By Fadhila Tiisekwa

History is belatedly becoming of interest to me, in particular its relevance and connection to the present and future. Today is of particular historical significance as we honour the memory of our nation’s first president, Julius Kambarage Nyerere (“Mwalimu”), a monumental figure not just in our nation’s history but also Africa’s at large.

Whilst Nyerere is remembered for many things, let me highlight a handful of aspects of his thinking, which can help inform how we structure our current laws and policies – in particular, his focus on a people-centric approach and non-parochial approach that prioritised not just what was best for the country but also the continent.

Mwalimu’s goal was to attain development (for all) and so in setting development goals and strategies he wanted to ensure that whatever policies he had in place would benefit the Tanzanians at large (in particular, the majority who were peasants), embed self-reliance and promote freedom, unity, equality and dignity of the people.

His unique way of viewing development is captured in the following quote: “…understanding that what we need to develop is people, not things, and that people can only develop themselves”. In the matter of self-reliance, he advocated education that is a hybrid of relevant theory and practice which prepared the next generation to be productive members of the society. In terms of governance, Mwalimu exuded ethics and candidness and took a people-centric approach, placing the people before all else.

Against this backdrop, perhaps what comes first to mind is that the role of governance is that of stewardship and servitude to the people. In order to serve people you need to understand and then address their needs.

In a democracy, this can be attained through people’s participation which should inform the setting of laws and policies.


In most cases the people’s participation can only be as good as their representation i.e. the leaders they elect. Therefore, given this connection, it is critical that the majority (if not all) people are sufficiently and appropriately educated to understand the significance of their participation in this process and the channels they should use.

Another aspect to consider is that of development. In his book “Small is Beautiful: A study of economics as if people mattered”, Schumacher EF (1973) speaks about economics shaping the activities of the modern world and how the “economic” vs “uneconomic” criteria influences the actions of individuals, groups and governments – and not always in the best way.


President Kenneth Kaunda (left of the two men) of Zambia and President Julius Nyerere (1922 – 1999, right) of Tanzania rest their feet on the sleepers of the new Great Uhuru Railway (later the TAZARA Railway) which links their two countries, during the halfway celebrations at Tunduma on the border on September 6 in 1973. The railway was a joint venture between the two countries, financed by China. photo |FILE

It is clear from current issues including climate change, mass unemployment, wealth inequality, political instability, excessive materialism etc. that the criteria for decision-making has to change in such a way as to promote intrinsic development which consequently promotes the collective well-being of the people, preservation and sustainability just as Mwalimu envisioned.

With a youthful population which continues to increase at a fast rate, if Nyerere were still around then his primary focus would surely be as to how to ensure sufficient economic activity to engage the population so that this growth is a demographic dividend rather than a time bomb. It is again upon the policy makers to ensure that the laws and policies in place promote mass employment through “healthy and balanced” economic activity. In order to attain this level and kind of economic activity we need to understand that “what is good for the rich is not always good for the poor” and the need for “intermediate technology” – these are both concepts explained by EF Schumacher which basically discourage blind copying and adoption of policies or technologies that are not the best fit for a developing nation, which in spirit is aligned to what Mwalimu stood for.

Mwalimu was also a proponent of Africa’s liberation, cooperation and unity. During his time the priorities for the continent were political in terms of political freedom and he was at the forefront in supporting the various liberation movements in central and southern Africa. But real freedom also must encompass economic freedom, and the current increased focus on regional economic integration – including Tanzania’s recent ratification of the African Continental Free Trade Area (“AfCFTA”) – would have his support as aligned to his hope and vision for deeper economic integration of and consequent prosperity for the African continent.

Consider self-reliance; being sufficient in a way that does not limit our freedom and also in a way that frees a nation from intentional or unintentional neocolonialism. Government revenue to support development and recurrent expenditure is dependent on various sources including taxes, loans, donor funds etc.

The latter two usually come with covenants and conditions which may limit freedoms and foster a dependency attitude which may be detrimental to progress.

Again, it is upon the policy makers to ensure that the fiscal policies in place promote self-reliance by increasing our own internal revenues.

To avoid blind copying or adoption of inappropriate laws and policies, and in order to ensure such laws and policies reflect the realities and conditions of our nation, decision-making must be appropriately informed. This has different facets including gathering the right information, involving the right calibre of people and allocating enough time to the process.

In terms of information, we can leverage on the advancement of technology in collecting data; in terms of calibre of people it would be important to involve statisticians who should be able to appropriately analyse data and ensure it is not misrepresented to those making decisions; economists to advice on the relationship between resources, production and expected behavior of consumers etc.; lawyers and consultants to ensure laws and policies are effectively structured and other relevant subject matter experts.

To align with Nyerere’s focus on a people centred approach, policy making and legislative change should be a collaborative effort with the relevant stakeholders.

Certainly, sufficient and appropriate stakeholder involvement is key to ensure maximum buy-in, preparedness and implementation of laws and policies and also to avoid wasting resources.

As the Chinese proverb goes “Each generation will reap what the former generation has sown.” and to quote Allison Trowbridge “…in this way we run a communal relay race with those of the past and those of the future, we carry and pass on the torch of our day”. It is with the same sentiments that I conclude by saying that Mwalimu stood for people-centric development which he believed involves the people understanding what they are doing and why. As such, the best way to honor him would be to incorporate the recipes for progress in our structures and systems which are education, organisation and discipline supported by ethical values, integrity and good governance. Do our systems, structures and policies measure up?

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