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Born in Tanganyika to a local Zanaki chief called Mzee Burito , Nyerere was known by the Swahili name Mwalimu or 'teacher' because of his profession before becoming active in politics. He had been trained in history and economics at the University of Edinburgh.
Nyerere was a co-founder of the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) which merged with the Afro-Shirazi Party of Zanzibar to form the Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) or People's Revolutionary Movement . Nyerere worked for social equality, peaceful race relations, and independence for Tanganyika. Independence was achieved in 1961, with Nyerere serving as Prime Minister. When Tanganyika and Zanzibar merged to form the new state of Tanzania, Nyerere was elected as the first President.
When in power, Nyerere implemented a socialist economic program, establishing close ties with China, and also introduced a policy of collectivization in the country's agricultural system, known as ujamaa or "familyhood". Although some of his policies can be characterized as socialist, Nyerere was first and foremost and African, and secondly a socialist. He was what is often called an African socialist. Nyerere had tremendous faith in rural African people and their traditional values and ways of life. He believed that life should be structured around the ujamaa, or extended family found in traditional Africa. He believed that in these traditional villages, the state of ujamaa had existed before the arrival of imperialists. All that needed to be done was to return to this state and capitalism would be forgotten. He believed that Africans were already, recently, socialists, all that they needed to do was return to their traditional mode of life and they would recapture it. This would be a true repudiation of capitalism, since his society would not rely on capitalism to exist.
This ujamaa system failed to boost agricultural output and by 1976, the end of the forced collectivization program, Tanzania went from the largest exporter of agricultural products in Africa to the largest importer of agricultural products in Africa. Chastised for the failure of his ujamaa program to improve the Tanzanian economy, Nyerere decided not to run for reelection in 1985. With unusual frankness for a politician, he stated in his farewell speech, "I failed. Let's admit it."
Nyerere was also one of the founders of the Organization of African Unity in 1963. He played a major role in overthrowing the oppressive dictatorship of Idi Amin in neighboring Uganda, as well as the coup in Seychelles that brought France-Albert René to power.
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