Julius Nyerere

In This Review

Julius Nyerere
By Paul Bjerk
Ohio University Press, 2017
116 pp.
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Julius Nyerere, who in the 1960s served as prime minister and then president of the state that would become Tanzania and then served as independent Tanzania’s first president, until 1985, was one of the dominant personalities of African politics during the second half of the twentieth century. This short, accessible biography provides an excellent introduction to his life and to the country that he ruled. Born in 1922, he was identified as a promising pupil in a Catholic mission school and later became one of the first Tanzanians to earn a college degree. That distinction, along with his keen grasp of political tactics and his talent for rhetoric, thrust him into a leadership position in the burgeoning nationalist movement. Nicknamed Mwalimu (“teacher” in Swahili), Nyerere earned a reputation for being a thoughtful and visionary socialist whose high degree of personal integrity was not matched by many other African heads of state at the time. Bjerk’s balanced biography lauds Nyerere’s accomplishments (most notably the steps he took to reduce ethnic and racial divisions within Tanzania) but also makes clear that the Nyerere regime committed human rights violations, tolerated a good deal of corruption, and implemented disastrous economic policies that left the country bankrupt by the mid-1980s.