Julius Nyerere was born on the 13th of April 1922 in Butiama village, next to Lake Victoria, in Tanganyika (name given to the British colony in Tanzania’s territory from 1919 until 1961). He was the son of Chief Nyerere Burito and his 22nd wife, Christina. Julius studied in missionary schools in Tabora and later on went to Makerere University College, Uganda, to study education. He got his degree in 1946 and returned to Tabora to teach. In 1949, Nyerere was selected to do his masters in history and economics at Edinburgh University. He was the first Tanganyikan sent there.

He returned to Tanganyika in 1952, having graduated with a Master of Arts degree, and began to teach at high school level in Pugu, nearby Dar es Salaam. There, Nyerere joined the Tanganyika African Association, that later became the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU), the nationalist party. In 1954, he was elected president of TANU and, by 1958, he entered the Legislative Council. Nyerere became prime minister of the self-governing territory of Tanganyika in May 1961. The country gained its independence from the British in December 1961 and Nyerere was officially elected as the first president of the independent nation in 1962. In 1964 the territory unified with Zanzibar as the United Republic of Tanzania.

In his attempt to build the independent country, Nyerere developed an alternative plan for his country to grow, nationally and internationally. Instead of following Western countries’ strategies and Western ideologies only, he created an African national socialist plan, called Ujamaa. Ujamaa means family links or brotherhood in Swahili language. The main idea of his project and theory was to recover local traditions of community ways of working, producing and relating to the land. There was a process of nationalisation of land and companies combined with the promotion of new ways of workers’ organisation of labour. In terms of international relationships, Tanzania became a member of the Non-Aligned movement.

Julius Nyerere is also known as one of the main thinkers and creators of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), together with Kwame Nkrumah. At the same time, his government’s support was crucial for the progress of socialist liberation movements across Southern Africa (for example in Angola, Mozambique and South Africa). In 1985, after being president for almost 30 years, Nyerere stepped down voluntarily. Since then, he developed an international career as an African thinker and leader. He was involved in many international projects that aimed to focus on the Third World and participated as a UN facilitator on Burundi’s peace negotiations between 1994 and 1999. He died from leukaemia on 14 October, 1999 and was buried in his home town, Butiama.


Chambi Chachage and Annar Cassam eds. (2010). Africa’s Liberation. The legacy of Nyerere. Cape Town, Dakar, Nairobi and Oxford: Pambazuka Press. [Online], Available at: www.juliusnyerere.org

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