Julius Nyerere and Us


Alena and I are doing well in Dar es Salaam. We were both very lucky to get to spend some time with our families over the holidays:


The Steyer kids on Mt. Kilimanjaro!


Alena with her Family in Norway, where her sister Ida is pursuing a Fulbright.

I would like to offer special thanks to Alena’s Uncle Eric Johnson who made it all the way through my SAGCOT blog post, and was even polite enough to claim to like it. Heartened by this, I am bringing you another wonkish post:

The (Somewhat Concerning) Origins of this Project

On Monday night, Alena and I met an (admittedly drunk) Tanzanian at dinner who was pursuing a masters in International Diplomacy. He claimed that Tanzania’s first president, Julius Nyerere, laid an intellectual framework for the country that still informs much of Tanzanian life today. Over the last few days, I decided to look into this claim.

Julius Nyerere

Nyerere on the cover of Time Magazine on March 13, 1964

Nyerere on the cover of Time Magazine on March 13, 1964

Nyerere was born as one of the 26 children of the chief of a tribal group in Northwestern Tanzania, and did not attend school until he was 12 years old. However, he quickly distinguished himself as a student, and after earning a teaching degree from Makerere University in Uganda and working a few years as a teacher, he was the first Tanzanian to earn a degree from a British University, earning a Masters of Arts in Economics and History from Edinburgh University. Though he worked as a teacher on returning to Tanzania, he also became head of the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU), the group that would eventually push for Tanzanian independence from Britain. When Tanzania became an independent republic, he was elected its first Prime Minister and then its first President and ruled for 24 years from 1961 to 1985. He maintained the nickname “Mwalimu” (“Teacher”) throughout his presidency  (as well as “Baba wa Taifa:” Father of the Nation).

Us with President Nyerere in the KMC Board Room

Us with President Nyerere in the KMC Board Room

So, how did his policy effect our life in Tanzania today?

Moderate Foreign Policy 

In a time when much of East Africa experienced serious conflict, Nyerere supported peace among East African countries and struck a balance between the East and the West in the Cold War. As a notable and admirable exception, seeing the human rights abuses of the Idi Amin regime in Uganda become more and more inhumane during the 70s, he invaded Uganda in 1979 and toppled the dictator. Nyerere preached an attitude that foreigners should be seen as friends, which definitely persists in the incredibly welcoming way that Tanzanians treat us. People help us find our way, carry things, learn Swahili, and stay safe walking through the city, usually with no expectation of repayment. This is, allegedly, in stark contrast to Tanzanias closest comparable, Kenya.

Not-at-all-Moderate Economic Policy

Nyerere was very much a socialist, and essentially nationalized every industry in the country through two programs: “Ujamaa,” which called for communal agricultural villages and ultimately coerced farmers to move into them using force in 1974 (though voluntary movement was the original goal) and “The Arusha Declaration” which nationalized all the other industries in 1967. While private industry is back in Tanzania, the villages are still centered around local farmers groups which all have the same five elected board positions, and result in statements from the 2Seeds Project Coordinators like “We have a really great Vice Chairman, but the head of our Planting Committee is unreliable.” While the Nyerere economic plan was decidedly unsuccessful, the sense of unity that arose from it has real social value, in my opinion.

Unity above all

Nyere stressed the importance of a united Tanzanian identity that is stronger than any other allegiance. He enforced some controversial policies such as one-party rule (Tanzania will have its first ever seriously contested election in 2015) in the service of this policy, but the results are truly impressive. I have met Tanzanians who express the best sort of national pride, saying that Tanzanians are all united, or that Tanzanias are peaceful and kind to foreigners. This stability stands in the face of obvious potential for division – the country has significant black African, Indian, and Arab populations, is two-thirds Christian and one-third Muslim, and many of our partners in Dar still speak a tribal language in addition to Swahili. I haven’t been here long enough to have a nuanced or conclusive understanding of it, but the national unity seems at first glance to be a big success of the Nyerere presidency.

Our life in Dar

We took a day off on Sunday and rode rented bikes to the beach

We took a day off on Sunday and rode rented bikes to the beach. (Nyerere was not heavily involved).

2013-01-13 16.39.47

Alena and I remain happy and healthy. In an unexpected and awesome turn of events for me, five Harvard students, one of whom was already a friend, have been here spending their winter break in Dar working for a group (that they founded) called Tech in the World. This break, they are helping hospitals build valuable record keeping platforms on a volunteer basis. It has been fantastic to get to spend some time with them.

Happy new year, everyone – we can’t thank you enough for all of your support,



About Sam Steyer

Head of Analytics, Station A
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