13. Mwalimu Nyerere – Bob Thompson

Dr A. R. Thompson was an Education Officer in Tanganyika between 1957 and 1963, when he served as Headmaster of Malangale Secondary School and subsequently of Bwiru Secondary School. From 1965 to 1967 he was a Lecturer in Education at University College, Dar es Salaam.

‘Rulers of any description cannot hope to lead a people along the path of human development unless their national policies are firmly grounded in a sound political, social and educational philosophy.’ (Plato, The Republic).

Over the last two decades Julius Nyerere has demonstrated to supporters and critics alike that he possesses political and social vision of a clarity and consistency possessed by very few leaders of new countries. Furthermore, he has propounded and exemplified an educational philosophy of like clarity and consistency. Admittedly, the implementation of his personal philosophy has not always followed a consistent path; practical expediency and the evolving circumstances of Tanzania have required a degree of pragmatic adjustment which cannot always have been welcome; but the basic ideas and ideals with which he began his period of leadership still retain their freshness and integrity.

It would be misleading to attempt to view his educational philosophy independently of his political and social principles. On the contrary, the philosophy of ‘Education for Self-reliance’, as it has come to be known following the publication of the document of that title in 1967, cannot be understood and properly interpreted unless it is placed firmly in the context of a whole series of policy statements each bearing the personal stamp of the President concerned with social and economic development and the creation of an egalitarian socialist society.

The Arusha Declaration of 1967 provides some of the keynotes of his thinking.
‘Socialism is a way of life and … can only be built by those who believe in, and themselves practice, the principles of socialism .. . people cannot be developed: they can only develop themselves … a man … develops himself by what he does … by making his own decisions, by increasing his understanding of what he is doing and why, by increasing his own knowledge and ability and by his own participation – as an equal – in the life of the community.’

The development of ‘ujamaa’ as the basis of African socialism would depend upon providing people with opportunities to understand through experiencing in their own lives the meaning and value of socialism, but the imposed transformation of social structures alone would not guarantee the transformation of underlying social attitudes. A prolonged and simultaneous process of education was required. The educational task of political leadership was perhaps more clearly seen by Nyerere than by any other contemporary African leader. It is partly for this reason that among his people he has become known simply as ‘Mwalimu’ – the teacher.

It is not easy for any leader, let alone the leader of a newly independent country struggling with overwhelming problems of poverty, disease, ignorance and national identity, to maintain such a style of leadership. The qualities which so often allow a man to rise above his fellows to a position of leadership are not the qualities most highly valued in a teacher. The temptations to prescribe rather than discuss, to proclaim rather than explain, to dominate rather than inspire, to discourage the expression of reservations and the formulation of alternatives rather than to encourage constructive thinking among one’s followers, to seek immediate and perhaps superficial triumphs rather than persevere with long term fundamental solutions, are very great even for the most idealistic of leaders. Nyerere’s qualities as a leader are much more akin to those of a teacher; his confidence in the rightness of his own philosophy is combined with a high degree of humility and a most unusual capacity for self-criticism, his personal convictions are allied to tolerance, patience and human understanding. As has perceptively been pointed out by a Bristol student, ‘to read his speeches is to realise that he is exercising his political power, not as the unquestioned head of a one-party state, but rather as a teacher encouraging his class to greater efforts.’ (Tetlow, J. G., 1974).

The scholarly reputation which Nyerere has achieved both as a political scientist and as an educationist is happily not based on theoretical abstractions, nor is it expressed in the obscure jargon of the academics. In his writing and speeches he appears always to be conscious that he is speaking to people, who must not just be persuaded blindly to accept, but must be brought to understand what it is that he is saying. Consequently, these pronouncements are characterised by clarity of analysis, a simplicity of expression and a down-to-earth relevance to the lives of his wider audience. One may not always agree with Nyerere, but at least one knows what he is saying. One knows it to be sincere and there is always much to be learned from the sharpness and incisiveness of his intellect. This style of leadership may explain his great confidence in the power of education in developing societies and his fundamental belief in the importance of integrating education and life.

There is no general agreement among educationists as to the significance and validity of the educational principles proclaimed in ‘Education for Self-reliance’ and of the practical measures that have been taken over the years since its publication. Perhaps the most important new idea was that schools should be ‘communities which practice the precept of self-reliance’, becoming ‘economic as well as social and educational communities’. Schools should not merely prepare children for life in their adult communities, but themselves be communities wherein children may learn the art of socialist living by practising it. But schools no matter how organised were unlikely to achieve major attitudinal change unless the wider ‘ujamaa’ communities within which they were set were themselves moving firmly towards socialism. The success of schooling in its essentially supporting role would depend largely upon the success of the ‘ujamaa’ villagisation policy.

Nyerere defined the problem in his speech to the Dag Hammarskjold seminar in 1974 as follows:
‘The facts of life will . . . teach all the pupils that while cooperation may be a religious virtue, the pursuit of self-interest is what determines a man’s status, his income and his power. Two things will have taught this lesson. First, the existence of privilege in the society; and the second, the basis on which selection is made for that privilege.’

Tanzania launched a two-pronged attack, first, upon the existence of privilege in the society through the policies proclaimed in the Arusha Declaration, and secondly, upon the link between educational qualification and social privilege through a series of educational reforms, notably those announced in the Musoma Resolutions of 1974. Through the universalising of terminal primary education, relating access to secondary education to the absorptive capacity of the economy, selection for tertiary education on the basis of political as well as academic criteria, the introduction of national service for all secondary school graduates and substantial curricular reforms involving the incorporation of production activities, it was hoped to transform the schools from instruments confirming and legitimating the injustices and divisions in the society into agencies supportive of the socialist principles of the Tanzanian revolution.

The importance of adult education was also recognised. In dedicating the year 1970 to adult education Nyerere stressed the importance of lifelong education if the Tanzanian people were to shake themselves out of resignation to the kinds of life they had led for centuries past and to learn how to improve their lives and to understand the national policies of socialism and self-reliance. A considerable network of programmes and centres was initiated to mobilise the people in support of government policies through the dissemination of literacy, skill training and political education.

No one, least of all Nyerere, would deny the many setbacks experienced in the implementation of this two-pronged strategy. The fundamental problems of persuading people to limit their aspirations, to accept the self-sacrifice demanded of them, yet of providing them with the motivation to make the socialist society work; of reconciling a developmental and educational approach aimed at human liberation with a bureaucratic pattern of administration; of bringing about a transformation of educational systems at a time when the ‘ujamaa’ society to which they were to relate remained embryonic, all remain unresolved. In recent years the acclaim which greeted the first moves in the Tanzanian revolution has been largely replaced by scepticism and criticism from both left and right. Ignoring the intransigence of the basic problems facing impoverished agricultural societies in the current political and economic climate, those who rushed to acclaim a new hero have too often impatiently rejected both the man and his policies.

But those of us who are ourselves educationists should perhaps remind ourselves that teachers, setting out to transform the attitudes and perceptions of those committed to our charge, can rarely congratulate ourselves on any complete or immediate achievement of these aims. We count our achievements in terms of small shifts, which may not occur until many years later, and must reconcile ourselves to postponing any final verdict. Nyerere’s own statement made in 1973 may still be appropriate today. ‘If we state that some New Jerusalem is where we’re going and then we begin the journey, our friends should not be disappointed when they find that we are still in the desert.’ (Interview, New Internationalist, May 1973). It is still much too early to arrive at any judgement on Nyerere’s achievement. But the unique style of his leadership is unquestionable and it is one which may well fit him in retirement for continuing service to this country.

‘We have learned how to walk by beginning to walk. We have learned how to develop our country by trying to develop it. We never pretended to have any special wisdom about the means of developing our country; we just knew where we were trying to get to. It is not surprising, therefore, that sometimes we made false starts, or mistakes. We have not always foreseen problems of which we needed to be aware. But we have had the courage and the wisdom to do what could be done to correct our mistakes, or deal with the problems as soon as we recognise them. And because of the unity we have built up and maintained despite all the recent hardships, we can be confident that on the basis of our past experience we shall be able further to develop ourselves and our country.’
Julius Nyerere – Farewell Address to Parliament

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