Southern African News Features                                           SANF 11 No 37, December 2011

Tanzania @ 50: “There is no shortcut to our aspirations”

by Phyllis Johnson

December 9 should be a public holiday in southern Africa, celebrated throughout the region.

This is the date that Tanganyika (now Tanzania) achieved independence, 50 years ago, in 1961, and without this date, the rest of southern Africa might not yet be independent.

The priority of the newly independent nation and its then Prime Minister, Julius Kambarage Nyerere, was national development, but he saw this as unachievable without the independence of the neighbouring states.

Nyerere, known by the Swahili word for teacher, Mwalimu, was the father of southern African liberation and one of the founding fathers of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

He had offered to delay Tanganyika’s independence to wait for Uganda and Kenya, which gained independence in 1962 and 1963, respectively. He then set about building the East African Community, and much later, the SADC.

None of the countries that now make up SADC were independent at that time, the next were Malawi and Zambia in 1964.

Although South Africa was technically considered independent of the colonial power, Britain, it was governed under the apartheid system of separate development that denied the vote and other human rights to the black majority.

Nyerere set about fixing that. One year after formal independence from Britain, Tanganyika became a Republic with Nyerere as its first President.

It was a turbulent time. The Congo (now Democratic Republic of Congo) on his western border had seen its first Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba, assassinated within months of independence. To the south of Tanganyika was Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique).

Following the revolution in Zanzibar just one year later, Nyerere negotiated the union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar as the United Republic of Tanzania in April 1964.

But he was just beginning. He had led the campaign for independence in the British protectorate and former Germany colony of Tanganyika, and he had a vision of African unity in a free and independent continent, most of which was still under colonial rule.

Nyerere pursued the ideals of liberation, democracy and common humanity into the rest of the continent and, with the leaders of the other few African countries that were independent in 1963, established the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), which later became the African Union.

The main objective was political liberation for the rest of the continent. Their tool for achieving this, the OAU Liberation Committee, was hosted by Tanzania, and most liberation movements were based there at one time or another.

He believed unity of the continent was possible, although long term, starting with political independence and economic integration.

“There is one sense in which African unity already exists,” he said. “There is a sentiment of ‘African-ness’, a feeling of mutual involvement, which pervades all the political and cultural life of the continent.

“Nationalist leaders all over Africa feel themselves to be part of a greater movement.”

Although he supported and agitated for negotiated independence through non-violent means, he also understood that arms would be required to dislodge the white colonial rulers in the south of the continent, and Tanzania hosted the OAU Liberation Committee for this purpose for the next 30 years.

The Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (Frelimo) was formed in Dar es Salaam in 1962 and receiving diplomatic, military and material support from Tanzania, notably through military training in the farmlands of Nachingwea in the south.

Frelimo launched its liberation war in 1964, leading to negotiations 10 years later and independence in June 1975.

In the interim, Botswana had gained independence in 1966 and the founding President, Seretse Khama, whom Nyerere called “Chief”, became his close ally and friend. This was followed by Lesotho (1966), Mauritius (1968), Swaziland (1968) and Seychelles (1976).

When the other countries of southern Africa were forced into wars of liberation to eventually achieve the same end, Tanzania provided political, material and moral support until independence and majority rule were achieved in 1975 (Angola), 1980 (Zimbabwe), 1990 (Namibia) and finally, 1994 (South Africa).

Nyerere was one of nine leaders who came together just before Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980 to establish the Southern Africa Development Coordination Conference (SADCC), which later became SADC.

The leaders of Tanzania, Zambia and Botswana had formed the Front Line States in 1974 to work together in a united front for common security, under the chairmanship of Nyerere, and this was the basis of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation.

The political changes in Namibia and South Africa in 1990 and 1994, changed the face and future of the African continent, and completed the work of the OAU Liberation Committee, but socio-economic development has remained a vision.

When Nyerere greeted Nelson Mandela at his inauguration as President of South Africa in 1994, it was a moment that he knew was inevitable but may not have expected within his lifetime. Nyerere passed away five years later, having seen most of his vision achieved in east and southern Africa, though he felt that Tanzania’s national development had lagged behind.

The contribution by the United Republic of Tanzania to the liberation of southern Africa is not well known or quantified, in cash, human lives and delayed development.

Although it was Nyerere’s leadership that mobilised an entire nation behind this vision, it was not the achievement of one person as individual Tanzanians in both rural and urban areas contributed a few shillings each in people-to-people support, although they did not have extra themselves.

“We the people of Tanganyika would like to light a candle and put it on top of Mount Kilimanjaro, which would shine behind our borders giving hope where there was despair, love where there was hate, and dignity where there was only humiliation,” Nyerere told the Legislative Council just before independence.

And on the night of 9 December 1961, a team of climbers planted a torch and a flag on the summit of Africa’s highest peak, the highest freestanding mountain in the world, while in Dar es Salaam, the lights went out in the stadium at midnight and in the dark, the British “union jack” flag was lowered and the new flag of independence was raised.

The lights went up and the stadium erupted into cheers of “Uhuru” ... freedom... that echoed throughout the subcontinent for the next 30 years.

Just before he became President one year later, Nyerere was asked what was his country’s most important accomplishment to date, and he replied: “We have learned this hard fact of life,” he said, “that there are no short cuts to our aspirations.” Southern African News Features offers a reliable source of regional information and analysis on the Southern African Development Community, and is provided as a service to the SADC region.

This article may be reproduced with credit to the author and publisher.

SANF is produced by the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC), which has monitored regional developments since 1985

Any comments or queries about the content of this page, contact
Comments and queries regarding the page itself, contact the Web Applications Developer.