Julius Nyerere Emerges as Leader in Tanganyika

The Tanganyika African National Union was formed with Julius Nyerere as president. Nyerere, a secondary schoolteacher and one of Tanganyika’s few foreign-university-trained leaders, began a long and storied political career. The umbrella political party pushed for independence from Britain, as Nyerere formulated a moderate socialist philosophy.

Summary of Event

Tanzanians still celebrate Saba Saba Day, the seventh day of the seventh month, when in 1954 the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) was formed. TANU was the political movement that would lead to independence and unite people of 126 diverse tribal groups to form one of the most stable governments in Africa. Tanganyika
Tanganyika African National Union
[kw]Julius Nyerere Emerges as Leader in Tanganyika (July 7, 1954)
[kw]Nyerere Emerges as Leader in Tanganyika, Julius (July 7, 1954)
[kw]Tanganyika, Julius Nyerere Emerges as Leader in (July 7, 1954)
Tanganyika African National Union
[g]Africa;July 7, 1954: Julius Nyerere Emerges as Leader in Tanganyika[04540]
[g]Tanzania;July 7, 1954: Julius Nyerere Emerges as Leader in Tanganyika[04540]
[g]Tanganyika;July 7, 1954: Julius Nyerere Emerges as Leader in Tanganyika[04540]
[c]Government and politics;July 7, 1954: Julius Nyerere Emerges as Leader in Tanganyika[04540]
[c]Colonialism and occupation;July 7, 1954: Julius Nyerere Emerges as Leader in Tanganyika[04540]
[c]Independence movements;July 7, 1954: Julius Nyerere Emerges as Leader in Tanganyika[04540]
Nyerere, Julius
Kambona, Oscar
Mtemvu, Zuberi
Nkrumah, Kwame
Turnbull, Sir Richard
Twining, Sir Edward
Wille, Arthur

Historically, Tanganyika was populated by Bantu-speaking peoples and later Arab and Indian traders, joined in the fifteenth century by Portuguese and then, in the 1880’s, Germans. Colonial rule lasted about three-quarters of a century following the 1884 Berlin Conference, Berlin Conference (1884) when European leaders drew political boundaries on the African map, creating, among other colonies, an entity called German East Africa. German East Africa When Germany lost World War I in 1919, this country was turned over to the League of Nations. Britain was given the mandate to rule, and the country was renamed Tanganyika. Thus, most of the country was under British rule from about 1920 until independence on December 9, 1961.

Independence was not the idea of the Europeans. Rather, it was an indigenous African movement, and the mantle of leadership fell on the shoulders of Julius Nyerere, a humble peasant from the northern regions along the southeastern shores of Lake Victoria. His father, Nyerere Burito, was chief of the Zanaki tribe, whose people were subsistence farmers. Julius was born on April 13, 1922, in the village of Butiama near the town of Musoma.

The Maryknoll Catholic fathers, who were active in this area, recognized the natural intelligence of Julius and invited him to begin school at age twelve. After only two years, he moved on to St. Mary’s, a secondary school at Tabora, and then Makerere College.

Nyerere was always known affectionately by the title Mwalimu, Kiswahili for “teacher.” He began his career teaching at his high school in Tabora for four years. Then, after three years (1949-1952) at Edinburgh University in Scotland, he became the first Tanganyikan to earn a master’s degree, in history and economics. He returned to teaching, this time at Pugu St. Francis Secondary School near Dar es Salaam.

As a high school teacher, Nyerere joined with Oscar Kambona to form TANU. Nyerere was president and Kambona was organizing secretary. Earlier, at Makerere in 1943, Nyerere had helped establish the Tanganyikan African Welfare Association. He emphasized that the former organization had not been political or even anticolonial but instead concerned with basic issues of justice and equality. Nyerere’s concern with social justice is further demonstrated by his university research on the role of women in Africa.

As a student at Edinburgh, Nyerere began to think politically. In 1949, only months before his arrival in Scotland, Kwame Nkrumah had returned to the Gold Coast of Africa and announced the formation of the Convention People’s Party, Convention People’s Party, Ghanaian[Convention Peoples Party, Ghanaian] which would lead to Ghana’s independence in 1957 and the independence of Ghana—the first African country achieving independence from colonial rule. Nkrumah’s example—along with that of Mohandas K. (Mahatma) Gandhi, Gandhi, Mahatma who had driven the British from India in 1947—provided the encouragement Nyerere needed. He determined that he would return to Africa as a full-time political activist.

Nyerere was not alone. The mood in Africa was for liberation. The United Nations called 1960 the “Year of Africa,” Year of Africa (1960) when seventeen African countries won their independence. Learning from Nkrumah, Nyerere helped to turn the Tanganyikan African Association into the political party TANU.

Nyerere saw that education was key, yet he was cautious not to let money rule. When Kambona announced the availability of scholarships to Eastern European countries, Nyerere worked to find comparable scholarships in the West. With the rise of the Cold War, Nyerere was concerned not to trade independence from one colonial power for dependence on another. He began speaking of “Africa first,” which led some to distrust him.

One of those who preferred to antagonize him was Sir Edward Twining, the British governor of Tanganyika from 1949 to 1958. Already, during the years prior to the establishment of TANU, Nyerere was forced to accept a lower pay scale as a teacher than expatriates with master’s degrees. After 1954, Twining forced Nyerere to choose between his teaching position and his voluntary role as party president. Nyerere sacrificed financial security for the sake of the independence struggle.

When not engaged in political speeches around the country, Nyerere returned to Musoma to work with Maryknoll priest Arthur Wille. Nyerere taught the Kizanaki language to expatriate priests, helping them to see the value of learning from Africans. He also undertook the first translation of the Bible into Kiswahili, Kiswahili language helping to unite the whole of Tanganyika around a common language. In addition to religious texts he also translated William Shakespeare’s plays Julius Caesar (c. 1599-1600) and The Merchant of Venice (c. 1596-1597) to show that Kiswahili could be used as a vehicle for communicating complex ideas and deep truths. Although he was a politician, Nyerere was always a teacher. His humble approach was a model that politics and government should not be a means to wealth.

During this time, Nyerere made two trips to New York to meet with the United Nations Trusteeship Council, first in March, 1955, and then in December, 1956. There he established his international reputation, stating that it was simply wrong that Africans preferred the continuation of British rule. The Maryknoll priests who helped pay for his trip organized a speaking tour, including a lecture, “Africa’s Place in the World,” presented at Wellesley College in Massachusetts.

Upon his return to Africa, Nyerere was persuaded by Kambona to leave his village and settle in Dar es Salaam as a base for his campaign for independence. His task as spokesman for TANU was to move the country beyond tribalism and racism and to impress upon all the necessity of achieving independence through nonviolent means.

TANU faced opposition on two fronts. The United Tanganyika Party, United Tanganyika Party made up primarily of British residents, opposed the concept of independence. In time it became obvious that their views were no longer tenable. The question of independence soon became what kind of independence. A third party, the African National Congress African National Congress, Tanganyikan (ANC), led by Zuberi Mtemvu, called for the expulsion of British and Asian residents, including those born in Africa. Under British rule, society had been divided into three strata, with the British at the top, the Asians in second place, and black Africans at the bottom. Mtemvu believed that such long-standing attitudes could not easily be removed. Expulsion of Asians would in fact be carried out from Uganda, under Idi Amin, in 1972; some Asians would also be expelled from Kenya during a coup in 1982.

The task for Nyerere was not only to oppose the views of the ANC but also to persuade TANU that racial equality must be part of its platform. When TANU had been organized in 1954, only black Africans were permitted as members. Within two years, TANU began to allow people of mixed African ancestry, but still not Asians or Europeans. Eventually, by October, 1960, one Asian and one European became members of TANU’s executive committee. All the while, many Asians actively participated along with TANU in the independence struggle.

During the governorship of Sir Richard Turnbull, Britain agreed to a gradual transition to independence. Elections to a Legislative Council in September, 1958, resulted in an overwhelming victory by TANU. These elections were followed in August, 1960, by general elections, in which Nyerere was elected as the prime minister of the new government. Tanganyika achieved independence on December 9, 1961.


Because of the leadership of Julius Nyerere and TANU, Tanganyika became a model for a peaceful transition from colonialism to nationhood and for peaceful stability throughout the rest of the twentieth century, with a focus on pan-Africanism and a socialist economic system known as ujamaa. Ujamaa A year after independence, the country became a republic, with Nyerere becoming its president in 1962. Nyerere continued as president until he stepped down in 1985.

While Westerners preferred a multiparty system for Africa, Nyerere demonstrated that a strong, open, single party was best for his nation and its situation. This approach enabled Nyerere to deal with the revolution in neighboring Zanzibar in 1964, which resulted in the two countries’ unification as Tanzania. The inclusive character of TANU was able to incorporate Zanzibar’s Afro-Shirazi Party Afro-Shirazi Party[AfroShirazi Party] (ASP) in 1977 to form a new party, the Chama Cha Mapinduzi Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), the Revolutionary State Party. Revolutionary State Party, Tanzanian While multiparty systems of government have been the standard in the West, a strong one-party system served to unite the 126 tribes of Tanganyika. With this kind of stability in place, Tanzania returned to a multiparty system in 1992. Tanganyika
Tanganyika African National Union

Further Reading

  • Legum, Colin, and Geoffrey Mmari, eds. Mwalimu: The Influence of Nyerere. Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press, 1995. International and Tanzanian scholars evaluate the contributions of Nyerere.
  • Mwakikagile, Godfrey. Nyerere and Africa: An End of an Era. Atlanta: Protea, 2005. A fellow Tanzanian examines major achievements of Nyerere in order to show that “he was one of us.”
  • Nyerere, Julius. Freedom and Unity: A Selection from Writings and Speeches, 1952-1965. London: Oxford University Press, 1966. Includes Nyerere’s speeches at critical points in the development of TANU.
  • Pratt, Cranford. Critical Phase in Tanzania, 1945-1968. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1976. A scholarly study of Tanganyikan/Tanzanian independence.
  • Sadler, Randal. Tanzania: Journey to Republic. London: Radcliffe Press, 1999. Tanzania’s story from the perspective of a British diplomat.

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