As our family starts anew as missionaries to America some old memories fill my mind. Many things happened during our 19 years in Africa that changed us as people. One was watching East Africa grief in October, 1999 as Tanzania’s founding president, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere passed from this life to another. His passing was headline news throughout the region. Our leaders dropped all plans to rush to Tanzania to share in mourning. The Tanzanians came out in millions to say goodbye. There was an odd sense of quiet in our typically busy capital cities. Our flags were at half mass.
A few Western news agencies made commentaries on Mwalimu’s failings. Yet I can’t remember an African commentator offering anything but a sense of gracious honor to Mwalimu.
We were also in Uganda when Idi Amin Dada passed in August, 2003. Some will argue that in Africa it is rude to speak ill of the dead. Amin’s departure was an oddity of avoiding the obvious discussion points. Yet, I am thankful I was in a region to watch these old antagonists pass. They were very different men. Our region knew the differences. Mwalimu was forgiven and remembered with honor. Amin was remembered and at best dutifully forgotten.
I took note. I made a choice. I want to be like Mwalimu Julius Nyerere when I grow up.
LEAD BY TEACHING
The title the Tanzanians gave Julius Nyerere said it all. He was Mwalimu (Teacher) to them. His self-description was, “a schoolmaster by choice and a politician by accident." Nyerere led by teaching first. When he wrote the forward to Yoweri Museveni’s book, Sowing the Mustard Seed, he wrote, “The best African leader is a teacher.” In a way it was a gentle self-promotion. I frequently quoted Nyerere’s thought that leadership at its best is teaching. Nyerere modeled teaching at its best – humbly present an idea, explain it well, use all the teaching aids at your disposal, and listen to your students to refine. No African I knew ever disagreed with Nyerere’s assessment of leadership. In fact, they all used the esteem of a good teacher to further explain leadership.
My boss, Jesus of Nazareth had the same mantra. He did many things, but teaching was core.
I made a choice that teaching would be my leadership style. I would avoid the hype of religious showman. I would come prepared. I would go to the front. I would know my people by name and story. I would teach with all the tools available – blackboard, paper notes, power point, etc… I also would believe that my students had the capacity to do far greater things than I.
To be like Mwalimu meant I led by teaching.
TAKE RISKS FOR THE UNITY AND WELFARE OF PEOPLE
All the commentaries on Nyerere come to Ujamaa – his failed socialist leaning collective farming endeavor. It simply destroyed Tanzania’s economy. Yet in grief the Tanzanians rarely mention Ujamaa. Instead, they recognize the principle, ideals, and integrity of their beloved Mwalimu. He took great risks for them.
Peace was Nyerere’s legacy. His love for people and peace confused my Bazungu clan mates. It meant Mwalimu was loyal to diverse friends. Yet, he was philosophically consistent. His philosophy was love. Pragmatically he built schools and hospitals.
All men who lead will have failings. I have many. To be like Mwalimu means I take risks for my people that will lead to unity and peace.
STAND UP TO BULLIES
|I knew 2 Bazungu in our Uganda days who befriended Amin|
Amin overplayed his hand and invaded Tanzania in October, 1978. Amin’s troops quickly took the disputed Akagera region. However, Mwalimu mobilized the Tanzanian army from 40,000 to 100,000. The war continued and Amin was defeated in 1979.
Following the story from most history books misses what those of us who remember reading Drum know. Standing up to bullies is not always popular. Before Mwalimu defeated Amin many laughed at Mwalimu.
I want to be like Mwalimu when I grow up. I want my principles to be stronger than contemporary populism. I choose to have conflicts that are about enduring principles and the well being of people.
To lead requires great strength of character. You must believe in your policy. Nyerere believed in equality, humility, and community. An expression of these values was socialism. Nyerere’s values endured. His attempt at socialist pragmatism failed. Mwalimu apologized. He gave us his sincerity. He was forgiven. He was loved. We honored him. We stopped all for days to grief his passing.
I want to be like Mwalimu when I grow up. I want to have his courage and humility to publicly admit my mistakes. I hope the people I lead will remember me as they remembered Mwalimu.
RELINQUISH INSTITUTIONAL AUTHORITY TO RETAIN MORAL AUTHORITY
Mwalimu’s peers had an opportunity to revolutionize Africa. They were the first generation to break free from colonialism. A few of their ideals still deeply live in our hearts. Yet most were morally bankrupt failures. They enriched themselves, promoted only their cronies, neglected building institutional strength, and clung to power until their last breath.
Mwalimu was a devoted follower of my boss, Jesus of Nazareth. He knew leadershipNyerere relinquished Tanzania's presidential leadership after 24 years. The Lord gave him another 14 years of life. Many believe his most productive years were his final ones where he carried no institutional authority. Tanzania could not contain Mwalimu’s influence. The institution of Tanzania’s presidency was too small for a man of his regional moral stature. Only in the relinquishment could Mwalimu teach freely and widely. His relinquishment was likely the reason our region grieved so deeply at his loss. He was our teacher too.
I want to be like Mwalimu when I grow up. I want my people and institutions to endure without my continual presence. I must relinquish too.