A determined leftist politician and advocate of an African road to socialism, Julius Nyerere became a candidate for the sainthood back in 2006 when his cause for beatification was opened.
Silvia Cinzia Turrin’s essay “Nyerere, il maestro. Vita e utopie di un padre dell’Africa, cristiano e socialista”(“Nyerere, the teacher. Life
and utopias o fan African priest, a Christian and a socialist” –
Italian Missionary publishing house EMI, pp. 138, 11 Euro) who brings
this African Catholic political figure back into the foreground at a
time marked by anti-politics.
Nyerere became a Christian at the age of
21, has translated Shakespeare into Swahili and was President of
Tanzania from 1962 to 1985.
Julius Nyerere, who was undeniably one of
Africa’s key twentieth century figures, became independent Tanganica’s
first president on 9 December 1962 and later became Tanzania’s leader
thanks to its unification with Zanzibar.
As part of his political
agenda, which was defined by a form of “African-Christian socialism”, he
tried to blend socialist principles with those of the Catholic Church’s
The concept of “ujamaa” (family communitarianism)
was central to Nyerere’s project. He translated this into “extended
family”, a sort of village comprising between fifty and five hundred
Nyerere’s aim was to get the best out of Africa’s social
fabric, whilst at the same time rejecting the idea that an African
country should depend in some way on another western state now that the
colonial era had passed.
The “ujamaa” ideal placed emphasis on “the
fraternal spirit that is typical of African societies.”
Nyerere’s Tanzania supported the single
party principle but unlike any other African state before it, the
country was able to lean on rural agriculture to decolonise itself and
gain independence peacefully, in contrast to many other states on the
Although critical of that Church which is “still
governed by leaders who come from the capitalist states of the developed
West,” condemned governments which made atheism official, persecuted
people of all faiths and made religious teaching impossible,” Turrin
writes referring to Nyerere’s biography. “I have never considered
Soviets as real socialists – he stated. In Tanzania we have made it
very clear that there no socialism without freedom.”
Turrin recalled that
Nyerere’s socialist experience can be summarised in a few simple figures
which he himself quoted: “We have inherited a country in which 85% of
the adult population is illiterate. The English governed us for 43
years. When they left, we were left with 2 engineers and 12 doctors.
When I resigned (in 1985, Ed.), 91% of the population was
literate and practically all children attended school. We trained
thousands of engineers, doctors and teachers. In 1988, Tanzania’s per
capita income was 280 dollars. In 1998 this figure dropped to 140
dollars. I asked the World Bank why they failed. For the last 10 years
(1988-1998) Tanzania has signed every single document the MIF and the
World Bank asked it to sign…”