From the Archive | Dilemma of the pan-Africanist

Anticolonial activist and president of Tanzania Julius Nyerere argues that though nations fought colonialism separately, countries should work together to form a united Africa.

In 1966, Julius Kambarage Nyerere was president of the Republic of Tanzania. When President Kenneth Kaunda of neighbouring Zambia became the first chancellor of the University of Zambia at its inauguration on 13 July 1966 he invited Nyerere, also the chancellor of the University of East Africa, to attend the ceremony and give an address to the assembled audience. President Nyerere used the occasion to describe the possible conflict between African nationalisms and pan-Africanism.

This is a lightly edited excerpt from Nyrere’s speech archived at

Your excellencies, we have achieved many things in Africa in recent years, and can look back with some pride at the distance we have travelled. But we are a long way from achieving the thing we originally set out to achieve, and I believe there is a danger that we might now voluntarily surrender our greatest dream of all.

For it was as Africans that we dreamed of freedom; and we thought of it for Africa. Our real ambition was African freedom and African government. The fact that we fought by area was merely a tactical necessity. We organised ourselves into the Convention People’s Party, the Tanganyika African National Union, the United National Independence Party, and so on, simply because each local colonial government had to be dealt with separately.

The question we now have to answer is whether Africa shall maintain this internal separation as we defeat colonialism, or whether our earlier proud boast – “I am an African” – shall become a reality. It is not a reality now. For the truth is that there are now 36 different nationalities in free Africa, one for each of the 36 independent states – to say nothing of those still under colonial or alien domination. Each state is separate from the others: each is a sovereign entity. And this means that each state has a government which is responsible to the people of its own area – and to them only; it must work for their particular wellbeing or invite chaos within its territory.

Can the vision of pan-Africanism survive these realities?

I do not believe the answer is easy. Indeed I believe that a real dilemma faces the pan-Africanist. On the one hand is the fact that pan-Africanism demands an African consciousness and an African loyalty; on the other hand is the fact that each pan-Africanist must also concern himself with the freedom and development of one of the nations of Africa. These things can conflict. Let us be honest and admit that they have already conflicted.

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In one sense, of course, the development of part of Africa can only help Africa as a whole. The establishment of a University College in Dar es Salaam, and of a University in Lusaka, means that Africa has two extra centres of higher education for its 250 million people. Every extra hospital means more health facilities for Africa; every extra road, railway or telephone line means that Africa is pulled closer together. And who can doubt but that the railway from Zambia to Tanzania, which we are determined to build, will serve African unity, as well as being to the direct interest of our two countries?

Unfortunately, however, that is not the whole story. Schools and universities are part of an educational system – a national educational system. They promote, and they must promote, a national outlook among the students. Lessons are given on the government, the geography and the history of Tanzania or of Zambia. Loyalty to the national constitution, to the elected leaders, to the symbols of nationhood – all these things are encouraged by every device.

This is not only inevitable; it is also right. None of the nation states of Africa are “natural” units. Our present boundaries are – as has been said many times – the result of European decisions at the time of the scramble for Africa. They are senseless; they cut across ethnic groups, often disregard natural physical divisions and result in many different language groups being encompassed within a state. If the present states are not to disintegrate it is essential that deliberate steps be taken to foster a feeling of nationhood. Otherwise our present multitude of small countries – almost all of us too small to sustain a self-sufficient modern economy – could break up into even smaller units – perhaps based on tribalism. Then a further period of foreign domination would be inevitable. Our recent struggles would be wasted.

Let me repeat: in order to avoid internal conflict and further disunity, each nation state is forced to promote its own nationhood. This does not only involve teaching loyalty to a particular unit and a particular flag, although that is serious enough. It also involves deliberately organising one part of Africa economically, socially and constitutionally to serve the overall interests of the people of that part of Africa, and (in case of conflict) not the interests either of another part, or of Africa as a whole.

Circa 1961: Julius Kambarage Nyerere was Tanzania’s president from 1964 until 1985. (Photograph by Universal History Archive/ Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Thus, each state of Africa devises for itself a constitution and a political structure which is most appropriate to its own history and its own problems. In Tanzania, for example, the overwhelming support for our nationalist movement, and the complete absence of a rival to it, meant that from the beginning of independence we had in effect a one-party state. But the continued existence of a political structure which assumed a two-party state meant that we were unable to harness the party organisation, and the enthusiasm of our people, for the new tasks of fighting poverty.

There was also some danger that the party leaders might get out of touch with the people they led because they were able to shelter their own personal shortcomings under the umbrella of the party. So we worked out a new constitution which acknowledged the sole existence of one party, and within that framework ensured the people’s democratic control of their government. It is a new arrangement and so far it seems to be working well. But – and this is my point – it has marked a further differentiation between the political organisation of Tanzania and that of other parts of Africa, including that of our neighbours.

And the more the people of the united republic become involved in this system, and the more the peoples of other African nations become involved in the systems they work out for themselves, the greater becomes the division among us.

In economics too, the same thing applies. Each national government of Africa has to work for the development of its own country, the expansion of its own revenues. It must do this. It cannot be content with the development of Central Africa or of East Africa; it must work for the development of Zambia or of Tanzania. In certain circumstances the result is not only a failure to grow together; it can be a reduction in unity. For example, each East African country is now moving over to its own currency instead of maintaining one common currency.

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In the absence of a federal government this was necessary if each of the governments was to meet its responsibilities to the people who elected it. But it is undoubtedly a move towards nationalism and away from African super-nationalism. Or again, each African government has to work for domestic industrialisation; it can only agree to a common super-national industry being sited in another country if there is a clear and obvious compensating advantage in its own favour in another industry, or in some other developmental factor.

Our nationalisms may compete with one another and grow away from one another in international matters too. All of the states of Africa need to attract capital from outside, and all of us wish to sell more of our goods to countries abroad. So we 36 little states each spend money to send our delegations to the wealthy countries and our representatives to trade talks.

Then each one of these national representatives is forced to prove why investment should be made in his country rather than in another and forced to offer some advantages to the wealthy country if it will buy his goods rather than those emanating from another part of Africa. And the result? Not only worse terms for each of us in relation to aid or trade, but also a kind of fear of each other – a suspicion that the neighbouring country will take advantage of any weakness we have for its own benefit. And my point is that this neighbouring country will do that; it has little choice in the matter. However much it may sympathise with our difficulty, only in rare cases will this sense of “oneness” be able to transcend the hard necessities of its own economic need.

All that I have been saying so far amounts to this: the present organisation of Africa into nation states means inevitably that Africa drifts apart unless definite and deliberate counteracting steps are taken. In order to fulfil its responsibilities to the people it has led to freedom, each nationalist government must develop its own economy, its own organisations and institutions, and its own dominant nationalism. This is true however devoted to the cause of African unity the different national leaders may be. For while it is certainly true that in the long run the whole of Africa, and all its peoples, would be best served by unity, it is equally true, as Lord Keynes is reported to have said, that “in the long run we are all dead”.

Circa 1965: Julius Nyerere during his time as president of Tanzania, which was so named when Tanganyika merged with Zanzibar to become a united republic. (Photograph by Photo 12/ Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The willingness of the people of Africa to make sacrifices for the future is without question; the development plans of our different nations prove this. But the people of this continent have been suffering the effects of poverty too long. They need to see some immediate attack being made on that poverty. They could not, and would not, agree to stagnation or regression while we pursue the goal of unity.

And the truth is that as each of us develops his own state we raise more and more barriers between ourselves. We entrench differences which we have inherited from the colonial periods and develop new ones. Most of all, we develop a national pride which could easily be inimical to the development of a pride in Africa. This is the dilemma of the pan-Africanist in Africa now. For although national pride does not automatically preclude the development of pride in Africa, it is very easily twisted to have that effect And certainly it will be deliberately bolstered by those who are anxious to keep Africa weak by her division, or those anxious to keep Africa divided because they would rather be important people in a small state than less important people in a bigger one.

Kenyans and Zambians will be told – indeed, are already being told! – that Tanzania is communist and under Chinese control, or that it is so weak that it is the unwilling and unwitting base for Chinese subversion.

Tanzanians, on the other hand, are told that Kenya is under American control and Zambia hostile to it because of its policy on Rhodesia. And so on. Everything will be done and said which can sow suspicion and disunity between us until finally our people, and our leaders, say, “Let us carry on alone, let us forget this mirage of unity and freedom for the whole of Africa”. And then, in 150 years’ time, Africa will be where Latin America is now, instead of having the strength and economic wellbeing which is enjoyed by the United States of America.

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