Interview – Mwalimu Julius Nyerere

In Africa peace, unity and people-centred development are inextricably linked. The newly established Mwalimu Nyerere Foundation will aim to promote dialogue in these areas. Caroline Hartnell talked to Mwalimu Nyerere about who would be involved in that dialogue and in the process of development in Africa.

The Nyerere Foundation has been set up as a permanent tribute to you. What do you hope it will achieve?

As a founder leader of my country, I was interested in the development of the continent, the unity of the continent, and the link between that and the peace of the continent. So really because we need the development — Africa is now the poorest area of the world — and because that agenda is there, the agenda of unity, the agenda of peace, perhaps the Foundation can make some kind of  contribution to the dialogue in these areas.

One of the objectives of the Foundation is people-centred development. Can you say a bit more about what you mean by ‘people-centred development’?

Well, this has always been a belief of mine, that we can talk about development ‘in the air’ so it is development of things, rather than development of people. Our development requires that we build roads and factories and so forth. You know that we have to have growth. And we now talk of development in terms of GNP and we say this country is developing because its GNP is x, and another one is not developing well because its GNP is lower than that. We’ve always said ‘Yes, fine; the building of roads is right’, but how does this relate to the well-being of the people? Because development must really concern the well-being of the people — that’s number one.

Secondly, it has always been my belief that you can’t develop people — poor people have to develop themselves. So how are people developed? How do people relate to the decisions that are made about the development of a country, the development of a community? Who makes these decisions, how are the people involved? This is what I mean. That people must be involved in the decision-making in areas which concern their own lives, and development has to be about the well-being of a people. And because that is not always so, this needs to be said all the time.

How do you see the three key objectives of peace, unity and people-centred development as being linked together?

Well, in Africa they are very linked. In the sense that how can you have development without peace? And also how can you have peace without development? Especially the kind of development I’m talking about. You can’t have peace, in any country, in my view, without justice because I believe peace is a product of justice. Therefore, if your development is not people-centred, you can produce wealth while at the same time you’re producing poverty. But this creates social tension in the community and then you cannot have peace. That’s why I’m saying ‘people-centred development’ because peace and justice have to go together. So those are linked, and in the case of Africa, of course, some of these countries are so small and vulnerable, so unviable, that I can’t see how you can have development without these countries working together in some way. Either they cooperate economically or they move even beyond economic cooperation. Unity is necessary for the development of the continent, necessary for peace I think also.

So perhaps you should have added justice as a fourth objective?

Well, I’m putting justice into people-centred development. That covers it, that contains my justice for me.

These are very large aims that the Foundation has. How do you think that you can attempt to promote them?

I don’t believe the Foundation can really achieve these objectives. We can articulate them, we can help governments to think about them – we don’t want governments to forget about justice. I keep on saying in my own country that one of the things we need is to have a dialogue about development. So if we can stimulate dialogue about development, that is a help.

I hope we can play a role in getting, for instance, East Africa or the southern countries of Africa — that’s actually where my own thinking is concentrated at present – to discuss together. And  not simply the governments of these countries. I think we can also stimulate community thinking  and community working together. People being involved. In East Africa, where we had a very advanced structure of organized economic cooperation – the ‘East African Community’ — I believe one of the reasons why we lost the initiative was that it was very much an official initiative. The governments and the bureaucracy were building this unity. It did not involve the people very much. I think we need to involve the people at different levels.

The Foundation’s literature talks about governments, people and local institutions being involved in this dialogue. Do you see the business sector as playing any part?

Yes — certainly. I can’t see in the modern world any kind of development that doesn’t involve the business sector, the business community and, in a sense, I think now there is no way in which we can push unity on the continent without involving the business community. I keep on saying, in Europe the business community is more positively pushing about unity than the politicians. The politicians are the conservatives, they’re the ones who are very nationalistic, but the business community pushes for unity. I think what is true in Europe is going to be true in Africa also. The business community will have to play their own role in demanding the wider markets, for instance. I think it is the business community which is going to be pushing the governments.

Looking at the process of development in Africa,  know you focus a lot on the importance of African countries getting together and doing it themselves and not having their agenda dictated from outside, but do you see countries outside Africa as having any part to play in the process?

They will, but I believe, myself, their part is going to be limited. People emphasize a great deal that ‘these countries’ must attract foreign direct investment, for instance. I keep on saying that there is a limit to this, especially in Africa now. Foreign direct investment will go to areas where the conditions for making money are ripe. This means big markets — those are in the process of being created in Africa, they’re not there now.

Eastern Europe has a much more developed infrastructure than any part of Africa, perhaps with the exception of  South Africa. The infrastructure has to be a given before the foreign investment can come in. And the skills — you have to have the skills. Lots of investors move out of Europe or move out of North America and go to Asia. One of the attractive things there is that you’ll get good quality work  because the skills are there, but it’s cheaper. You move out of Europe and you get the same kind of work, the training is there. And this you’re not likely to find in many parts of Africa. In Africa, when it comes to minerals, it’s different: if in Tanzania some investor discovered a lot of gold somewhere, they’d come, they’d bring the training and put in the infrastructure — they’d do the necessary things. But in normal investment, the conditions are simply not there.

But even if that was not true, my own theory is that countries develop themselves, just as individuals develop themselves. The responsibility for developing Africa is an African responsibility. Most of the resources to develop Africa will have to come from Africa. And it is completely wrong for Africans to think that the resources for developing their countries will come from outside Africa. So I urge, I have always urged, a spirit of self-reliance: that every country will have to mobilize its own internal resources to the maximum and the countries of Africa will have to cooperate to the maximum and enhance their capacity to develop. The rest of the world will come in, they’ll come in and help. They’ll come in and fit in. But the major effort has to be made locally.

You’ve talked about investment from outside not going in at the moment because the situation isn’t right in terms of infrastructure. But what about foreign aid agencies or foreign foundations, non-profit organizations. Do you see any role for them in Africa?

Yes, they can play a role but it’s always going to be a limited role for us because, frankly, you can’t develop a continent on the basis of charity. So there is going to be a role for the humanitarian organizations, NGOs going in helping individual communities and so forth. This will continue, and I think it’s very useful. But one shouldn’t exaggerate the importance.

How important do you feel education is in contributing to the process of development?

Education is key. Was it in the last election in the United States that President Clinton said, ‘If you ask me priority number one I’ll say education, priority number two I’ll say education, priority number three I’ll say education.’ It isn’t Clinton who should be saying that, it should be heads of government in Africa who should be saying that. Education should be priority number one, number two, number three. You can’t develop those countries without education. This is the key instrument of development, and resources should be spent on education.

Looking back over your very long career in African politics, do you feel the direction in which countries are going now is positive. Rather a large question.

It is a large question. I’m very optimistic about what is happening in Africa now. The continent has gone through stages. We went through the stage when I and my colleagues, those of us who had led the liberation movements, were extremely exuberant and very hopeful about the continent. We went through a period which was no good at all, what I call the neo-colonial period, when soldiers took over the continent, encouraged sometimes, often, by ex-colonial powers. I mention  Mobutu as the worst example but Mobutu was not the only one — we had a lot of these people in West Africa and Central Africa. That phase is going out now. I believe firmly that the phase of these African leaders — unelected, unaccountable to the population, a bunch of looters — that age is on the way out now.

A new leadership is coming out in Africa, very confident about themselves, and I think they are going to be accountable to the population; they are part of the population and they want to help the development of the continent. If you look at the continent of Africa and see what is happening, there is a completely new development there. The governments are different kinds of government. We still have pockets — we have Somalia, that’s a question mark, and you have other question marks that I’m not going to mention — but there is the whole of a chunk of Africa, from the Red Sea to Cape Town and now from Dar es Salaam right across to the Atlantic, to the new Congo. If the Democratic Republic of Congo holds, if the promise that the Congo is to the rest of us, if that actually proves to be correct, then there is a tremendous positive change taking place and that will mean a lot.

Known throughout Africa as ‘Mwalimu’ – the Swahili word for teacher – Julius Nyerere was the first President of the United Republic of Tanzania after Tanganyika and Zanzibar united to form one sovereign state in April 1964. He was re-elected as President four times but refused to stand again in 1985. Since leaving office he has continued to work for the principles he had always espoused. In 1987 he became Chairman of the South Commission, set up to look at the developmental problems of the South and what the South can do to solve them. Since 1990 he has been Chairman of its successor organization, the South Centre.

The Mwalimu Nyerere Foundation

The Foundation, set up in 1996 as a permanent tribute to Mwalimu Nyerere, has its main object the promotion of Peace, Unity and people-centred Development. To this end it will seek to promote dialogues within Africa involving governments, peoples and local institutions. Mwalimu himself has agreed to be its first Chairman.

The Tanzanian government has given the Foundation two plots of land in Dar es Salaam. On these it plans to build a headquarters large enough to contain offices, flats and conference facilities which can be leased or rented out to earn income to carry out the Foundation’s objectives.

An Executive Director, Joseph Butiku, has been appointed by Mwalimu, and he is currently working to establish an organizational structure and recruit core staff. While the vision and objectives of the Foundation are clear, its pressing need is to draw up concrete and detailed plans for inaugural programmes which will hopefully attract funds to the organization.

For further information, contact the Mwalimu Nyerere Foundation, 6 Sokoine Drive, PO Box 71000, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.  Tel: +255 51 113 431.  Fax +255 51 112 790.


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