Julius Nyerere, Tanzania's President, will retire soon. Fr William Burridge WF profiles a remarkable Catholic.
PRESIDENT Julius Nyerere's four-day official visit to London last week, alongside its heavy programme of talks with key Government figures, bore the trait of a tribute to one of modern Africa's most remarkable leaders.
His achievement has been to bring Tanzania peacefully to nationhood where so many other countries have suffered from serious strife and rivalry.
As one saw him seated next to the Lord Mayor of London during the luncheon in his honour at Mansion House on Monday, on what must be his final visit to Britain in the capacity of Tanzanian leader — he proposes to retire shortly — one inevitably thought back across his career.
Born in 1922 he started school at the age of twelve. He went on to Makerere College (Uganda's future university) for a Diploma in Education and returned to Tabora to teach at the White Fathers' secondary school there.
A scholarship took him to Edinburgh University where he read history and political. economy and he returned home as a teacher in 1952.
This was a time when the Governor (the country was still under British rule) was gradually bringing Africans into the Legislative Council.
Julius, after typical long reflection, consultation and prayer, opted out of teaching and into the field of politics.
He formed, in 1954, the Tanganyika African National Union,lANU. It consisted then of 17 members and a rickety He toured the country's 320,000 sq. miles with three aims: talk to the people as a whole (with his clear but cairn oratory), test the validity of the machinery he had conceived and, above all, drive home the absolute necessity of transcending tribal individuality for the sake of unity.
Only thus, he was convinced could the country, when independence came, be a viable nation. Hence his first slogan: Uhuru no Umoja, freedom and unity.
In 1956, at the United Nations Assembly in New York, he called for a declaration that "our country will develop as a democratic state. Since 90 per cent of the population are indigenous Africans, this will be primarily an African state".
In 1960 the elections gave TANU 70 of the 71 seats in the Legislature. He felt the time had come for self-government. But with his habitual balanced realism, there was to be no immediate demand for complete independence. The date for that would come in the light of experience.
He tirelessly educated the people for independence. His other slogan Uhuru na Nazi (Freedom and hard work) made it clear that independence was not a magic Utopia. Nor were government posts to be opportunities for lining pockets. His own modest lifestyle was a living proof of that.
The economic problems he had to face, and about which he was equally realistic, cannot be analysed here. With 90 per cent of the population rural and many of them producing only subsistance crops he aimed at regrouping them in Ujaama (community) farming, a scheme which would build up the country's basic economic factor but no easy one, given the problems of personnel and marketing. He has looked for help from many countries to boost the economy and development of the country. Observers, not always enlightened, have sometimes pointed a finger at him suggesting he was hobnobbing with communist countries.
Only recently he was able to point out that none of these had exported their ideologies to Tanzania. He has declared that he has no enmities with people anywhere: his only enemies are poverty, ignorance and disease.
In a speech at a banquet in China, on the occasion of an official visit there, he told his communist hosts: "1 myself, of course am a Christian".
Britain is now his biggest trading partner. But there is still a long way to go. The country is traditional, poor and subject, like many others in Africa, to the vagaries of the climate.
Of his Catholic practice no one is left in doubt. When in residence he is at daily Mass in nearby Oyster Bay. Officials have often rearranged timetables drawn up for him on visits round the country in order to leave proper time for Mass.
His social principles, on which he has written several books, are concerned with human dignity and social justice. It is often his theme when, as he is frequently invited to do, he addresses the meeting of the bishops of the 26 dioceses or other major assemblies.
He looks on the Bishops as guardians and promoters of the people's welfare, spiritual and temporal. At the approach of independence in 1961 their joint pastoral letter foreshadowed the salient points of the future Mater el Magistro.
The contribution of the Church (the pioneer mission into the interior dates from 1978) has
been considerable in education, health and development, and all this is knitted in with the national pattern of progress.
As chairman of the Organisation of African Unity, Julius Nyerere is striving to concentrate its mind on the economic condition of the African continent as a whole and get it to give priority to implementing its charter on human rights.
He is unswerving in his criticism of the plight of Namibia, and the behaviour of South Africa, and indeed wherever those human rights are in jeopardy.
Looking at it all from our Catholic standpoint the unity he has achieved in his country with its pluralistic society of Catholics, Protestants, Muslims and adherents to the traditional African religions, commends itself to our post-Vatican 11 Church, as does his ecumenism.
Mansion House is the heart of the hard-headed realism of the City to which he appeals for help. But the motto on the coat of arms of the City says, rather inaudibly perhaps, Domine dirige nos.
Julius Nyerere speaks urbanely but clearly: "Despair is the greatest sin in the Christian calendar. Whatever the problem and however many the set backs, do not give up. Working together we shall, in God's good time, move towards our goal of human dignity and freedom for all.