So, Julius Nyerere.
He's been out of power since the late 1980s and dead for over a decade, but he's still very much present. His face is on the currency, coins and bills. There are pictures of him all over the place -- in government offices, private businesses, shops. I wouldn't call it a cult of personality -- quite -- but he's still a regular topic of conversation, and everybody has an opinion about him.
I'm just starting to come to grips with the Nyerere thing. My very tentative take is that the closest comparison is to Ataturk in Turkey. He's the Father Of The Country, the greatest Tanzanian ever, a potent symbol of national unity and pride. And he's going to dominate political discourse in Tanzania for a long time to come.
Some very preliminary thoughts on his legacy:
-- The whole socialism thing. This was a disaster, and it's a disaster with lingering consequences. There's a whole generation of older Tanzanians in government who still think Nyerere had the right ideas, they just weren't properly executed. Socialism wasn't seen as a disaster here, or at least not by the well-fed, well-educated urban elites. So, there are still a lot of vaguely anti-capitalist, anti-trade, pro-dirigism and -regulation attitudes in the air at certain levels of government.
-- The war with Uganda. Deserves a post of its own. The world has forgotten that it was Nyerere, the mild-mannered schoolteacher, who kicked Idi Amin's evil, genocidal ass out of Uganda. But it's definitely still part of the historical memory here.
-- Incorruptibility. How many African leaders refused the chance to enrich themselves? I mean, were there any others besides him? Plenty of Nyerere's friends and associates were corrupt in the usual African style, but the man himself seems to have been rigorously clean.
-- Autocratic rule. Nyerere was not a thug. But he didn't believe in multi-party liberal democracy, and he was perfectly willing to have his critics locked up for long periods of time. He was stubborn, and criticism beyond a certain point got his back up.
-- On the other hand: wIllfully relinquishing power. Very very few African leaders of his generation ever did that. The only other one of any significance was Papa Senghor of Senegal. Interestingly, both Tanzania and Senegal are among the more functional liberal democracies in Africa today.
-- Nyerere as text. In a long career, Nyerere made a lot of speeches and wrote a lot of tracts. So, you can find a Nyerere quote to support almost anything. And people do. Young people in university are still reading his stuff and using it to construct their world-views, pro or con.
Given that my last three countries visited were Congo, Kenya, and Uganda, I'm inclined to cut Nyerere a lot of slack. Grading on a curve, I guess. But when you put him next to Mobutu, Kabila pere, Idi Amin, Milton Obote, Jomo Kenyatta, and Daniel Arap Moi, Nyerere looks very good indeed.