April 13, 2022, marked the 100th birthday of Julius Nyerere, who passed away in 1999 but his legacy is felt all throughout Africa. He is a hero that sadly may never be remembered as one outside Africa, due to western society’s euro-centrism, and its unspoken but inherent belief that Africa’s history is less important than the history of other continents. This unspoken notion, that is still thriving today, is extremely racist and harmful; the heroes of Africa are heroes of the world and should be celebrated.
Julius Nyerere was the first president of Tanzania, a nation that came out of the unification of the countries of Tanganyika and the island of Zanzibar, hence the name “Tan–Zan-ia”. Nyerere was a passionate advocate for an African unity where leaders of different countries would take into consideration the good of Africa as a whole and not just their respective nations. He was a key figure in the fight against colonialism in Africa, and believed that a united Africa was the only way to win this fight.
A huge factor in Nyerere’s success was his policy of Ujamaa. While this policy may not have lasted long after his presidency, and was overall short-lived as a way of governing, it proved extremely beneficial for the people of Tanzania and for the success of Nyerere. Ujamaa was a form of socialism involving the collective ownership of Tanzania’s rurals. Through this policy, many strong connections formed in the countryside in support of Nyerere.
This eventually aided Nyerere in arguably his most important foreign policy achievement. With the intelligence and logistical support from the rurals, Nyerere provided his army with the necessities to overthrow Idi Amin’s brutal and tyrannical rule of Uganda. Amin had been terrorizing his own people and neighboring nations for almost a decade, being dubbed “The Butcher of Uganda” and committed countless human rights violations during his time in power. And when he turned his sights toward Tanzania, he gave Nyerere an excuse to fight back. Nyerere viewed Amin as a direct threat to African unity and viewed his rule as dangerous to all of Africa. Amin’s defeat and exile led to a rise of stability in Uganda and East Africa.
Nyerere was also a fierce advocate for gender equality. He believed that women’s perspectives were vital for maintaining a fair government and reserved seats for women in the parliament of Tanzania. He promoted many women’s initiatives, organizations, and grassroots movements, economically supporting and encouraging these initiatives to mobilize.
Julius Nyerere was one of many heroes of the Global South who have been largely overshadowed by heroes of western civilization in regards to legacy. This is an example of Euro-centrism, an ideology (however conscious or subconscious) that places Europe and the Western World as the center of the world stage, underexaggerating the accomplishments, cultures, contributions to society, history, and importance of other cultures. Euro-centrism has bled into the education system, the history books, and the pop culture of the Western world. This is a huge problem that is inherently racist, and has caused non-Western heroes like Nyerere to have their legacies marginalized.
In the end, Julius Nyerere was an African hero that defeated one of the most brutal dictators in modern history, pioneered the idea of African unity in the face of European colonialism, and should be remembered and celebrated as such.