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Mwalimu: The Influence of Nyerere.

Edited by Colin Legum and Geoffrey Mmari. Britain-Tanzania Society in association with James Currey, London, Mkuki na Nyota, Dar es Salaam, and Africa World Press Trenton, 1995. xii+205 pages. 35.00[pounds] hardback; 11.95[pounds] paperback. ISBN 0 85255 387 0; and 0 85255 386 2.

I am not really sure what this book is for. Julius Nyerere is undoubtedly a remarkable and influential figure, and one can see many possibilities for a work exploring his influence. A discussion of the complex intellectual context in which he (and others like him) developed? An enquiry into the extent to which the policies for which he has become an icon were really new or were really of his devising? An exploration of why he has become an icon? The various contributions to this book really offer none of these, and the anecdotal style of contributions by people who have been closely associated with Nyerere give parts of this book something of the air of a matey ramble down Memory Lane.

The overall tendency is to present `Mwalimu' (the use of which appellation seems distinctly cloying after a while) as an intellectual sui generis--most of the contributors are content to rely solely on references to, or extensive quotations from Nyerere's own work. Repeatedly, they imply that he alone was the driving, innovative force behind overall policy in Tanzania between 1961 and 1985 (and to an extent after his retirement in 1985) and that his major policies were radical new departures; though Komba's contribution seems to undermine its own argument about the novelty of post-1967 villigization through citing Nyerere's 1961 comments about the need for everyone to live in `proper villages' (what an evocative phrase!). While the dust-jacket avers that the contributions are `not without criticism' the criticism is distinctly muted, and in one or two of the pieces (that by the Browns on ujamaa is the most glaring example) there is a striking reluctance to mention the gross failure of some policies and the costs of this failure for Tanzania; Svendsen's is the only really balanced piece in this regard. One might, incidentally, note that the dust-jacket also advertises that the book is in three parts; the editors and typesetters seem not to have been apprised of this arrangement.

Generally uninformative though this book is, it does raise, through its very shortcomings, what seems to be the most interesting question of all about Nyerere. How is it that despite economic failings of his policies within Tanzania Nyerere continues to be regarded with such affection and reverence by many people in Tanzania and around the world?

The tone of the contributions here answers the latter part of that question. Accustomed to phrasing their criticism of African leaders in terms of corruption and folly, commentators have been disarmed, indeed charmed, by Nyerere's personal austerity and his considered, often anguished, style. One can almost hear the cries of admiration--`Ooh look! He's cut his own salary AGAIN!!' Huddleston's piece refers with approval to Nyerere burying his head in his hands over difficult decisions; and Read, while cataloguing some not insubstantial abuses of human rights, is clearly inclined to discount them. Nyerere's manner has been so distant from the stereotype of the African dictator that he has managed to avoid criticism for actions which in others would have attracted general opprobrium. Instead, blame has fallen (as it does in most of this book) on external circumstances, on the hostility of international institutions, or on the failures of other Tanzanians to live up to Nyerere's standards: the Browns refer censoriously to the lack of `heroism' of Tanzanian students in this regard.

Nyerere has continued to command local as well as international respect: perhaps this too has been a matter of style and a remarkable ability to transfer blame. Green remarks here that, in touring the country, Nyerere managed to appear as somehow separate from the government, closer to the people than were local officials. This is a remarkable achievement. The stability and lack of ethnic strife which characterize mainland Tanzania are also remarkable achievements (though not perhaps solely attributable to Nyerere). Yet on the whole one cannot help feeling that that Mwalimu was more responsible for the failures, for the policy flip-flops and the unrealistic assumptions of his government than is suggested here (we are patronisingly told that it is too easy to `misread' his speeches as riddled with contradictions). Perhaps it would have been better if he had spent less time with his head buried in his hands?
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Author:Willis, Justin
Publication:African Affairs
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1996
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