3. An Historian’s Picture – John Iliffe

Dr John Iliffe served for a time on the staff of the University of Dar es Salaam. He is now a Fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge. He was the author of A Modern History of Tanganyika, from which the following extract was taken (pp 508-5/0).

Julius Nyerere was the son of a government chief among the backward and previously stateless Zanaki, whose egalitarianism the young Nyerere had inherited. Christianity was another foundation of his character, for he had been one of the first Zanaki to become a Roman Catholic. A first generation convert of sparkling intelligence, Nyerere had been the archetypal mission boy whose academic success had carried him from local primary school to Tabora, Makerere and finally Edinburgh University in October 1949. His friends’ recollections suggest a slight, diffident, but ambitious and competitive young man gradually emancipating himself from the intellectual constraints of a mission education without abandoning its moral or cultural imperatives. One part of the young Nyerere was student politician. He had been the African Association’s first president at Makerere and an active member while teaching at Tabora in 1946. In Britain he had joined the Fabian Colonial Bureau, had sympathised with the Fabian variety of gradualist socialism, had written for the Fabians an angry but unpublished pamphlet on East Africa’s racial problems, had interested himself in Ghana and the Central African Federation, and apparently had sat at the feet of George Padmore, the West Indian pan-Africanist who had been Nkrumah’s mentor. Nyerere had been in Britain when the great issues of race and liberation in Africa were first being defined. His political concerns were not the grass-roots material problems on which most politicians build careers, but the grand issues of political morality. Nyerere could have been a great teacher and had he not lived in the Africa of the 1950s he might well have remained one …

Nyerere was racially sensitive, hated foreign rule, feared Conservative complicity with settler ambitions and knew that Africa was moving towards conflict and liberation. But he was no natural politician …. In Britain he apparently contemplated ordination. He wished to prolong his studies, but government refused to extend his grant. He feared to be rushed into commitment and action …. Events probably forced a final decision on him.

(Reproduced by kind permission of the Cambridge University Press).

1 Comment »

  1. Tanzanian Affairs » THE NYERERE YEARS said,

    October 31, 2010 at 10:33 am

    […] A biographical outline 2. Impressions – Bishop Trevor Huddleston 3. An Historian’s Picture – John Iliffe 4. A Personal Tribute – President Kenneth Kaunda 5. The Return from Edinburgh – Paul […]

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