Julius Nyerere

others who get it!

Julius Nyerere (March 1922 – Oct. 14, 1999) was the first prime minister of independent Tanganyika (1961), first president of Tanzania (1964–85), and the major force behind the Organization of African Unity (OAU; now African Union). He taught in Catholic schools before studying history and economics in Britain. As leader of the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU), he advocated peaceful change, social equality, and ethnic harmony. In elections in 1958–60 TANU won many seats in the legislature. As president he collectivized village farmlands, carried out mass literacy campaigns, and instituted universal education. He sought to make Tanzania economically self-sufficient, an effort that ultimately failed. In 1979 he authorized the invasion of Uganda to overthrow Idi Amin. Within the OAU he advocated the overthrow of white-supremacist governments in South Africa, Rhodesia, and South West Africa.

After retiring from politics in 1990, Nyerere devoted the rest of his life to farming and diplomacy. Nyerere banned other political parties after coming to power and was a proponent of socialist policies blamed by critics for impoverishing the agriculture-based economy. When he gave up power, he confessed he had made economic mistakes, a rare admission on a continent where few politicians admit fault. As a major force behind the Pan-African movement and one of the founders of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1963, Nyerere was a key African player in the 1970s when Tanzania became a magnet for anti-colonial activists and radical intellectuals.