Saturday, November 21, 2009




One major area in which Julius K. Nyerere was a rival to Kwame Nkrumah was the arena of regional integration. For years Nkrumah had been virtually the unrivalled voice of Pan-Africanism and the symbol of the continent’s quest for greater integration. On a more modest scale, Nkrumah had even attempted to forge a union between Guinea, Ghana and Mali. But these attempts at unification proved abortive.

Then in 1961 and 1962, it appeared that Nyerere was going to succeed in leading the East African countries to a regional federation. By June 1963, the three heads of government in East Africa – Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Milton Obote of Uganda and Julius Nyerere of Tanganyika– felt confident enough to announce plans to form an East African federation before the end of the year.

But earlier in 1960, Nyerere had already stolen the thunder on federalism in Africa by announcing his readiness to delay Tanganyika’s independence until Kenya and Uganda became independent, if that would facilitate the formation of an East African federation.

In June 1963, Kenya was still not independent, but the other two had attained theirs. This time the clarion call was not for Tanzania to delay its independence but for Kenya’s timetable of decolonisation to be speeded up. Britain was called upon to grant Kenya independence by December 1963 to enable it to federate with the other two sister states.

In this context Nyerere had become a symbol of African unification. Indeed he appeared to stand a greater chance of success in effective inter-territorial integration than Nkrumah had stood in his own West African ventures.

Predictably, Nkrumah’s reaction to the Pan-African developments in Eastern Africa was not polite or subtle. He propounded a new thesis that sub-regional unification of the kind envisaged by Nyerere and his contemporaries in East Africa was in fact simply ‘balkanisation writ large.’ Further, the enterprise was likely to compromise the bigger ambition of a continental African union.

It was a case of the good being the enemy of the best. And East Africans who accepted the minimally good achievement of sub-regional federation would no longer have the incentive to embark on continental union as a more effective bulwark against neo-colonialism and poverty. Nkrumah pointed out that, by virtue of physical realities his own country, Ghana, could not join an East African federation. In his view, this illustrated dramatically how discriminatory and divisive Nyerere’s strategy was for the continent of Africa.

Nyerere responded to Nkrumah’s counter-thesis with contempt. He asserted that to urge Africa to remain in small bits than form bigger entities was ‘an attempt to rationalise absurdity.’ He denounced Nkrumah’s attempt to deflate the East African federation movement as petty mischief-making arising from Nkrumah’s sense of frustration in his own failed Pan-African ventures.

But Nyerere was becoming increasingly sensitive to the danger of having his credentials questioned as a result of Nkrumah’s attacks. So, when in January 1964 he was compelled by circumstances to invite British troops to re-enter his country in order to disarm his own military mutineers, the Mwalimu was so conscious of his vulnerability to critics like Nkrumah that he immediately invited the OAU to Dar es Salaam to hear his explanation for inviting British troops.

So keen was Nyerere to protect his country from the stigma of neo-dependency that he was prepared to risk incurring the displeasure of Kenya and Uganda by going the OAU route alone, rather than compromise his Pan-African credentials. Nyerere’s unilateral initiative to invite the OAU to Dar es Salaam did in fact irritate the two other East African countries who had been similarly forced to invite British troops to disarm their own mutinous soldiers. Uganda’s Obote in fact expressed publicly skepticism about the utility of the cleansing ceremony in Dar es Salaam. Was the Dar es Salaam ceremony effective in cleansing Nyerere’s African reputation? Keep an eye trained on this space.

Prof. Mazrui teaches political science and African studies at State University, New York