Nyerere centenary: We seemingly can’t celebrate father of the nation – The East African
Tanzania’s former president Mwalimu Julius Nyerere in Dar es Salam on January 31, 1985. PHOTO | FILE
On Wednesday, April 13, Tanzanians were marking Julius Kambarage Nyerere’s centenary, 100 years since the birth of the man dubbed, “father of the nation”.
This was no doubt a significant milestone, marking a certain coming of age of a man and the nation to which he is wed. It’s a time for appreciation of thought and action by those who lived across the times, trials and triumphs associated with him.
So one would expect that the nation as a whole would turn out in its most fitting aspect to celebrate a signal moment, a historic commemoration of its most glorious son, who also happens to be one of Africa’s most celebrated pioneers.
But, alas, it was not to be. To me it seemed that there were all sorts of issues surrounding the celebration of the centenary.
For one, it was not clear who, or what, was in the driving seat of the celebrations. Was it the government, CCM, civil society, the Nyerere Foundation, or the family?
It seemed everyone, and everything, that felt like doing something on these centenary celebrations did so however they felt, with minimum, or no, coordination.
On several occasions, the procurement of a venue hall, public address systems or arrangements for participants to get food or drinking water were so bad that those who found themselves in roles of leadership were forced to make contributions, literally, from their personal pocketbooks.
All in all, it was badly and shoddily organised, either because of programmatic ineptitude, lack of political clarity as to what was to be attained or a weak commitment to the commemoration itself.
Were the organisers so inept as to be unable to gather enough support for an occasion like this, when we have seen the organisational capabilities in our midst on other occasions of much lesser import?
In the way these celebrations were carried out, it even became clearer that what was done by one group of organisers was not necessarily appreciated by other groups involved in these disparate activities.
It was at that one point, President Samia Suluhu was able to grace one of the highlights on the way to the centenary but was nowhere to be seen on April 13, the actual day of birth, which was celebrated in Butiama, Nyerere’s village of birth, President Samia had gone elsewhere, although the crucial date could not have been hidden from her.
Were these organisational (and other deficits) because of our own inbuilt ineptitude, or were they the result of a more recognisable malaise?
I incline to think there are more factors that inform our behaviour than these apparently mundane inabilities.
We have built a culture in our society wherein too many of the people in positions “of power” are disinclined to exert themselves in the execution of any task unless they see possibilities of how their actions will directly advance their careers.
For instance, if celebrations remotely like these ones were to be held in honour of someone still living and at the top of the “power” structures and able to influence promotions, people would be falling over each other to be seen to be extremely active, simply because that would advance their careers.
Too bad, Nyerere, being dead and gone, cannot advance anyone’s career. Thus, the climax of the celebrations at Butiama was graced, not by the head of state, the direct descendant of Mwalimu, but by one of the retired prime ministers, of whom there are six still living.
There is something else about Nyerere that still makes people, especially in his own CCM, uncomfortable, and this was brought to the fore by Joseph Butiku, head of the Nyerere Foundation, who reminded the gathered crowd of Nyerere’s abhorrence of bribery and corruption, in everything, including in the electoral processes, which have come so rotten that it is impossible to talk of one without the other.
So, Butiku asked the crowd if they would honour Nyerere and reject bribery in the forthcoming elections, and they all answered in the affirmative.
When he was done, it was the turn of the district chair of the party, who berated the crowd for being hypocritical, because, he said, bribery would still be rampant in the coming elections, because that was “how things are.” A tragicomedy, if one was needed.
Political organisations — such as CCM and polities such as Tanzania — have their foundational principles which nourish and sustain them over time. That nourishment and sustenance need to continue on a daily basis, otherwise they fray, get calloused and atrophy.
Lack of this nourishment breeds a slow death, aided by attrition, forgetfulness and nonchalance.
Gnawed at the core by corruption, Nyerere’s party has forgotten from whence it came, and is wandering in a philosophical terra nullius.
No wonder they can hardly cobble together a celebration worthy of the name of the man.
Jenerali Ulimwengu is now on YouTube via jeneralionline tv. E-mail: [email protected]
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