Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, a politician with soul and a servant of God

When Pope Francis speaks of politics as a vocation and calls for more politicians with soul, who could qualify? One answer could be Julius Kambarage Nyerere, the father-founder of Tanzania, also known by the Swahili name of “Mwalimu”, which means “teacher”, because of the profession he had before entering politics. The Catholic Church is currently reviewing Nyerere’s life in consideration of beatification.

The forum will feature the lectures of Dr. Ng’wanza Kamata, co-author of the three-volume biography of Julius Nyerere published in Dar es Salaam; Dr. Ethan R. Sanders, Professor of History, Politics and Political Economy, Regis College; and Fr. Festo Mkenda, SJ, Academic Director of Roman Archives of the Society of Jesus. Nyerere’s son, Charles Makongoro Nyerere, is coming especially to attend the event in honor of “Mwalimu. Tanzanian Ambassador to Italy, H.E. Mahmoud Thabit Kombo, is gracing the event, as well the Jesuit Justice and Ecology Network – Africa (JENA) and the Fondazione “Fratelli Tutti”.

The Servant of God “Mwalimu” Julius Nyerere

“Mwalimu” Julius Kambarage Nyerere, the first president of Tanzania (in office 1961-85), is a flesh-and-blood exemplar of what Pope Francis describes as «a politician with soul» (Evangelii Gaudium 273). Born in Tanganyika to a Zanaki king, Prince Nyerere was also known by the Swahili name of “Mwalimu”, which means “teacher”, because of the profession he had before entering politics.

Nyerere fought for human-centered development, democratized education and health care, and maintained a deep respect for human rights and peace in a dangerous and unstable part of the world. A committed Catholic, he regularly meditated on the Scriptures, attended daily mass, and even translated liturgical texts into popular Swahili, while actively engaged in interreligious cooperation and vigorously struggling for a more socially relevant Church.

Critics raise issues on some of his miscalculations, but admit that he led a life of integrity and simplicity, shunning the selfishness that marred much of local and global politics. Nyerere’s practical wisdom and prophetic witness offers a liberating critique and creativity not only to African church and society, but also way beyond.

In 2005 Bishop Justin Samba of the Diocese of Musoma and the Tanzania Episcopal Conference (TEC) requested the Holy See to declare Nyerere a saint. In the same year, Pope Benedict XVI declared Julius Kambarage Nyerere a ‘Servant of God’.

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