“Leadership and the Management of Change”, Address by Mwalimu Julius K. Nyerere, Former President of Tanzania(1998)

Mr. Chairman; Your Excellencies: Ladies and Gentlemen; and Friends.

You have asked me to speak on “Leadership and the Management of Change”,

and I have been foolhardy enough to agree. But I must make it clear that I have

no theory of leadership or of management either. By profession I am a trained

classroom teacher. But through an accident of history I found myself at the head

of the Liberation Movement of my country, and later at the head of its

Government. So I speak to you from my own experience only; it has been long,

but still limited. It does not include leading a university!

Change has, throughout history, been a constant part of human experience. But

today change is more rapid than ever before; its implications are very

comprehensive, and yet its first approach is often imperceptible. Who in an

isolated village in Africa could have foreseen the economic and social effects

which would follow from the first appearance there of a tin bucket? How many

people in a developing nation to-day realise that a financial collapse in a far

country may affect their whole livelihood? And how many will recognise the

underlying cause of the consequent changes when they do take place? For any

society, and for every individual, adapting to change at the present speed is very

difficult; yet avoiding change is impossible.

Decades ago, as President of my country, I told Tanzanians that the choice before

them was to change or be changed. I was wrong. There was no choice. They had

to change, and would still BE changed.

In retrospect, I think that the burden of Leadership was easier for my generation

than it is for the leaders of to-day. The demand for change was coming from us –

the leaders and people alike. We were speaking on behalf of a united society in

demanding an end to the visible, and thus easily understood, alien control over

our lives.

Very few of the leaders of the Independence Movements understood that political

freedom could be virtually negated by ever-increasing external economic power

over us. Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana was probably the first of us to realise that

fact, with his much derided talk of “neo-colonialism”. But even he said “Seek ye

first the political kingdom and all else will be added unto you”.

The present generation of leaders have not only to deal with the effects of the

economic realities about which most of us knew very little, they have also to do

so when the expectations of the people are higher than the general

understanding of what is happening and why. It is not easy to explain to the

people why the prices they receive for their cotton, coffee, or copper seem

constantly to decrease, while the prices of the things which they need to buy are

always going up. How do you explain to an ordinary worker why with the same

amount of money he bought more rice yesterday than he can buy to-day? And

even if you could explain it, it is not explanation which the people want. They

want rice at an affordable price and they want their leader to do something about


It was in the wilderness, on the way to the promised land of milk and honey,

when the People demanded water, food, or simply a change of food, that Moses

experienced the pain of being told that things were better in Egypt. When he cries

to God “Lord: What shall I do with these People? In a moment they will be

stoning me!” The answer was water from a rock, or manna from Heaven, or

quails from somewhere. In the wilderness of globalisation and liberalisation our

god or goddess is the callous and uncaring Market.

Yet leadership today is very much about water, food, jobs, shelter, education,

and community. It is about organising our communities, and rallying the people

to the kinds of action which will increase the supply of these goods and services

to the people – all of the people. The people are not fools. When the rains fail, or

El Nino causes the floods, they do not blame their government. What they do

demand is that their government brings emergency food supplies, or helps them

to rebuild a bridge, or do other things by which they can overcome the disaster.

But they will not accept an excuse for inaction by the leaders on the plea that the

IMF wants their Government to give first priority to the servicing of their

country’s Foreign Debt.

Organising our societies to achieve post-independence social and economic

objectives was bound to be difficult even without the pressures of globalisation

and the strictures of the international financial organisations.

The call for freedom from an external power unites all the victims of the system:

rich and poor; educated and uneducated; Christian and Moslem; Brahman and

Harijan; Hausa, Yoruba and Ibo. Everybody wants their nation to be free, and

fights for it, or supports those who do.

Unfortunately however, the call to mobilise our resources so that everyone in our

countries can have clean water, education, health care, and a means of earning a

living, is in practice not unifying. For in almost every one of our countries there is

a rich and powerful minority which is more concerned to defend their own wealth

and privilege – and indeed to increase them – than it is worried about the

sufferings of the poor.

Tanzania had been independent for a very short time before we began to see

such a growing gap between the Haves and Have-nots of our country. We were –

as we still are – a very poor country. We did not have a well-developed moneymaking

private sector. Our privileged group was emerging from the political

leaders and the bureaucrats, who had all been poor under colonial rule but were

beginning to use their new positions in the Party and the Government to enrich

themselves. This kind of development would alienate our leadership from the

People; yet our overriding need was for the whole nation to work together to fight

against what we had named as our three Enemies: POVERTY, IGNORANCE, and


So we articulated a new National Objective. In the Arusha Declaration of

Socialism and Self-Reliance we stressed that development is about People – ALL

our People, and not just a small, privileged minority. We laid down a Code of

conduct for our Leaders. And we set out to try to achieve those objectives.

We had already adopted a highly sophisticated and successful democratic Single

Party System. Obviously it was not based on the Westminster model, nor the US

model. Nor was it based on the Kremlin model either. We did not extol it for

others to follow; but it worked for us. It increased the accountability to the people

of our MPs and Ministers while emphasizing the common interests and concerns

of all our citizens. That was our objective.

The Arusha Declaration and our democratic single party system, together with

our national language, Kiswahili, and a highly politicised and disciplined National

Army, transformed what had been a motley of more than 126 different tribes into

a cohesive nation. That achievement goes a long way to explain the political

stability which my country still enjoys today. That stability comes under everincreasing

strain as inequalities of wealth and power within the country get

greater and as our economic woes persist.

A wise Englishman once said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts

absolutely. Our single party system eventually became complacent, bureaucratic

and corrupt. We had to change. We are now experimenting with a multi-party

system. We have also, wrongly in my view, abandoned the Arusha Declaration.

We are now experimenting with Free Market Capitalism. The rest of my remarks,

therefore, are about our problems as we are trying to manage Democracy and

Capitalism in to-day’s international climate and imbalance of power.

In the days of the Cold War, the leading countries of the West created and

supported a whole lot of corrupt dictators all over the Third World. The Marcoses,

the Somozas, the Papa Docs, the Bokassas and the Mobutus of the Third World

were all creatures and proteges of Western democracy. It is even said that when

elections were proposed for South Vietnam the Americans opposed the idea. They

feared that if the elections were free and fair the Communists would win them!

The Cold War is now over; and refreshingly the same Western Countries have

now become great champions of democracy and democratic elections everywhere

in the World. But now it has become their turn to preach a kind of “scientific”

democracy. Democracy is being trotted out as if it is something that can be

cloned like Dolly the sheep, and used anywhere and everywhere. We disagree

and argue in vain that we must manage our own democratic development and

change. For democracy to work properly, we argue, it must shape its mechanisms

to suit the culture, the conditions and current circumstances, and also the nature

and purposes of a nation and its people. That is how democracy has developed in

all the Western countries. American democracy, British democracy, Canadian

democracy, Swiss democracy etc. are all democracies; but they are not clones of

some original prototype ? they’re different. Democracies in the countries of the

South should be allowed to develop their own institutions and characteristics. The

people of Burundi, for instance, do not have to be apologetic about wanting to

devise a democracy which suits Burundi. What is important is that it should be a

democracy, but a democracy that is acceptable to the People of Burundi, and

which serves their best interests.

But on top of dogmatic democracy we have now to contend with dogmatic

capitalism also. Once again it is the turn of the capitalist world to insist on a kind

of scientific capitalism which every country must follow. It is called: laissez-faire,

free-market capitalism. Its preachers believe that it is both feasible and rational

to ask Burkina Faso, and China, and India, and Russia, and Poland, and Brazil,

and Tanzania, and Laos and Fiji to clone American capitalism. But once again this

is absurd. Do we really have one capitalism in the capitalist world of to-day? Are

German capitalism, French capitalism, Italian capitalism, Japanese capitalism,

Korean capitalism all clones of American and British capitalism? Have they

developed in the same way? The answer is clearly no. For once again in real life

no country operates a pure laissez-faire capitalism. Why then, are capitalists of

the South not being allowed to develop their own forms of capitalism?

Mr Chairman: this Association of Commonwealth Universities is, like all

Commonwealth associations, a consultative body. It enables members to share

their problems and to discuss possible ways of managing them It promotes and

facilitates schemes of co-operation or mutual help among all, or any group of, its

members. But the ACU exercises no authority over them and no power has been

delegated to it. And although you learn from one another, no university is trying

to turn all the others into clones of itself. Your inequalities of resources and

experience are known but merged into mutual respect. The ACU promotes the

separate uniqueness as well as the equality of all members.

There are something approaching 200 sovereign nation states in the world, and

even more economic and social units. Each of them is in some way different from

all the others. But unavoidably they affect each other. So international

organisations and functional institutions have been created. Some of these

international bodies do necessarily have executive functions, and thus have

delegated power.

Unfortunately, those international institutions which do have executive power

have all been established in a manner which increases rather than decreases the

relative POWER in the world of the already most powerful nations and economic

units. This is especially true as regards organisations concerned with finance and

trade, where voting on the governing boards is based on the wealth and trade of


Thus, these theoretically independent and objective functional institutions are, in

reality, controlled by a cabal of the wealthiest, the most developed, and the most

assertive national governments of the world. The I.M.F., the World Trade

Organisation, and the World Bank, have become a smokescreen under the cover

of which the major developed nations use their immense economic power in their

own exclusive interests.

There was a time when a developing country leader could say “No” to the IMF or

World Bank. But no leader of a highly indebted poor country, or a financially

troubled Indonesia or South Korea, can with impunity say “No” today. His country

will be crucified! So a time comes when the leader is forced to accept a neocolonial

status for his country in return for a financial bailout from its international

creditors. This is the case today in many African countries.

As strong states have become less inclined to risk the lives of their soldiers in

overseas adventures, it is now mostly economic power which they use to secure

their own interests and international purposes. That pressure is often explained to

their own people in the name of supporting human rights and democracy. Good

people often support such pressure on those grounds. They do not realise that

abuses of fundamental human rights are – not infrequently – the direct result of

South leaders trying to maintain political stability while they force IMF medicine

down the throats of their people! The result may be what are called “IMF bread

riots”. If these are put down by force or by political sleight of hand, the

dissatisfaction of the people may fester and break out later into general social

unrest or even civil war.

But leadership cannot be about telling people what to do and then (if they don’t

like it) forcing them to do it by the use of the Police or the Military. And in any

case to use force against hungry people who are protesting against an increase in

their poverty should be considered obscene by any modern society.

Indonesia had for years been quoted to African developing countries as an

example of “how to develop”. We were urged to copy it. In vain we pointed to the

different circumstances of the African and South-East Asian countries; in vain we

pointed out that none of the so-called “Asian Tigers” had developed through

following laissez-faire capitalist theory.

Yet now that Indonesia has become the victim of international currency

speculation and its President has been forced to resign, we are hearing the usual

explanations for its failure: it was a corrupt and dictatorial state which denied

human rights to its people, and which stifled their initiative by smothering their

freedom. It is now quoted to us as an awful warning rather than an example!

The relentless and single-minded drive by the rich and powerful to globalise and

liberalise; to privatise every public enterprise; to deify the Market; to weaken our

governments and make it impossible for them to intervene decisively on behalf of

the poor and powerless: all this will, no doubt, succeed in creating immense

wealth and power for a minority of countries and a minority of citizens in every

country. But it is also creating massive poverty and hopelessness for the majority

of the countries of the world and their citizens.

This cannot be a good recipe for peace and security in the world; for genuine

peace and security within nations and between nations is a result of justice. If

peace in the world is to become a possibility, the governance of international

institutions must be based on some kind of appropriate democracy – on some

basis of accountability to the people of the world. As the world becomes

increasingly one, its governance should become increasingly democratic and just.

It is not moving in that direction. On the contrary, governance at the

international level, when it is not simply chaotic is becoming increasingly

arrogant, authoritarian and unjust. A nation so governed cannot have peace and

stability. Nor does it deserve to have peace and stability. A world so governed

cannot be an exception.

Thank you.

3 responses to ““Leadership and the Management of Change”, Address by Mwalimu Julius K. Nyerere, Former President of Tanzania(1998)

  1. Pingback: Africa Blogging | Tanzania’s Election and Prospect for Change | Africa Blogging

  2. I am preparing a speech for a group of Zanzibar youth leaders and just read this speech by Mwalimu. What a prophet he was. His words now have more relevance than ever before especially about appropriate democracy and appropriate capitalism. The people are hungry and thus Magufuli is getting such great applause because he is talking about the poor for the first time and this too has caught the international arena…

  3. Justin Lusasi

    A kingdom that fights from within itself can not sustain. Mwalimu pointed out the corruption of CCM from long before!! So wonderful and I still wonder those who oppose the existence of corruption within the ruling. No wonder why Magufuli is opposed from within.

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