established in Butuli in Tarime District for the Luo people. Butuli was not far from Baraki where Gabriel lived. His faith and desire for baptism was so strong that he and four other men agreed to study for baptism in another ethnic group language Luo. The Luos had immigrated into Tanganyika from Kenya. They had fought the Simbiti Ethnic Group and taken some of their land from them. The relationship between the Luos and the Simbiti was not a friendly one. Despite this, Gabriel Magige went to Butuli to prepare for baptism and was baptized there. He and the four other Simbiti who returned with him began the evangelization of other Simbiti. I was impressed when I came to know him. He was a person of great faith and devotion to the church. He passed this same faith and love of the church to his children.
The local Christians admired Gabriel and his wife Hanna very much. They told me the story of how strong was his faith. One Saturday night thieves stole all his cows. When he awoke and his neighbors discovered that all his cows were stolen, they urged him to pige yowe, a Swahili signal that cows have been stolen. When this signal is given, all the young men come with their bows and arrows and spears to follow the thieves in order to recover the stolen cows. His neighbors urged Gabriel to give the signal. He replied that it was Sunday. He must first go to their little outstation church and pray. When he had fulfilled his Sunday obligation, he returned to his house and gave the signal that his cows were stolen. Even though some time had passed he and the young men were able to recover all his cows.
In 1946 when the first Maryknollers came to Musoma they lived with the Missionaries of Africa who had been working in this area to learn their policy and programs to convert the people. In the Prefecture of Musoma there were a number of small Bantu ethnic groups such as the Kwaya, Jita, Kiroba, Kabwa, Zanaki, Ikizu, Shashi, Nata, Ikoma, Issenye, Simbiti, Sweta, Surwa, Hasha, and segments of Sukuma. There also are the Luo people who are of the Nilotic race as well as a small group of the Batatiro who belong to the Nilotic Hamitic people.
In 1955 Msgr. Gerald Grondin informed me that I was assigned to open a mission among the Zanaki people. He also told me that I was fortunate because there was man there, Julius Nyerere, who could teach me his ethnic group or tribal language. Msgr. Grondin and I went to see Julius Nyerere in his village of Butiama to ask him if he would be willing to teach me his Zanaki language. He was overjoyed when he heard that we were going to build a mission for his people. He agreed to move into Musoma town to teach me his language as there was no place for me to stay in his linguistic area. When we were leaving him, he asked if he could get a ride into Musoma town to make arrangements for a place to stay. At this time he was married to Maria and they had two children, Andrew and Anna. Without any hesitation he climbed into the back of our pickup to ride into town. He wanted to make arrangements in Musoma town for a place where he and his wife Maria and their children could live.
He started to teach me a few days after I had visited him in his home in Butiama. In the afternoons after teaching me we would drink tea together. It was at this time especially that he told me much about himself, his childhood, his family and especially what he hoped to accomplish when he led the country to independence. He never had any doubts that Tanganyika would become independent from England. He knew world opinion was against colonialism. He was not in a hurry to achieve independence. Rather he was wanted the British set a date so that they could prepare for independence properly. After the independence of Ghana and Nigeria took place, the independence fever swept across Africa like a grass fire. When this happened the European powers and America who were giving some development aid to African countries stopped. They would wait until these countries would become independent.
One day when Julius was teaching me, he showed me a 20 shilling Tanganyika bill. He explained that some of the workers in Musoma Government Hospital were demanding bribes from the patients before they would treat them and give them the medical care they needed. He put a small mark with a pen on the 20 shilling bill and asked me to witness it. He said that he would give it to someone who was ill and would go for medical assistance at the hospital. One person did go, but the worker who asked for the bribe in the hospital would not accept the 20 shilling bill. He demanded that the person first go and change the bill into 20 one shilling coins. In this way he thwarted Nyerere’s effort to root out corruption in Musoma Hospital. This was my first personal experience with Julius and his determination to fight injustice which would be prominent throughout his life.
Julius loved to tell me about his life as a child. He was born in March, 1922 in Butiama Village near the eastern shore of Lake Victoria in northwestern Tanzania. Since the rains were very heavy on the day of his birth he was called Kambarage, the name of an ancestral spirit who lives in the rain. His father, Burito Nyerere, was one of the eight chiefs of the Zanaki, a small ethnic group of less than 50,000 people. At the time of his childhood his father was polygamous. Julius’ mother Mugaya was the chief’s fifth wife. According to Zanaki custom, the husband builds each wife a house. They usually were mud and wattle building with grass roofs. Julius lived with his mother in his father Burito Nyerere’s village Kambarage grew up in a simple grass hut going barefoot and eating only one meal a day. It was the custom that each wife would be given fields to raise food to support herself and feed her children. Since land was tribally owned, there was no difficulty for the husband to give fields to his wives. Julius helped his mother with work in the fields and gardens. At the age of eight he began tending his mother’s goats and spent the whole day in the fields.
When the British took over German East Africa after World War I and named the country Tanganyika, they built a boarding primary school at a place called Mwisenge in Musoma town to educate the sons of the chiefs. However, Julius’ father was not eager to send his sons to this school. Julius’ older brother Wanzagi who should have been the first to go to this school was not sent. It is interesting in how Julius came to be sent.
The chief of the neighboring Ikizu Ethnic Group was Mohammed Makongoro. He was a friend of Julius’ father Burito Nyerere and visited him frequently. On some occasions when Makongoro came to visit Burito, his father was busy with his responsibilities as a chief. Julius would then engage Makongoro in an African game called soro in the Zanaki language. It is called bao in Swahili. This is a difficult game to play well. One needs to plan many moves ahead and remember them in order to win. Julius would beat Makongoro at soro or bao. One day after being defeated by Julius at soro, Chief Makongoro told his father that he should send his son Julius Kambarage to the school for the sons of the chiefs in Musoma. Because of the urging of Makongoro, his father sent him to this primary school. When he went to Mwisenge Primary School, he met another Zanaki boy. He was Magomba Marwa. He would later be baptized Oswald. He became Julius’s closest friend.
When little Julius went to elementary school in Mwisenge — grades one to four — he was taught by Mwalimu Daniel Chagu who later in life became the head teacher in Kishapu, a village in Ndoleleji Parish in Shinyanga Diocese where Maryknoll priests served for many years. Daniel was a wonderful man who certainly had a great influence on his famous student. He beamed with pride when he spoke of his student Julius. Wherever Mzee Chagu went, he carried an ebony cane with an ivory handle that was engraved, “Dr. J. K. Nyerere” — a prized gift originally to the president and later given to the teacher’s teacher. They kept in touch through all the years. In his elderly years Chagu would wait along the road near his house (built for him in gratitude by President Nyerere) to get a lift from the priest to take him to mass at Mhunze Center.
One day I asked Julius how it was that he became a Catholic. He laughed and replied, “By accident.” He then went on to explain that when the bell rang for the religion class, his friend Oswald Magomba grabbed his hand and said, “Come we go to study with the padres.” Under the British there was a period of religion in all the syllabuses for primary school, middle school, and secondary school. The parents and the children could choose whatever religion they wanted to study or no religion at all. The various religious leaders were responsible for supplying the teachers for these periods of religious education. Government teachers also could teach these classes if they wished.
Julius was a very bright student. He won a scholarship to go to middle school and after that, another scholarship to attend Tabora Boys Secondary School. This was the elite secondary school. He told me that he wanted to learn English very well. One of his duties at the school was to clean the faculty room. He started to borrow books in English from the faculty library. One day one of the teachers caught him doing this. When asked why he was taking a book from the faculty room, Julius explained to the teacher that he was trying to improve his English by reading as much as possible. The teacher apparently recognized the truth and told him to come to his house. He had a much better library than the faculty room library. He could borrow his books. One day one of the students in his house had his hands tied by the prefect. Julius thought that this was not right. He went to the headmaster to protest. The headmaster, after talking with the student and the prefect, sided with the prefect. The student was then given four strokes with the cane. Julius was ordered to give these. He did, but not with much enthusiasm. He was then made a prefect. Once again his sense of justice came to the fore. It was the custom in these schools to give the prefect twice as much food as the other students. Julius protested that this was not fair. He made an issue of it with the headmaster of the school. This may have been his first protest of what he saw as unjust, but it would not be the last.
In the final exams at Tabora Boys Secondary School finishing Standard 10 or Form II Julius passed so well that he won a scholarship to go to Makerere University in Uganda. The British, who were interested in educating an elite for their East African countries, started Makerere University for this goal. It had high academic standards.
Before he entered Makerere University in Uganda he wanted to be baptized. He went to Nyegina Mission some eight miles from Musoma town to ask for baptism. The pastor, Father Mathias Koenens, a Missionary of Africa, explained to him that baptism was some thing very important. He had to be specially prepared to receive it. Julius explained to Father Koenens that he had studied the catechism for 10 years and knew it well. However, Koenens would not be moved. He told Julius that he needed to be taught by the catechist who would prepare him for baptism. At this period Julius was a young intellectual. However he humbly submitted to these instructions. The catechist who taught him was Petro Maswe Marwa, an uneducated man. When it was time for Julius to be baptized, because there were no Zanaki Catholic men who could be his godfather, Julius chose Petro Maswe who belonged to the Ngoreme Ethnic Group. Father Aloysius Junker, also a Missionary of Africa, baptized Julius Kambarage Nyerere at Nyegina Catholic Mission on December 23, 1942. He received the sacrament of Confirmation at Ruboga Mission on May 30, 1944.
At Makerere University Julius was a serious student. He told me that he wanted to understand his faith well. He not only read, but studied all the Papal Encyclicals. He also read the Catholic philosophers such as Jacques Maritain and others whose writings were available in the library. He studied biology and was good especially in English. He was very much interested in philosophical ideas. He was attracted to the essays by John Stuart Mills on representative government and the subjection of women. Twice he won first prize in the East African literary competition. He became the leader of the Catholic students. He organized retreats for them. He also promoted pilgrimages to the shrines of the Uganda Martyrs.
With other students he organized in Makerere University the Tanganyika African Association.
When he graduated from Makerere with his bachelor’s degree he returned to Tanganyika. He received two teaching offers, one from the government Tabora Boys Secondary School and one from the new Catholic St. Mary’s Secondary School in Tabora. The headmaster of the government Tabora Boys Secondary School made a bet with Father Richard Walsh, the headmaster of St. Mary’s Secondary School that Julius would choose the government school. He was wrong. When Julius chose St. Mary’s, the government then advised him by letter that at a mission school he would not get the same salary. Also if later he transferred to a government school, he would not be able to count the years spent teaching in a mission schools towards his pension. Julius was furious at this and replied in a letter, “If I ever hesitated, your letter has settled the matter. The mission teachers are doing as much as the government teachers are.” The British government at this time was paying the salaries of all the teachers, both government and mission.
Father Walsh soon discovered that Julius Nyerere was someone special. He wrote to friends in England to raise money for a scholarship to get higher education. When he succeeded in getting this money, he offered the scholarship to Julius. Twice he turned it down. It is difficult to understand why a man in his position would turn down the opportunity to go abroad and get more education. Julius turned it down because he was afraid that spending a few years abroad in Europe, he would return less an African. He loved his culture. He loved his roots. He loved who he was. Walsh continued to urge him to go abroad. On the third offer, he accepted the money for the scholarship. However, he gave some of it to his mother. His father had died in 1942. He gave some to his older brother Wanzagi and some to his fiancée, Maria Waningo, the daughter of Gabriel Magige.
In 1949 Julius went to Scotland to begin his studies in history and economics in Edinburgh University. He lived with a Scottish family who were miners. He told me that he was very much impressed how hard the men worked in the mines. It was a different experience from the Europeans whom he had seen living in Tanganyika. He lived very simply. His greatest interest was in philosophy. He read a great deal.
He said that it was during this period in Edinburgh that he gave up the politics of complaint and came to tackle the problem of colonialism. It didn’t come suddenly but evolved over a period of time. Walsh his mentor told me that while Julius was in Edinburgh he wrote to him to tell him that he was thinking about becoming a priest. Walsh wrote back to him and asked him to give the reasons why he wanted to become a priest. His reasons were simple. He felt in the priesthood he could do a lot of good for people. Walsh who knew that he was also very much interested in politics and the independence of his country wrote back to tell Julius he did not have a vocation. Julius followed Father Walsh’s advice.
Julius flew back to Tanganyika in 1952. At the Dar es Salaam airport Archbishop Edgar Maranta and Maria Waningo Gabriel, his fiancée met him. He had been engaged to Maria Waningo before he went to Edinburgh University. Because there were no Catholic women among his Zanaki people he chose to marry outside of his ethnic group in order to marry a Catholic. It was and is still to a great extent the custom to marry among one’s own ethnic group. He had paid, as is customary, a cow dowry to the family of his future bride, Maria Waningo. His long time friend Oswald Magomba Marwa helped him to make arrangements for his marriage and to deliver these cows.
His father Burito Nyerere was very foresighted in insuring that Julius would have a cow dowry when it came time for him to get married. One day when Julius and I were traveling in my pickup in Butiama, he suddenly yelled at a woman calling her name “Boke Boke.” He then asked me to stop. He got out and started to talk for some time with this woman. When he returned he explained to me that this woman had been his wife. The Zanaki have the custom of child marriage. When a family is having financial difficulties, they will agree that a daughter who is still a child can be married to a man. The child, when she is old enough six or seven years old, will then come to the home of her future husband. She will not have sexual relations with her husband until she becomes old enough. At this point she returns first to her own family. If she decides that she doesn’t want to be married to the husband who paid cows for her, she has the right to refuse. However, her father then has to return the cows to this man.
Julius’ father paid these cows for this girl who in fact was older than Julius. He did it to make sure that Julius would have a cow dowry when it came time for him to get married. The Zanaki are a semi-matriarchal society. According to their customs, the sons of the father do not inherit from their father. It is the sons of the father’s sisters that inherit when the father dies. Burito Nyerere understood this. This is why he paid a cow dowry for this woman who was to be married to his son Julius. He also knew that this woman would not want to wait for Julius to be mature enough to marry her. She would look for another man. This other man then would need to return the cow dowry to Julius so that he could marry this woman. Divorce is done by the return of the cow dowry to the person who gave it. These cows would then belong to Julius and not be in the inheritance that his sisters’ sons would inherit. Julius told me that his father did this because he loved him very much.
Julius was anxious to marry Maria when he returned. Maria told him that she was willing to marry him before he left to go to Edinburgh University. Now she wanted to know if in the three years living abroad he had changed. She was a wise and strong woman, a very devout Catholic. She had been firmly grounded in her faith by her father and mother. Her father Gabriel Magige was still a pillar of the church when we founded Komuge Mission in 1952. He was highly revered by Christians and non-Christians alike. When I would approach some non-Christians about studying to be baptized, some of them would say, “When Gabriel Magige rises from the grave, then I will become a Catholic.” There are a number of stories told among the Simbiti people that attest to his great faith and life as a Christian.
In preparation for his marriage Julius and his friend Oswald Magomba Marwa built an adobe house with three rooms for Maria as a wedding present in his village of Butiama. They put on a thatched roof. Julius Kambarage Nyerere married Maria Waningo Gabrieli in the outstation church of Nyegina Mission near Musoma town on January 21, 1953. Father William Collins, a Maryknoll Missioner and pastor of Nyegina Mission, witnessed their marriage. His old friend Oswald Magomba Marwa was his best man. Oswald’s wife Bona was the bridesmaid. She had been a friend of Maria from the time they were in primary school in Ukererwe Island. Then Julius and Maria went to live in Butiama village.
Shortly afterwards Julius and Maria returned to live in Dar es Salaam. He began to teach at St. Francis College at Pugu. St. Francis was under the Irish Spiritan Fathers who were noted for their high quality education in Ireland. The bishops of Tanzania had chosen St. Francis College at Pugu as the elite secondary school for the Catholics. The Protestants had St. Andrews and the government had Tabora Boys Secondary School as their elite schools. These three elite secondary schools got the right to choose the best students from all the middle schools in the country. Julius’ salary at the beginning was 6,300 shillings (equals $900) a year. After Walsh’s intercession it was raised to 9,450 shillings (equals $1,350) a year. This was only 3/5 of the salary that expatriate teachers with Master’s Degrees were receiving. The government had sought to have Julius teach in one of the government schools. He was the first Tanganyikan with a Master’s Degree in Education. When he decided to teach in a church school, they refused to give him a salary comparable to his level of education.
They told him that “no precedent had been set. If he would join the government service, then he would set the precedent and could receive a salary comparable to his Master’s Degree.” Because of his dedication to the Catholic Church, he was willing to take a cut in salary for the promotion of education in the church.
Within three months of returning to Dar es Salaam Julius joined the Tanganyikan African Association. He had been a member of this organization when he was at Makerere. A much respected British Governor, Sir Donald Cameron, had established the Tanganyikan African Association as a social club for civil servants. At Makerere Julius had organized the TAA to deal with grievances connected with government service. It continued to be involved in this way, but never with the purpose of seeking independence. As Julius got to know TAA better, he found that it was merely a social club interested mainly in giving tea parties for expatriates who were going on leave.
As a newcomer to Dar es Salaam Julius was seen as one with the people. He was in contrast to Chief David Makwaia, who was the favorite politician of the then Governor Edward Twining. Chief David Makwaia was a university graduate. Like many Africans with university education at this time, they became sophisticated. Chief Makwaia preferred to be with the Europeans. He was elected to the Legislative Council of the governor.
Julius quickly gained leadership and was elected president of TAA. He began by educating his followers to think about independence. Chief Patrick Kunambi who knew him well said that his leadership was not based on what Julius promised “because Julius practically never promised anything.” Another associate of his, Abdul Sykes, once said, “Nyerere made us start to think: all we wanted was independence.” Because of this goal of independence Nyerere and his colleagues reorganized TAA as a political party, the Tanganyika African National Union, on July 7, 1954. It became better known as TANU and the date of it founding, the seventh day of the seventh month became Saba Saba (in Swahili “seven-seven”). His colleagues unanimously elected Julius as president of TANU. He was 32 years old at the time. One of the founding members of TANU, Abbas Sykes said, “He came at the right time. Usually if a man went away to university when he came back he would not be one with us; he would be very sophisticated. But here was a man who had the same kind of education — higher in fact, because he had an M.A. instead of a B.A. — who was willing to be with his people. This humility— ‘I’m willing to serve you’— made everyone forget that he was from up-country and that he wasn’t a Muslim.” There are as many Christians as Muslims in Tanganyika (now Tanzania) as a whole, but the coastal region is heavily Muslim.
One of the great challenges that Julius foresaw and spoke to me about when he was teaching me was a conflict between religions, especially between Christians and Muslims. It is ironic that the law that Governor Edward Twining passed which forbad anyone who was receiving a government salary from joining TANU could have increased this danger. The Christians at this time were predominantly the educated people who held government jobs. They were also teachers in church schools. The government paid the salaries of all the teachers in the country even though the schools were built and administered by various Christian churches.
It was because of this law that Julius had to resign from teaching at St. Francis College in Pugu. It was a difficult decision for him. He loved teaching. He once told me that if he had confidence in any one of his party members who would not cause bloodshed and bring Tanganyika to independence he would gladly return to his books. He was a scholar at heart.
In August, 1954 a U.N. mission visited Tanganyika and gave a report that recommended the territory be given a timetable for independence within 20 or 25 years. The local government authorities were infuriated by this report. They were especially upset by the pro-African view of the American delegate of the Trusteeship, Mason Sears, on the subject of independence.
At the end of February, 1955 Julius Nyerere went to New York to present to the Trusteeship Council meeting on the third U.N. Visiting Mission’s Report on Tanganyika. On March 7 Julius Nyerere came as a petitioner before the meeting. His youthful appearance surprised many. He was self-possessed, completely at ease and modest. He explained that the aim of TANU was to prepare the people for self-government and independence. It wanted the elective principle to be established and the Africans to secure a majority in all representative bodies.
Governor Twining sent a three-man delegation to support the government’s position. He also tried to persuade Father Walsh to prevent Julius from leaving his teaching at Pugu saying that Nyerere’s political activities bordered on sedition. Walsh refused. “If it is sedition, why isn’t he in jail,” replied Fr. Walsh.
When Julius Nyerere was forced to leave teaching by this regulation of the governor, he returned to his village of Butiama with his wife Marie and his son Andrew and his daughter Anna. This was a fortunate break for me because at this very time he agreed to teach me his Zanaki Language. He moved into Musoma with his family to live with his good friend Oswald Magomba Marwa and his family. Each day he walked from Mwisenge to the rectory in Musoma town to teach me. I paid him 700 shillings (equals $100) a month.
Many years later in the rectory in Butiama before a number of Tanzanian bishops he would introduce me to the bishops as his “boss.” When Zanaki Parish in Musoma Diocese celebrated its 25th Anniversary in 1981 a very important guest was President Julius K. Nyerere who flew from Dar es Salaam for the occasion. When the local people made a fuss over him Nyerere said: “Today the real Guest of Honor is not me, but the founder of this Zanaki Parish, Father Art Wille.” He had a wonderful sense of humor. When Father Carroll Houle was pastor of Zanaki Parish (which originally included Butiama Outstation) he met President Julius Nyerere after he had just returned from a State Visit to India. Carroll commented that while he had always liked India, the distinctive Hindu music hurt his ears. President Nyerere replied, “That’s interesting because the singing of our Butiama Catholic Church Choir always hurts my ears.” Nyerere also had an optimistic spirit. He said, “In Africa we have many problems but we remain cheerful.”
It did not take long for me once he started to teach me his language, Zanaki, to realize that he was the most intelligent person that I had ever met. In addition to teaching me each day in the rectory in Musoma town, he made up for me an English-Zanaki grammar and an English- Zanaki dictionary. He would sometimes complain that he had been away from speaking his own language for so long that he had to ask his mother for certain words in Zanaki. He also translated from the Kwaya language two catechisms, two large explanations of the catechisms that the Missionaries of Africa had composed to help the catechists to teach the catechumens, and a hymnal into his Zanaki language. He also translated all the Sunday Epistles and Gospels. In 1955 there was no good translation of the Bible in Swahili. He had to start using the Duoay-Rheims old English translation that was the only English Bible at that time. He found the old English difficult to handle. Therefore he asked me if he could use my Latin Missal. I asked him if he knew Latin. He said, “Yes, I had a year of it in the university.” Then he continued to translate from Latin. One day he came and told me that he found some of St. Paul’s Epistles difficult to understand. He asked me if I had a Greek New Testament. I asked him if he knew Greek. Again, “Yes, I had a year of it in the university.” At this time he promised me that he would translate the whole New Testament from Greek if he was put in prison and if I could get him a Greek New Testament. He was concerned that he might be put in prison because of his involvement in bringing independence to Tanganyika. A number of other African leaders had been incarcerated when they led movements for independence. Fortunately he was never imprisoned.
During these three months that Julius Nyerere taught me, Father Walsh, his close friend and mentor, came to visit him. Walsh confided to me that while Julius was studying in Edinburgh in Scotland that they corresponded regularly. In one of his letters Julius wrote that he was thinking about becoming a priest. Walsh wrote to him and asked him to give the reasons why he was thinking about being a priest. Walsh told me that in summary his answer was that in the priesthood he could do a lot of good. Walsh who knew him well and knew his attraction for politics told him that he did not think he had a vocation to the priesthood, but should continue to follow the path for which he was preparing himself. Julius followed this advice of Father Walsh.
Another visitor who came to visit him was Oscar Kambona. At this time Oscar was the organizing secretary of TANU, the right hand man of Julius. Oscar was continually sending Julius telegrams and asking him to come to Dar es Salaam to begin the campaign for independence. It was evident to me that Julius was using this period to think out and plan what he wanted to do to gain independence. He told me that he had no doubt that the British would give independence to Tanganyika because of world opinion.
One day Julius mentioned to me that TANU had received 10 scholarships to universities behind the Iron Curtain. He did not want any of his followers to go behind the Iron Curtain, but knew that it would be impossible to stop his young followers from getting higher education. He was especially concerned about Oscar Kambona. When he told me about this concern, I wrote to Father Albert Nevins, a Maryknoll priest at Maryknoll, New York to ask him to find a scholarship for Oscar Kambona. Fr. Nevins was the editor of our Maryknoll Magazine and has good connections. He was able to get a scholarship to study law for Oscar at Fordham University, a Jesuit University in New York City. Julius was delighted to hear that there was a scholarship for Oscar Kambona in New York City. He informed Oscar. When Oscar went to get a passport, the British government refused to give him a passport. They told him that they would not give him a passport because he wanted to go behind the Iron Curtain. The Cold War was at its height. Oscar told them that he did not want to go behind the Iron Curtain, but to Fordham University in New York City. When they heard this, they told him that if he wanted to go to a Western university, they would give him a scholarship to study in Britain. He had done very well in secondary school and should have been granted a government scholarship but according to Julius hadn’t been given one because in secondary school he had already gotten involved in politics.
Oscar and Julius chose that he go to Britain to study because British law was more suitable for him when he would return to Tanganyika. The time to begin his studies was also more convenient in England than in America. He took the scholarship to study law in England, but Julius was upset with him when he returned without a law degree. Oscar, instead of hitting the books, became involved with the members of Parliament and other politicians in England. Julius told him that the country needed lawyers to help formulate the new constitution and laws when they got independence.
One day when it was time for our noon break there was an old Zanaki woman waiting for me outside the rectory. Because I hadn’t learned that much Zanaki language, Julius went out with me to translate what the old woman had to say. She had just come from the government hospital. She still had a number of bandages on her. She told us that she had been a omuganga — a mgabu wazinza, a doctor who among the Zanaki discerns why a person is sick or any other evil that has come upon them. However, another Zanaki omuganga had accused her of being a witch, one who causes evil to others. The people in her village came and beat her up severely. Her husband would not defend her. She was beaten so badly that she had to be taken to the hospital in Musoma town. She now said to us that she did not believe in her power of mgabu wazinza and wanted to become a Christian. I explained that when I went to build the mission, she could come to study and get baptized. When I moved to begin the mission for the Zanaki people in Magorombe, she did come to study. One day she brought all her paraphernalia, some drums, gourds, skins, small iron rods, bells, etc. to me and asked me to destroy them for her. They filled a large sack. She herself was afraid to destroy them. I did burn them. She was a good catechumen and was baptized. She lived a good number of years and was a faithful and devoted Catholic until her death. She was also much involved in the parish.
During our conversations Julius spoke frequently of Benedicto Mato. He had great respect for Benedicto. He was one of the pillars of the early church in Musoma. He had an important position as Secretary of the Native Treasure under the British District Commissioner in Musoma District. In this position he was over all the chiefs. They had to bring in their reports and tax collections to him. He was a very devout Catholic. When Musoma Parish was established he became a daily communicant. His home was always opened to priests and religious who needed a place to stay in Musoma before the parish there was established. Julius would stay with him when he was traveling from Mwisenge School back and forth to his home in Zanaki. After independence Julius appointed Benedicto Mato to the commission that had the responsibility to integrate tribal laws and customs into the laws of Tanganyika.
The period of campaigning for independence was a very difficult time for Julius and Maria. Julius refused to take any salary from TANU. He said that the party needed all its funds to gain independence. At the same time Oscar Kambona took a salary to support himself and his family. Maria opened a small duka (“shop”) to sell soap, sugar, salt, cooking oil etc. in their small home in Dar es Salaam to earn a little money to support the family. She also had a heavy burden of cooking for the many African visitors that came to visit Julius. It is the custom to cook a meal for all visitors. In his position as President of TANU he received many visitors every day. Julius one day told me that any other woman other than Maria would have left him long ago, but Maria stayed during this very difficult time.
Julius was continually traveling around the country to speak to the people about Uhuru (Swahili for “independence”). His slogan was uhuru na kazi (“freedom and work”). From the very beginning in his speeches he taught that everyone should respect each other as brothers. He was violently against any type of discrimination, tribal, racial, social or religious. In the first speech he gave in Musoma I heard him emphasize that everyone would be respected. There were some Indians, Arabs, and myself in the audience. Before Nyerere arrived, members of TANU made sure that we were given seats for this meeting. He traveled frequently by public buses or Land Rovers that which were hired by TANU or loaned by followers of the party.
One difficulty arose during this period between Maria and Julius’s sister Sophia. His sister wanted to bring her boyfriends to sleep with them in Marie’s house. Sophia was young and unmarried. Marie forbad her to do this. Sophia turned against Maria and incited the rest of her family to turn against her. This made it difficult for her with Julius’ family who listened to Sophia. Since Sophia was Julius’ younger sister, he felt responsible for taking care of her. This difficulty continued for a number of years. It ended when Sophia was seriously injured in an auto accident after Julius became president. They were all traveling in a motorcade. When the front of the motorcade stopped suddenly, police cars that were in the rear raced up to the front to find out what had stopped the motorcade. Unfortunately just at this time Sophia opened her door and stepped out right into the path of a speeding police car. She was struck and seriously injured. She never recovered from this accident. But when she died, the animosity between Julius’ family and Maria disappeared. It had lasted a good number of years. One day Julius asked me if he could build a house for Maria near Komuge Mission. He was still concerned that if he should die Maria would not have a place to live because of this animosity. He wanted her to be near me and the mission. I agreed. He had a house built just off the mission property for her. Maria lived in this house only on a few occasions. After Sophia’s death the relationship between Maria and Julius’ family improved so much that it became evident she would not need this house. Maria and Julius then turned this house over to the Komuge Parish. It is now the convent for the Ivrea Sisters who are running the Catechists Training Center at Komuge.
One day while he was teaching me Julius mentioned that the British would probably put him in prison because of his agitation for independence. He said this because a number of other African political leaders had been already incarcerated because of their political activities. He expressed concern for Maria and their children. The house that he had built for Maria had a grass roof. These roofs last only a few years and then need to be replaced. The termites usually destroy them. I offered to loan him money to put on a galvanized corrugated iron roof. He accepted my offer and got his friend Oswald who was working in construction for the government to put on this roof. It cost only a few hundred dollars. I never thought about it after it was completed. Several years later he came one day to return the money I had loaned him. He was very apologetic and said that it had taken him several years to repay me. He told me that he had had no money. He only got this money to repay me when he went to America. There he was invited to appear on TV with Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt and on one of Mike Wallace’s talk shows. For each of these appearances he was given a stipend. With this money he repaid me.
During this period of the campaign by TANU the Tanganyika government tried very much to discredit Julius by spreading foul rumors about him. Julius told me that the governor thought that he was a rogue and rabble-rouser. They spread a false rumor that he had taken his personal assistant, Joan Wicken, as his mistress. She had traveled early in 1957 as a Research Fellow in Somerville College, Oxford to gather information about TANU. Before and after this trip she was the Assistant Commonwealth Officer of the Labor Party. The previous year she had met Nyerere in her office in London. Father Gerald Grondin, a Maryknoll priest who was organizing the Tanganyika Episcopal Conference at the time and had previously been Prefect Apostolic of the Musoma Prefecture where he got to know Julius well, told me that these were pure fabrications to discredit Nyerere. Because of the volume of work, Julius and Joan Wicken had to work long into the night in the TANU office. This was the reason given for this false accusation that they were together at night. I met Julius at this time because the rumors had reached Musoma where I was living. At lunch I mentioned to Julius what I had heard. He was not pleased to hear of this attack on him. He told me that these rumors were false. The longer and better that I got to know him over the years convince me of his absolute fidelity to his wife Maria. Joan Wicken continued to be his personal assistant until he retired and was very helpful to Julius in doing research and helping him write his speeches. She came to Dar es Salaam for his funeral.
In March, 1955 when Julius Nyerere went to New York to address the Trusteeship Council meeting on the third United Nations Visiting Mission’s Report on Tanganyika, the British government put pressure on the U.S. State Department to limit Nyerere’s movements in New York to a radius of eight blocks from the United Nations building and his stay to 24 hours of his appearance before the Trusteeship Council. Nyerere surprised the council with his statement: “TANU’s policy is one not of discrimination but of brotherhood. I believe this also to be essentially the policy of the Administering Authority.” Nyerere gained great prestige from this appearance before the Trusteeship Council of the United Nations.
Before Nyerere went to Trusteeship Council meeting at the United Nations the government tried to get both the Catholic and Protestant churches to forbid their teachers from joining TANU. They refused. Father Walsh had become the Executive of the Bishops’ Conference in Educational Affairs of the inter-territorial schools that belonged to the whole hierarchy and not to an individual bishop. He was responsible for the staffing of St. Francis, Pugu where Nyerere was teaching. The government then tried to put pressure on Walsh to forbid Julius from going to the United Nations. A number of leaders in TANU came also to urge Walsh to allow Julius to go. Because Nyerere would be gone for a month, permission had to be obtained from the Department of Education that paid the salaries of all teachers. The head of this department sent Walsh to see Governor Twining. The governor told Walsh that it didn’t make sense that the government should pay the salary of the man who was working to undermine his own administration. Governor Twining had completely misread Nyerere’ character and activities. Julius himself told me that the governor considered him a rogue and rabble-rouser.
Walsh took the chance and let Julius go to the United Nations. He did not know where the salary would come from. He hoped that the bishops would allow him to look for the money from some other source. The governor and his ministers continued to try to influence the bishops in not supporting Nyerere and TANU. They replied it would be wrong to deprive a growing and powerful movement among the Africans of just those educated men and women who were the only people capable of acting responsibly and whose influence could be relied upon to support moderate policies. Finally the chief secretary called in Walsh and asked him to refuse to give Nyerere permission to go to New York because he represented a subversive movement. Walsh replied it was not a subversive movement because only recently the government had passed a law on subversions. It hadn’t used this law against Nyerere or TANU. At the end of February when Nyerere left for New York he had no difficulty getting a passport from the government.
It was evident from his actions that Walsh was following the Pastoral Letter of the Catholic Bishops of Tanzania in 1953. In his official capacity Walsh wrote a letter to Nyerere that the Catholic Church was most anxious for Africans to advance to full development. Therefore it would never forbid teachers (except priests) to join TANU or to become TANU office bearers. As for Nyerere himself, the Catholic Bishops Conference had always found him an excellent teacher, efficient, loyal, and hard working. If he were now to decide that he could no longer afford to be both teacher and leader of a nationalist movement, the conference would see him go with regret and would like him to know of their grateful appreciation of his services.
Nyerere’s reaction was one of gratitude and generosity. On March 22, 1955 he resigned his position as history master and was left without any employment. This was one of the most impressive gestures he made in service of his fellow Africans. He had no possessions at this time, but now had a family to take care of. He had a son Andrew and a daughter Anna. TANU offered him 420 shillings (equals $60) per month, but he refused. It was at this time that he returned to his village of Butiama in the Zanaki area. I met him and hired him to teach me his Zanaki language.
Two other political organizations came into being at this time. One was the Tanganyika Nation Society. David Stirling and Robin Johnston founded the T.N.S.
It was based on the principles of Capricorn Declarations that took place at the Salima Convention held in Nyasaland (now Malawi) in June, 1956.
The second organization was the United Tanganyika Party. The U.T.P. was founded in the governor’s residence in Lushoto. Ivor Bayldon and several of his European friends founded this party as a multiracial party. It was “the governor’s favorite party.” It also adopted some of the articles of the Capricorn Declarations.
Nyerere attacked both of these parties that had little support from the mass of the African population. He used the American Declaration of Independence and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to push for “one man one vote” to demolish both of these parties. They never became any challenge to TANU.
In 1956 Nyerere went to the U.S.A. for the second time at the invitation of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers. They invited him to come to give lectures in various universities in Washington, Boston, New York, and Chicago to give him a chance to look for scholarships for his youthful followers. Father William Collins who had witnessed Julius and Maria’s wedding in Musoma met him when he arrived. This invitation also allowed him to appear at the U.N. On December 20, 1956 he appeared before the Fourth Committee of the U.N. Once again he described the multi-racial situation in Tanganyika where 20,000 Europeans dominated the Executive and Legislative Councils. He pleaded for a common roll and universal suffrage. If these demands of TANU were accepted, the administration would demonstrate to the people that they could realize their legitimate aspiration through democratic means. In the discussion Nyerere showed that the Asian Association also opposed a system of voting that would give virtually universal suffrage to the minority of the European inhabitants while denying it to the majority. Nyerere stated that there was no conflict between Africans and Europeans. TANU was only opposed to the British policy.
The following year in June, 1957 there was another meeting of the Trusteeship Council on Tanganyika. Governor Twinning sent Sir Andrew Cohen who recently had ended his term as Governor of Uganda, John Fletcher-Cooke, a key minister in the Tanganyika Colonial Administration and Tom Marealle, paramount chief of the Chagga. Africans considered him a British stooge. Marealle was not an official member of the British Delegation. He voiced the African point of view by asking for independence. Nyerere supported Marealle’s point and went on to prove that TANU was not racial, but had repeatedly declared that they had no intention of applying discrimination against any race. He demanded that 98 percent of the population be given 50 per cent of the unofficial seats in Legco instead of the ten to which they were restricted. Two per cent of the population, the Europeans and Asians had 20 seats. The government however had no intention of doing this.
One of the biggest challenges came to Nyerere from members of TANU. At the end of 1957 TANU was invited to participate in the first general election. TANU delegates gathered in Tabora to discus various proposals that the government was advocating. The most contentious agenda was the system of tripartite voting that the government was proposing for the coming election to Legco. The debate became hot and furious. Many delegates under the leadership of Bhoke Munanka were advocating a boycott of the elections. They were calling for a general strike and mass demonstration against the elections. After four days of furious debate Bhoke Munanka and Julius Nyerere both stood up to talk. Nyerere ended the debate with his wisdom and common sense. He gave forth a simple example. He told everyone: There is a large and beautiful house before us. But in front of it there is a mud puddle. For us to get into that beautiful house we must walk through the mud puddle. Are you willing not to walk through a little mud to get into this house? This ended the argument.
Because of its acceptance of Nyerere’s proposals, TANU would then work to have an elected majority in Legco and the beginning of what would be known as “Responsible Government” in 1959. On September 1, 1960 under the new Governor Richard Turnbull Nyerere formed his first cabinet and was officially nominated as Chief Minister of Tanganyika. Under the leadership of Turnbull everything moved faster and more smoothly. The Colonial Secretary of H.M. Government, Iain Macleod, had this to say when he opened the Constitutional Conference in Karimjee Hall, Dar es Salaam on March 26, 1961:
The main purpose of this conference is plain to us all. We are here to discuss not only internal self-government, but also the great question of independence for Tanganyika. It is right, I think, that at this opening session of the conference I should make clear H.M. Government’s position in this matter. It is that we do not oppose the proposal of independence; we welcome it. We know the strength of feeling in your country that Tanganyika must soon take her place in the comity of independent nations. There is, therefore, nothing between H.M. Government and Tanganyikans on this great issue…
I think that in the ordinary run of these things it would probably not be appropriate for me to mention individuals as having played a particular part in a country’s affairs but this, Sir, is no ordinary man. In Mr. Nyerere this country has a leader to whom not only the people of Tanganyika but many others in all parts of the world can look to with confidence to guide this emerging nation successfully through the very great tasks ahead. I have already referred to the spirit of harmony which prevails in Tanganyika. Mr. Nyerere once said that the people of Tanganyika, and I quote, “would like to light a candle and put it on the top of Mount Kilimanjaro which would shine beyond our borders, giving hope where there is despair, love where there is hate and dignity where before there was only humiliation.” These are simple but inspiring words which all who hope to see peace and harmony prevail in Africa must keep steadfastly in mind. But the time has come to replace the candle of responsible government first with the lantern of full internal self-government and then with the beacon of independence. That is what we are all here to do. (Quotation from The Making of Tanganyika by Judith Listowel, page 385).
This was the shortest constitutional conference in British Colonial history. At this conference Iain Macleod agreed that Julius Nyerere be the Prime Minister. It was also agreed that internal self-government will begin on May 1, 1961. Full independence would be on December 9, 1961. The delegates in Karimjee Hall as well as the crowds of people outside received this announcement with jubilation. This cheering and dancing quickly spread throughout Dar es Salaam as Nyerere was driven slowly in a triumphant procession through the city. He held a placard “Independence 1961.”
Following this Constitutional Conference, the Finance Minister, Sir Ernest Vasey drew up a Three-Year Development Plan for Tanganyika. This plan entailed an expenditure of 8 million British Pounds a year for three years. Nyerere wanted 240 million British Pounds for this three-year plan. However, he accepted it as a beginning. At the Finance Conference that followed in London Iain Macleod informed Nyerere that due to the poverty in Britain this grant of 8 million British Pounds would be cut in half. Nyerere was furious. Governor Turnbull and Iain Macleod pleaded against this reduction. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Selwyn Lloyd, argued that Britain was struggling to keep the pound steady against international pressure. To do this he claimed that the most stringent economy measures had to be taken. This meant that foreign aid had to be cut in half. Nyerere was able to understand that Britain needed to economize, but it was inconceivable that Britain would jeopardize the Three-Year Development Plan for such a poor country as Tanganyika. Nyerere left a meeting with Harold Macmillan with the feeling of resentment and despair. In a press conference the next day he said, “We were absolutely shocked when throughout all the discussions H.M.G. was pleading poverty.” Nyerere found that all his colleagues were enraged and members of the TANU National Executive were in a state of fury.
It was only when Sir. Richard Turnbull threatened to resign and tell the press that the reason for his resignation was the terrible treatment of Tanganyika that the decision was changed. He also explained the feelings of the people in Tanganyika on the verge of independence and what an affront it was to its pride and security. He brought up that Tanganyika had been a model territory, a triumph of moderation, and how well Great Britain had brought this country to independence. After the governor talked with Sir Edward Boyle, Financial Secretary of the Treasury, he agreed to bring it to the British Cabinet Meeting. Following this meeting the funds were restored.
When Nyerere was teaching me, he often spoke of his goal of bringing all of Africa together. He wanted to avoid the Balkanization of Africa. He had studied about this tragedy in Edinburgh. With the changes that had taken place in Africa, the best that he could hope for was an East Africa Federation. He was the first to advocate this federation. He told that he would be willing to delay the independence of Tanganyika if it would be possible to bring together Kenya, Uganda, Zanzibar, and Tanganyika in an East Africa Federation. Later other countries such as Nyasaland (the present Malawi), Northern Rhodesia (the present Zambia), Rwanda and Burundi could join. He knew that these steps had to be taken before the independence of each country. At a press conference in Dar es Salaam on November 4, 1960 he said:
It would be no use to become independent, with our own anthem, our own flag and our own seat in the U.N. and then talking about federation. To those who want to wait until the East African countries are separately independent, I say they do not know human nature. You must rule out the question of federation after we take seats as sovereign states in the U.N.
The political scene in East Africa would change when Jomo Kenyatta was released from detention. It drove home to Nyerere the speed of constitutional change in the three East African countries. His hopes for an East Africa Federation faded. He would later put his energies in promoting the Organization of Africa Unity (OAU). In May, 1963 he attended the meeting in Addis Ababa to set up this organization of African States.
After the announcement of independence Nyerere saw that there was need to re-orientate TANU. Its goal was now in range. There were also deep divisions in the party particularly in connection with racism. Some in TANU wanted only Africans to be members of the party. They also wanted quick Africanization of all departments in the government.
Another concern that Julius would talk about when he was with me was his fear of religious conflict between the Muslims and Christians in Tanzania. This concern was heightened by the regulation that Governor Twinning had imposed on Tanganyika. It forbad anyone receiving a government salary from becoming a member of TANU. During the campaign Muslims who were mainly involved in business flocked to be members of TANU and support Nyerere. Christians who were the educated people in Tanganyika were employed as teachers in government and church schools as well as working for government in various positions. Because they received their salaries from government they could not become members of TANU. Nyerere himself told them not to quit their positions because he would need their skills and experience when the country became independent. The result was that Nyerere was in debt to the Muslims in the political field. To show his gratitude to the Muslim community he resigned as Prime Minister and appointed Rashidi Kawawa to be Prime Minister. Rashidi was always a most loyal follower of Nyerere.
His resignation gave him the opportunity to re-orientate TANU to work now for the development of the country. Independence was already assured. Now a greater task faced the people. He described it in Swahili. Our enemies are umaskini, ujinja na ugonjwa (Swahili for “poverty, ignorance and disease”). Many in the country were expecting that they would become wealthy overnight. He toured the country speaking everywhere to the people to get to work on development. He also was able to root out from the party leadership in many areas those that were using their authority in unlawful ways. Because Britain did not come through with what they had originally promised and the need for schools, roads, and hospitals was urgent, Nyerere initiated self-help schemes. Each citizen was to work one day a week free on these self-help schemes. Those who failed to do so were fined. This was a revival of the old African custom in which chiefs required free community labor from the people. According to official Tanganyika statements given in mid-1963 for an investment of 2,100,000 shillings (the equivalent of $300,000) 515 wells had been dug, 10,400 miles of roads built, 166 clinics, 368 schools, 267 village halls, and 308 dams constructed.
It was now time to replace the British Governor General with an African President. Iain Macleod had already agreed to this. Nyerere announced that on the first anniversary of independence December 9, 1962 Tanganyika would become a republic. Two months later Nyerere was unanimously chosen as the candidate for TANU. The African National Congress chose Zuberi Mtemwu as their candidate. Nyerere defeated him with 1,123,535 votes against his 21,279 votes. There was a turnout of 63.5 % of the registered voters. On December 9, 1962 Chief Justice Ralph Windham swore in Julius Kambarage Nyerere as the first President of the Tanganyika Republic. He received gifts of a cloak, a spear and shield from ethnic group chiefs who also anointed him. The goal of complete independence had been accomplished.
Many difficulties would face him in his role as president. He had the great gift of being able to laugh at his own mistakes and correct his mistakes. Historians will undoubtedly enumerate his many successes and failures as president during the 24 years he was in office. I want to attempt to explain what I saw as his great contributions to Tanganyika, and after the Union, to Tanzania.
His greatest contribution was his complete dedication of himself and the country to the welfare of all the inhabitants of the country. I am sure that whatever decision he had to make, this consideration was foremost in his mind. He fought all forms of corruption. It is truly amazing that as an African President there never were any accusations with any substance to them made against him. A local politician in Musoma once told me, “Because the Baba doesn’t take bribes, it is difficult for the sons to accept them.” It is remarkable that with all the blatant corruption in so many African countries, Nyerere could stand out so incorruptible.
This honesty extended not only to his personal life but also to the political scene. He stuck to his principles even when doing so would cost the country foreign aid. He would lose a great deal of aid from West Germany when he agreed to recognize East Germany. A similar loss of aid came from Israel when Tanzania recognized the Palestinian government. They stopped all their aid to Tanzania. He was not willing to let Tanzania be bribed for the sake of receiving aid from another country.
His personal example is also a great legacy that he has left his people and the world. He was a faithful husband to his wife Maria and a devoted father. He wanted his children to grow up like all the children in Tanganyika. He did not want them to be “privileged.” At times this would cause friction between him and his wife, Maria. Like all mothers, Maria wanted her children to get the best. Nyerere showed that he was one with the vast majority of the people of Tanzania who are peasant farmers. He enjoyed working in the fields, planting crops, weeding them, and harvesting them. When he was president his vacations were spent in this way in his fields in Butiama.
He was a man of great faith and love of God. He went to mass and received Holy Communion every day. His morning began when he was in Dar es Salaam with mass and communion in his parish church of St. Peter’s, Oyster Bay. After this he would return home for breakfast before going to his office. When he would be traveling inside of Tanzania or even in foreign countries, one of his aids would need to locate the closest Catholic Church and find out when mass was so that he could attend. In Beijing, China he went to the Catholic Church which was at the service of the diplomats. After returning from Lima, Peru he mentioned to me that he had met one of my Maryknoll classmates, Father Martin Murphy. When Julius went to mass in Lima, he introduced himself to the priest who said the mass. He was Martin Murphy. It was so evident when Julius went to mass, he was there to pray and worship God. He was very respectful in church. His attention was always on the altar and what was taking place in the liturgy.
Maria has told me that when he would come home from his work in the evening, he would go to his room to read scripture and meditate. At times she would say that he is meditating these days on St. John’s Gospel or a certain epistle of St. Paul. When speaking with him his faith knowledge of Catholic doctrine was very evident. He loved and respected the church. He had special respect for religious communities in which everyone shared in the resources of the community equally. He felt that this was an example of how he hoped all in Tanzania could live. It was similar to his ideal of Ujamaa (Swahili for “Familyhood”).
After his retirement in Butiama Nyerere regularly attended mass in his home parish. One October a Tanzanian seminarian during his pastoral training was told by the pastor: “Next Sunday, you will give the sermon at the parish mass.” It was World Mission Sunday! The seminarian worked hard all week preparing his homily. Sunday morning he stepped up to preach. Seeing the retired President Julius Nyerere sitting in the front row a few steps in front of him, he panicked. The seminarian forgot every word he prepared. He could hardly speak. “Today is World Mission Sunday!” he stuttered. “When we think of missionaries we think of Wazungu (Swahili for “Europeans” or white persons) priests, but we are all missionaries. Everyone, every Catholic, must do something to spread his or her religion.” Trembling, he made the “Sign of the Cross” and sat down. The seminarian felt humiliated and thought his sermon was a total failure.
Two months later a messenger arrived at the rectory to see the seminarian with an invitation from Nyerere to come to dinner. Around the table with the retired president and his wife Maria were a number of young children, their grandchildren. “Jimmy!” Nyerere said, “You lead the prayer.” Little Jimmy made the “Sign of the Cross” and said the prayer before meals in Swahili. When Jimmy was finished, Nyerere turned to the seminarian saying: “Frater (“Brother” in Swahili). This is the result of your sermon. That Sunday I began to think that I have not done much to teach my religion. These are some of my grandchildren. I’m calling them here to teach them their prayers.”
At the same time he taught and encouraged all to respect other peoples’ religious beliefs. He had raised money in Canada and with some help from the Tanzanian bishops was able to build a Catholic Church in his village of Butiama. Italians came to build this church. On the day it was blessed he was very happy because now it would be handy for him to go to mass every day. He was retired at this time and living in Butiama. After the blessing of the church in Butiama at the celebrations that followed he was asked to speak. He told the Catholics there that they should help the Muslims in Butiama to build a mosque so that they too could have a place of worship. This mosque was built under the supervision of the army.
Julius was very foresighted in realizing the great danger “tribalism” presented to Tanganyika. In his campaign for independence he had the remarkable gift of uniting the 120 ethnic groups (formerly called tribes) of the country. He did this just by talking to them. During the campaign some of the tribal chiefs opposed TANU. They were receiving their salaries from the British Government. It was to their interest to preserve the status quo. Nyerere realized that the chiefs were the center of tribalism. They would continue to promote their own interests and the interests of each tribe. One of his first declarations after independence was to abolish all the chiefs in the country. He was the son of a chief. His brother Edward Wanzagi was chief of the Zanaki at the time of independence. In place of chiefs he appointed government officials to carry on the work of the chiefs. However, these officials were usually not from the same ethic group.
His second move to diminish tribalism was to mix up the secondary students who were studying in boarding schools. Instead of attending schools in their own district or tribal area they were sent to other parts of the country so that they would learn to live with and appreciate students of other ethnic groups.
Perhaps the greatest attack on tribalism came from the emphasis that he put on Swahili as the national language. Everywhere it was very evident how much the government was pushing Swahili. English continued to be a legal language of the country, but it took a second seat far behind Swahili. There was a big push in adult education throughout the
country. The widespread adult education classes throughout the country also helped Swahili to spread not only among students, but among the population in general. It was also a unifying force in the country. Today Tanzania remains as a model for ethnic group harmony. Another of the great legacies Nyerere left his people.
In January, 1967 following a three-day meeting in the town of Arusha, the TANU National Executive Committee Nyerere declared the Arusha Declaration. This declaration was hotly contested during this meeting. A member of this National Executive Committee, Philipo Hosea, who participated in this meeting told me that Oscar Kambona was against this declaration and challenged Nyerere during it. On two occasions when the delegates were deadlocked, Nyerere, Kambona and Kawawa left the general meeting and went into discussions about it among themselves. After each of these discussions it was evident that Kawawa sided with Nyerere against Kambona.
The main point of the Arusha Declaration was that Tanzania would follow a political philosophy of Ujamaa. In 1955 when Julius was teaching me he explained to me his hopes of establishing a government that would be based on African culture. He saw the weaknesses of both Communism and Capitalism which at that time was engaged in the Cold War. He felt that it would be better for his country to have a government that would follow the principles that had governed the lives of the Africans before foreigners came to Africa and took control of their country politically. He explained Ujamaa as a way of life as it was lived in the African extended family. In the extended family all shares all that is needed for life. There is also private ownership of all that one produces or makes. Land was always tribally owned. Everyone in the tribe had a right to have land so that he or she could raise the food necessary for life. Water was also shared. No one could claim a spring of water as his own property. Everyone needs water for life. On the other hand if someone builds a house, this person owns it. The food one grows belongs to the person who raised it. .
Nyerere felt that these same principles should be used as the basis of the government of Tanganyika so that the wealth of the country would benefit everyone in the country. He knew that Tanganyika had great mineral wealth. There are very large deposits of iron and coal in southern Tanganyika. At this period of their development, the people of the country were not capable of developing these resources. He felt it was better to let them remained undeveloped until the time Tanzania would be developed enough and could exploit these resources rather than allow large foreign companies come and exploit this wealth for themselves while they paid only minimal wages to the Tanganyikan workers.
It was interesting to me that Father John Civille wrote his doctorate dissertation on “Ujamaa Socialism: An Analysis of the Socialism of the Julius K. Nyerere in the Light of Catholic Church Teaching.” It is found in Tanzania and Nyerere: A Study of Ujamaa and Nationalism by William R. Duggan and John R. Civille published by Orbis Books in New York in 1976. The book points our how close are Nyerere’s political philosophy of Ujamaa and the Catholic Church’s teaching on human rights and the relation of the citizen to the state. I remembered how Julius had told me how eager he was after his baptism to understand his Catholic Faith. He not only read, but studied all of the Papal Encyclicals while he was at Makerere University.
A second emphasis of the Arusha Declaration was to build self-reliance. This would be possible only by promoting rural development. Ninety percent of the populations were rural peasant farmers. They lived off the food they raised. Many were subsistence farmers, barely able to raise enough food to feed themselves and their families. This is because of their primitive implements of farming, mainly their dependence on the hoe. They also needed to depend on the rainfall that in some areas of the country is erratic. There was also encouragement to return to the custom of farmers working together and sharing together in the harvest.
This concern of Nyerere for the poor rural people extended to his concern for their medical needs. The doctors wanted to use what limited resources that Tanzania had for building large hospitals in urban areas. Nyerere realized that these hospitals would not meet the every day medical needs of the peasants. He also knew that highly educated doctors would find it difficult to live in rural areas. He therefore opted for training Medical Assistants and Rural Medical Assistants and for building small Health Centers in the rural areas. These would have male, female, children, maternity, and isolation wards. They would also have laboratories as well as facilities to handle outpatients. Medical assistants and trained nurses staffed these Health Centers. They were located throughout the rural areas where the farmers could easily reach them. I saw them in operation many times. They provided excellent service to the people. Many cases of people with severe malaria and other common ailments need a period of rest when getting their treatment. They could do this in these Health Centers. In dispensaries when the people get treated they are obliged to walk long distances after treatment. This nullifies the treatment that they are given. The more complicated cases that the Medical Assistants felt that they could not handle were sent to the hospitals in the urban areas. These Medical Assistants could after a short experience in the Health Centers continued their studies in the Medical Schools and become fully qualified Medical Doctors.
I will not attempt to go into many aspects of the work and decisions Nyerere made together with his government after independence. He was living in Dar es Salaam and I was living in missions in Musoma Diocese of. He made mistakes. But he was always willing to admit his mistakes. When he made a mistake and saw that it was a mistake he would change the policy to correct it. From my understanding of him I know that even when he made a mistake, it was not for any personal gain for himself or any particular group to profit from this action. He made his decision because he thought that it would be for the good of the whole country and especially the poor people in his country. An example of this was villagization.
He explained to me that he felt that when people lived together, they would exchange ideas more frequently. This would bring about speedier development in the country. He also wanted to promote universal primary school education. He wanted the schools to be close enough to the people so that the children could get to school easily and especially get home at noon to eat and then return to classes. This could only be done if the children lived in villages.
It was his intention to bring good drinking water to all the people in rural areas. Again this would be impossible with the limited finances of the country if the people lived scattered over the countryside in their small peasant farms. Again the solution to this water problem was to move into villages. A third benefit that he saw for the poor peasants was to have medical facilities close at hand. In each village the government could provide a medical dispensary with a Rural Medical Assistant. Being close to a medical dispensary they could get early treatment.
It was his hope that these villages would develop and be able to have their own markets, shops, and workshops. With these attractions he wanted the youth to remain in the villages and be able to have a social life and also have opportunities of making money. If this took place then they would not flock to the large cities that cannot provide them with jobs. Also in the cities many could get into crime, prostitution, and other difficulties.
At the time of villagization there were some tribes and individuals who rebelled against moving into villages. In some cases this was due to the poor location of where the village was to be located. From the directions that we were given by the government for the location of a village, we were told to select a site at an established mission, a school, a trading center, or cotton store. Each family was given an acre of land in the newly formed village area. Most people could choose which plot they wanted.
It was unfortunate that this policy of moving the people into villages in our Mara Region took place when there were four years of famine, 1970-1973. The people blamed the famine on the government. It is true that there was less agricultural work done when the people were moved a mile or two away from their fields. They continue to work the same fields as they had done previously. However, because of the distance they had to walk to get to their fields, the time that they spent working on them was reduced. Another problem was protection of their crops from cattle being herded nearby and wild animals. When they lived next to their fields they could protect them better. The people with large herds of cattle, sheep, and goats were probably the most affected. When the government agreed and gave permission for the people to return to their small peasant farms, the ones who did so were mostly those with large herds of cattle. Most people were happy to continue to live in the villages.
During the serious famine in 1974 the Tanzanian government provided famine relief, but the food was not getting to the people who complained to the authorities. President Nyerere heard about the complaints and decided to visit all the storehouses of the National Milling Company (NMC) where the food was being kept. One day Nyerere visited the NMC in Shinyanga. He disguised himself as a beggar wearing worn out clothes and an old hat. When he arrived at the gate of the NMC no one recognized him. He passed through the gate without permission and went straight to the office of the manager. He knocked on the door and yelled out, “Hey, you people in there. Help me. I don’t have any food.” The manager answered, “Stop bothering us, old man. We don’t have any food here. Go to the market and buy some for yourself.”
Nyerere continued to cry out, but no one paid any attention. The manager and his assistants were busy with some local business men who were buying the famine relief food that was supposed to go to the Tanzanian people. Finally Nyerere opened the door and walked into the office. He immediately took off his hat and made himself known. Needless to say, the manager was speechless. After President Nyerere returned to Dar es Salaam, it was announced that the manager of the NMC in Shinyanga had been fired together with some of his assistants
I am sure that historians will deal with the many difficulties that Nyerere had to deal with as president such as the Army Mutiny in 1964, the detention of individuals, the revolution in Zanzibar, the union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar to create Tanzania in April, 1964, the conflict with apartheid in South Africa and Zimbabwe (formerly Southern Rhodesia), the war with Idi Amin in Uganda, and other problems that Nyerere had to deal with during his 24 years as president. I did meet him occasionally during this time, mainly when he came on vacation to his village of Butiama. In all our conversations I saw that he continued to be concerned with justice and peace for his own people in Tanzania and the people of Africa in general.
There is a commonly used Swahili proverb translated into English as: When elephants fight the grass (reeds) gets hurt. It means the feeling of powerlessness in the midst of larger forces. In the 1970s Julius Nyerere used this proverb in a speech at the United Nations in New York. He explained that in the Cold War between the (then) two great super powers — the United States and Russia — it was the poor Third World countries such as those in Africa who suffered and were victimized.
For many years Nyerere was the chairperson of the South-South Commission. This commission was an organization of the developing countries. It tried to promote justice on the world market by showing the injustices that the wealthy countries practiced since they were able to control the prices both of rare materials and manufactured goods on the world market. He was also the leader of the Frontline States that assisted the South African Blacks in their pursuit of independence and the end of apartheid. At his inauguration as the first president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela recognized Julius Nyerere’s contribution to overcoming apartheid. He did this by giving him at the independence celebrations the first seat of protocol.
The humility of Julius Nyerere was very evident to me. The two earliest biographers of Julius K. Nyerere were Judith Listowel and William Edgett Smith. Judith Listowel’s book is The Making of Tanganyika published by London House & Maxwell, New York in London in 1965. William Edgett Smith’s biography is called We Must Run While They Walk published by Random House in New York in 1971. Both of these authors came to visit me at Zanaki Mission. I helped them with information especially on Nyerere’s life as a youth. Both of them told me that Nyerere had agreed to give them interviews. However, he would only give these interviews on the condition that their books would not be called Julius K. Nyerere. He was very much against any self-glorification. He would not allow statues to be erected to honor him. He did not want titles of honor, but preferred the title Mwalimu ((Swahili for “Teacher”). He was always the enthusiastic teacher and animator.
I was with Julius Nyerere when he died in St. Thomas’s Hospital in London on Thursday, October 14, 1999. When I returned from the states a short time prior to this, Father John Sivalon, our Maryknoll Regional Superior, had informed me that Julius was ill and had gone to London for routine treatment. Dr. Robert Carr first diagnosed Nyerere as having chronic lymphocyte leukemia in August, 1998 and started his treatment. He returned to London again in November, 1998 for further treatment. A week before he left for London in August, 1999 he was in poor health. This trip to London was described in the local newspapers as a routine medical check-up. Maria told me that previously he had developed shingles which bothered him greatly. However, he had recovered from these.
President Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania after visiting Nyerere in the hospital on September 25 gave a press conference in Dar es Salaam when he returned there the following day. He announced that Nyerere was in critical condition and asked the nation to pray for him. When I got word that he was not improving I flew to London on Sunday, October 10 and went directly to see him. I found him in a coma in intensive care. He had a smile on his face. With him was his wife Maria, his two sons, Charles Makongoro and Madaraka as well as his three daughters, Anna, Rose, and Paulette. President Mkapa had sent as his personal representative to be with Nyerere, Mr. Kingunge Ngombale-Mwiru, the Minister of Regional and Local Government. The Tanzanian High Commissioner in London, Dr. Abdulkadir Schareef was also in attendance. Joseph Butiku who had served as Julius’ personal secretary when he was president and was also a relative was present. General Masuburi who was a retired general in the Tanzanian army that defeated Amin was also in attendance. Rashidi Kawawa also came to pay his respects to Nyerere while I was there.
Near his bed in intensive care was a small shrine with a crucifix, pictures of our Blessed Mother, and a rosary. His family took turns of sitting at his bedside praying and being with them. I was privileged to take my turn at his bedside. His two daughters, Anna and Rose, spent each night praying the rosary throughout the night.
On Monday, October 11 Dr. Carr decided to do a Cats Scan on Julius. When they returned him to intensive care, Dr. Carr called together Maria, his family and others in attendance. He said, “I am sorry but I have to tell you that your husband and father has gone to God. He has had a massive stroke. There is nothing that we can do to repair or help him.” The family saw him breathing well as he had previously done. They found it difficult to accept that he had died. I was able to explain to the family that due to the development of medical science the Catholic Church now recognized that a person was dead when his brain was dead. Dr. Carr was very gentle and took time to spend with the family. We also prayed together. We were allowed to celebrate mass in the Anglican Chapel of the hospital. Maria mentioned to me that she suspected that he had this stroke on the previous Thursday.
The Catholic chaplain, Father Bradley, who came two days a week, had previously given Julius the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. Later Maria asked another Catholic priest, Canon John Devane, to give her husband Extreme Unction. He did and later explained to Maria that the Anointing of the Sick was new name for the sacrament of Extreme Unction.
On Monday night Charles Makongoro and Joseph Butiku asked to speak to me in private. They told me that the Tanzanian government officials had decided they would pull the plug on the life supports for Nyerere on Tuesday and that a plane would come on Wednesday to take his body back to Dar es Salaam. However, Dr. Carr spoke with Maria and her family when I was with them and said that he would only follow the wishes of the family in this matter. He saw that they were struggling with accepting that Julius was dead when they saw him continuing to breathe. When his daughter Rose asked Dr. Carr to explain, he said that he was continuing to breathe because the machines were keeping him breathing. She replied. “Well, in that case we can keep him breathing indefinitely.” Dr. Carr told her that it would be better if the doctors in intensive care would explain what the machines were doing as this was their specialty. One doctor from intensive care did come and talk to all of us. He said that if you want to know what we are doing in intensive care now with your husband and father I can only say, “We are prolonging his death.” Even with this the daughters found it difficult to make a decision. Finally after prayer and much discussion they agreed that on Thursday morning, October 14 that the monitors could be removed. They did not agree to remove the life supports. However, God is good. At 2:00 a.m. on Thursday Nyerere took a turn for the worst. Maria and his sons were called to his bed. The daughters were already there. The doctors worked on him until 6:00 a.m. when he stopped breathing completely. I arrived at 8:00 a.m. at the hospital. Dr. Carr met me and told me that Julius had stopped breathing. All were gathered around his bed praying. Dr. Carr asked that we give the nurses the opportunity to remove all the wires and instruments and to clean him up. We left his bedside.
When we all returned we found him covered with a sheet except for his face. His wife Maria immediately went to his side. She uncovered his hand from under the sheet, grasped it between her two hands. The way she did it showed how great was their life long love that they shared during their 47 years of marriage. She then intertwined a rosary between his fingers as all of us prayed and said the rosary. At that time I wished that all the Catholic married couples in Tanzania could have witnessed this expression of love that Maria and Julius had for each other throughout their life long faithful marriage.
The Requiem Mass, which was celebrated by Monsignor George Stack in Westminster Cathedral, London, was filled to capacity. Large crowds of Africans filled the plaza outside the cathedral because there was not enough room inside. After the mass they came to pay respects in a side chapel until it was necessary to stop because another mass was going to be said at the main altar.
I was privileged to accompany Nyerere’s body together with Maria, his wife, his children and many government dignitaries on the plane that brought him home to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. It is impossible to describe the huge crowds that waited for his arrival at the airport in Dar es Salaam. Looking down from the plane, all one saw was a never ending sea of people, all standing in quiet respect for their beloved Baba wa Taifa (Swahili for “Father of the Country”). If as in the early days of the church, saints were recognized by the Vox Populi (“Voice of the People”), Julius Kambarage Nyerere would have been canonized that day. Not only were the people there at the airport, but they lined the 15-mile route that the entourage took carrying his remains in state to his home at Msasani. This day, Monday October 18, was reserved for members of his extended family to pay their respects to their beloved father. His wife Maria sat near the coffin as members of the family came to view and pay respects to his body. Next to Maria was Mrs. Nelson Mandela who had flown from South Africa to assist Maria. Fortunately when she recognized how tired Maria was from the long flight from London and then the funeral procession from the airport to her home, Mrs. Mandela persuaded Maria to go rest.
The following day, October 19, there was a Requiem Mass for Julius Kambarage Nyerere in St. Joseph’s Cathedral, Dar es Salaam. Cardinal Polycarp Pengo presided at this celebration. There were 13 archbishops and bishops assisting including the Apostolic Nuncio. Because this cathedral is not too large, only VIPS such as President Benjamin Mkapa, his wife, members of the diplomatic corp. and a limited number of 50 priests and religious were able to attend. Crowds remained outside in prayer and respect. After this mass his body was taken to a house in the National Stadium. This house had been built with air conditioning so that people could come to pay their respects. The lines began and continued all Tuesday night, all day and night Wednesday until Thursday morning when ecumenical services were held and speeches given. People had to walk many miles. But even in the middle of the night there were crowds of people that came to show their respect.
After this service in the National Stadium his body was flown to Musoma and from there taken to his home in Butiama. Once again in Musoma and then in his village of Butiama there very large crowds waiting to show their respect and love for him. At Butiama crowds of people came from all over Tanzania to view his body and pay their respects. This went on from the time the body arrived there, then all day and night long Thursday, and all day Friday until it was time for his burial mass. The people sang and prayed for him during all this time. Archbishop Anthony Mayala was the principal celebrant. Cardinal Polycarp Pengo, Bishop Justin Samba of Musoma Diocese and five other bishops assisted. There were a number of speeches by President Mkapa, President Museveni of Uganda, the Vice President of Tanzania and others at the grave. He was laid to rest in a simple grave.
One day when I was visiting Maria after the death of Nyerere, she mentioned that Julius had wanted to build a small shrine to our Blessed Mother. This shrine would be built among the large granite rocks near where he would be buried. After his death Maria started to build this shrine. Julius had chosen the type of statue he wanted. When I saw a picture of the statue I recognized that it was Our Blessed Mother, Lady of Grace. I was able to temporarily borrow such a statue from the Immaculate Heart Sisters of Africa at their Baraki Postulancy. The Maryknoll Society agreed to donate a permanent statue. We ordered a marble statue from Italy that was placed on the top of the large granite bounder near Julius’ grave. At the insistence of Maria a sign was placed on the mount holding this statue that acknowledged that it had been donated out of Maryknoll’s respect for Julius Nyerere.
Over many years we Maryknoll missionaries had a close friendship and working relationship with Julius Nyerere and his family. . Six weeks after his death picture this moving scene. Thirty-one members of the Maryknoll Family in East Africa gathered in the Catholic Church at Butiama, 35 miles from Musoma on Saturday, 4 December, 1999: eight lay members of the Maryknoll Lay Missioners (MLM); 11 Sisters of the Maryknoll Congregation, and 12 members of the Maryknoll Society (10 priests, one Brother and one seminarian). They joined with Mama Maria Nyerere and other relatives and friends to pray for Mwalimu Julius Nyerere who had died on October 14, 1999. I was Principal Celebrant and John Sivalon the homilist. Maryknoll Lay Missioner Liz Mach and Sister Gertrude Maley read the Scriptures. The feeling was a family spirit: small, informal, personal and friendly.
It was a day of mourning. With heavy hearts we remembered this outstanding Catholic, husband and father, teacher, Founding Father of the Nation and international statesman Julius Kambarage Nyerere. It was a day of celebration. Wearing white vestments and using the Mass of the Resurrection we prayed for Nyerere’s final journey to heaven and his joining our ancestors in Christ. A special time in the liturgy was the introductions of the Maryknollers present. It was a touching moment when Maryknoll Lay Missioner Lisa Nolan walked over and personally greeted Maria before introducing the MLM members. Sister Mary Reese did the same thing before inviting each Sister to introduce herself. In their introductions many of the priests and Sisters recalled a special moment or anecdote in our long relationship with Nyerere. In fact, from Maryknoll’s arrival in Tanzania in 1946 there has always been a warm bond of friendship and collaboration with Nyerere and his family. In his homily Sivalon emphasized that Julius Nyerere promoted the spirit and practice of the equality of all people at all levels of life. He recalled Nyerere’s simplicity and closeness to the ordinary Tanzanian people. He described a scene during the viewing of the body of Nyerere at the National Stadium in Dar es Salaam. Among the thousands of Tanzanians who patiently waited in line for hours, a woman with a baby on her back, a man on crutches and a simply dressed young boy each walked by the casket, paused a moment, bowed and quietly passed on. A moving tribute to a great man of the people!
Julius Nyerere has always been an inspiration to so many people. People come from distant regions in Tanzania to visit his grave to show how much they loved him. They realize how much he loved the poor of his country and tried to help them.
Maria mentioned to me that even when he was seriously ill Nyerere told her that he needed to go to Arusha where he had been involved with the leaders of those fighting in Burundi to try to bring peace among them. Nyerere’s whole life was a testimony of his efforts to bring justice and peace to Africa. He had worked with the former president of the USA, President Jimmy Carter, in other efforts to bring peace among warring groups. What now remain for this nation of Tanzania and its people is to adhere to Julius Nyerere’s teachings on unity and respect for each other despite racial, religious, or ethnic differences.
Written and signed by Father Arthur H. Wille M.M.
February 1, 2005