Africa's Greatest Leader Was A Heroic Failure By Philip Ochieng, The East African, Nairobi, Kenya, Monday, 19 October 2009 It takes extraordinary personal strength for a leader to admit in public that he is a failure. Julius Nyerere is the only one I know who has ever done it. Some time towards the end, he stood on a podium to announce that he had failed to achieve the social goal that had driven him into leadership. But if you have genuinely tried, failure is to be respected. Julius Nyerere is among the extremely few world leaders who have selflessly attempted great things for their national peoples. Other African leaders notably Leopold Senghor and Tom Mboya have spoken of African socialism as a means of restoring human dignity to the African person after a protracted era of colonial brutalisation and dehumanisation. But none has ever offered a plausible definition of African socialism. Mwalimu Nyerere was the first probably the only African nationalist leader to cast a serious moral and intellectual eye upon Africas extended family tradition and weave a practical national development philosophy around it. Ujamaa had two basic components. The Ujamaa Village was an attempt to revive traditional rural communalism bringing groups of villages together, investing collectively in them and running them through modern democratic precepts. Since the turn of the 21st century, Kenyas own leaders have divided and sub-divided what used to be called districts into veritable village units, claiming a purpose similar to Nyerereism to bring utilities and social services closer to the people. The second component was much more theoretically shaky a series of nationalisations intended to bring urban commerce and industry under state control, the state purporting to be the publics trustee. But the 1967 Arusha Declaration in which this doctrine of socialism and self-reliance was enunciated opened a Pandoras box of ideology. Ideas ran from the extreme right to others that were so leftist that, in the circular prism of ideas, they actually bordered on the right! In a single-party system, all these ideas were forced to contend with one another within that party. It was no wonder, then, that Marxist-Leninists, Bepari (capitalists) and even Kabaila (feudalists) held central positions both in the party and in government. This, indeed, was where Nyerere began to reveal his greatness. In other socialist situations such as Sekou Toures Conakry every thought and activity deemed dangerous would simply have been banned, often on pain of death. Nyerere encouraged even his bitterest opponents to express themselves freely and without fear. And he often took them on not by means of such state machinery as our Nyayo House basement, but intellectually, replying to each critic point by point. The Nationalist (the partys own organ) and The Standard Tanzania (the government publication on which Ben Mkapa and I worked later renamed Daily News) routinely published news, features, columns and letters expressing the most diverse views. Nyerere demanded only that his detractors produce the facts and figures and weave these into cogent thought. Argue, dont shout! he once admonished his equivalents of the loudmouthed but empty-headed coalition that rules Kenya. No, Mwalimu was not a revolutionary in any Marxist sense. Like all of Africas petty bourgeois radicals in power at that time Ben Bella, Kaunda, Keita, Nasser, Nkrumah, Obote, Toure he rejected outright all of Marx and Lenins theories on class, revolution and party organisation. His, said he, was a national mass movement in which every Tanzanian must participate. Such a policy might sound noble, but it was what finally proved Dr Nyereres Achilles heel. You cannot implement any socialist programme except through a committed vanguard. For his Ujamaa Village projects, he relied on the peasantry, a property-owning class whose members, as a rule, are interested only in their small individual property. For his nationalisation programme, he relied on another property-owning class, what the Kiswahili Academy called vibwanyenye. This propertied urban class was led by the educated elite who monopolised the civil service, the police, the provincial administration, the army, the classroom, the shrine a social stratum deeply drilled right from the classroom in liberal Western individualism and self-pursuit. In 1972, goaded by Idi Amins overthrow of Milton Obote the ally across the Great Lake Mwalimu issued a set of ruling-party Guidelines called Mwongozo, which, among other things, introduced an elaborate leadership code. But to no avail. Soon the Ujamaa Village administrative network, as well as the two custodians of nationalised property the National Development Corporation and the State Trading Corporation were drowning in a well of corruption deeper than Lake Tanganyika. Mwalimu reacted by decentralising the leaderships of both those bodies and the central governance system succeeding only in spreading bureaucratic ineptitude thinner on the ground, thus making corruption much more difficult to detect. By replacing the colonial educational structure with what he called Elimu yenye Manufaa (functional education), he enabled Tanzania to kill up to five birds with one stone. Tanzanian is the only African country that has totally banished illiteracy, and the Three Rs are solidly linked to vocational interests. In the process, Tanzania became the African country with the highest degree of national self-consciousness and through it and through Kiswahili has almost annihilated the bane of Kenya that we call tribalism. But, as a rule, internal policy is what guides a countrys foreign policy. Any nation that tries to cultivate self-sufficiency, self-efficiency, self-respect and self-pride will find it morally compelling to share these ideals with other nations the world over. Ujamaa inspired Tanzania into spending much of its meagre resources on liberating the rest of Africa and the world from the colonial yoke. At a time when Nairobi was drowning in crude elite grabbing, Dar es Salaam was a Mecca of the worlds national liberation movements, and a hotbed of global intellectual thought. From this perspective, it is justifiable to say that Mwalimu Julius Kambarage, son of Chief Nyerere, is the greatest and most successful leader that Africa has ever produced since the European colonial regime collapsed 50 years ago. About The Author: Philip Ochieng -- is a Kenyan Editor with the Nation Media Group. Like Obama Senior, he too went to the US on the famous Tom Mboya Airlift of 1959 when hundreds of Kenyan students were given scholarships to American universities.