Julius Nyerere, father of Tanzanian nation, dies in a London hospital

 

The former president of Tanzania, Dr Julius Nyerere, one of Africa's most charismatic postcolonial leaders, died in a London hospital yesterday, aged 77.

"Dear Tanzanians, it is with great shock and sorrow that I announce our beloved father of the nation, Julius Kambarage Nyer ere, is dead," President Benjamin Mkapa said in a national television and radio address in Dar-esSalaam.

Dr Nyerere was one of the leading figures in Africa's struggle for independence and in its post-colonial era. He led his country to independence from Britain in 1961 and served as president from 1962 to 1985, when he became one of the first post-colonial African leaders to leave office voluntarily.

Chronic leukaemia was diagnosed last year, and he was admitted to St Thomas's Hospital last month. On October 1st he went into intensive care and suffered a major stroke last week.

"He died at 10.30 a.m. Tanzanian time [8.30 Irish time] at St Thomas's Hospital in London where he was admitted to undergo treatment for leukaemia on September 24th," Mr Mkapa said.

Tanzanian state radio played funeral music while its television station ran file video of Dr Nyerere.

His wife, Maria, and six of his eight children had been at his bedside in recent days, as well as his former vice-president, Mr Rashid Kawawa.

Although economic disaster, due partly to a Ugandan invasion by Idi Amin, falling commodity prices and corruption, left Tanzania as one of Africa's poorest nations, Dr Nyerere's tenure brought major advances in health and education. He governed with an authoritarian hand but was widely admired for his integrity and intellect.

In Tanzania and across much of Africa, Dr Nyerere is best known as Mwalimu, the Kiswahili word for "teacher".

"I know the death of the father of the nation is going to shock and dismay all Tanzanians," Mr Mkapa said. "Others will be filled with great doubt and fear. Mwalimu built a foundation of unity in our country and he fought for the freedom of all. I assure all Tanzanians Mwalimu left a firm foundation," Mr Mkapa said.

After his retirement as president, he remained one of Africa's most respected elder statesmen, playing an important advisory role in Tanzanian and regional politics. His last mission was to mediate talks aimed at ending a six-year civil war in neighbouring Burundi.

Dr Nyerere last visited Ireland in November 1996, when he spoke at a a seminar in Dublin organised by Concern and Oxfam.

An obituary will be published in tomorrow's paper