TOPICS > Politics

Working for Peace

December 27, 1996 at 12:00 AM EDT
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ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Next, Charlayne Hunter-Gault concludes her series on the origin of the crises in Central Africa. She talks with Julius Nyerere, a key figure in efforts to bring peace to the region.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Julius K. Nyerere, the 74-year-old former president of Tanzania and one of Africa’s most respected elder statesmen, led his country to an independence in 1961 and presided over it until 1985. Searching for a development path for his dirt-poor country, he introduced a governing concept that was meant to meld socialism with traditional tribal government. He called it “Ujamaa,” Swahili for familyhood.

Through benign one-party rule and emphasizing racial and tribal harmony and moralistic self-sacrifice, Nyerere unified Tanzania from a far flung collection of tribes into a nation. But the country faltered. After Nyerere stepped down from power in 1985, the country was in shambles, and the socialist experiment was viewed as a failure. Nyerere resigned voluntarily after serving four terms. He handed over power to a constitutionally chosen successor, one of the few peaceful transitions in a region dominated by military governments and coup d’etats.

Neighboring Burundi and Rwanda have not been so lucky. Since their independence in 1962, both have been torn by fighting between factions from the majority Hutu tribe and the minority Tutsis. Millions on both sides have been killed, most recently from the Hutu genocide against Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994. That produced waves of refugees also in the millions that spilled into Tanzania, Zaire, Uganda, and other border states. The minority Tutsis have now regained control of Rwanda and have called for reconciliation as thousands of Hutus have begun returning to the ravaged country. In Burundi, a military coup by Tutsi leader Pierre Boyoya is still in effect, despite a call by leaders from the region to return to democratic rule.

Julius Nyerere has come out of retirement and at recent summits in Arusha, Tanzania, and elsewhere has been involved in mediating the conflicts in the Great Lakes region. Called “Mwalimu,” the Swahili word for “teacher,” Nyerere has devoted much of his time to African solutions to Africa’s problems.

OLARA OTUNNU, International Peace Academy: Very few leaders understand as deeply the roots, the evolution, the nature of the conflict in the Great Lakes as he does. Very few leaders have ideas about what to do about it as he does, and very few leaders have the influence that he has within that sub-region.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: We met Nyerere during a recent visit to New York and asked first about Rwanda, and the prospects for reconciliation there.

JULIUS K. NYERERE, Former President, Tanzania: It’s not going to be easy to prevent people who have lost members of their families to want revenge. This cannot be prevented. And so some revenge killings here and there might take place, but the government, itself, is going to work extremely hard to reconcile the people, and then my hope is that the international community will help them in two ways: one, that we do get hold of the perpetrators of the genocide and put them on trial, at the international tribunal in Arusha. I hope we do that. Some of these people are being harbored in the capital, in the capitals of a large number of our countries. We should hand them over. Secondly, we should help the government with the resources. And that government is going to try and reconcile their country.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Are African government in which–in countries where these militia people are hiding now prepared to hand them over?

JULIUS NYERERE: Well, so far, they’re not handing them over. Some are in Africa. Some are not in Africa. Some are in Europe, and it’s just possible some may be outside Europe. We all have a responsibility to hand over these people. This is an essential element in the reconciliation of the peoples of Rwanda. I hope that will happen.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: What is the main problem in Burundi? You’ve been most recently involved there, yourself.

JULIUS NYERERE: Well, the main problem is a problem of power. In Rwanda, you had a majority in power. You have these divisions called Tutsi, Hutu, and in Rwanda, you had the Hutu in power, and the minority Tutsi excluded. In Burundi, it was the other way around. You had the minority Tutsis in power, and the majority excluded. And this is–this is the problem we have to deal with, that power, really virtually since independence has been in the hands of the minority, supported by the army. And that is really basically the problem we are dealing with.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: What would the solution be?

JULIUS NYERERE: The solution will be a reconciliation. We’ll have–we will have to negotiate a system under which both the majority and the minority feel reasonably happy.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: What’s the biggest obstacle?

JULIUS NYERERE: Well, the biggest obstacle at present is that those who are in power, the minority–the minority is in power–they are like one riding on the back of a tiger. And they really want almost a water-tight assurance before they get off the back of the tiger because they feel if they get off the back of the tiger–

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: It will eat them.

JULIUS NYERERE: –it will eat them. So really, we have–I think we have to be patient and devise some method that gives the assurance to the minority that democracy does not mean that they’re going to be wiped out by the majority, and really to give the majority–to get the minority, itself, to realize that clinging to that power is no answer.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: The African governments in the region, you’ve been working with the leaders there, and they have imposed sanctions on Burundi. Has this had any effect?

JULIUS NYERERE: Leaders of the region are absolutely united on this one, and the significance of this is sometimes lost in the outside world. The outside world regards Africa as military rule and–and dictatorships by single-party system. My system was single-party system. But they don’t realize the significance of what has taken place in East Africa. These leaders who met in Arusha were really saying to the military regime in Burundi we can no longer accept military rule on our borders.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And this is a major change.

JULIUS NYERERE: This is a major change on the continent, and I really hope that the significance will be the allies outside Africa.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Does the history of this conflict, this Great Lakes region conflict, so many deaths, so many terrible things happening to the people, innocent people, in the region, does it yield any lessons for the future in terms of how you prevent future conflicts of this size and scope and nature?

JULIUS NYERERE: Well, I mean, this is not simply in this region. It’s everywhere.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: In the world.

JULIUS NYERERE: In the world. It’s not simply us; it’s everywhere.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: It’s not ethnic.

JULIUS NYERERE: It’s not ethnic. And I am ethnic… I keep saying I think it’s matter of justice. It’s a perception of the people feeling that they’re not being treated justly. And ethnicity yes, but Singapore has ethnic groups, as Chinese, the dominant group, has Malays, has Indians, but Singapore has done well economically. Had Singapore not done well economically and you have these ethnic groups there, the economy is not doing well, you would be hearing about the ethnic divisions of Singapore, and I have a feeling that, oh, if Singapore was doing well that somehow one ethnic group was dominating the others economically, we would hear that. And this problem is basically economic.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: You mentioned the one-party rule in your country where you were president for four terms during which time you promoted the principle of “Ujamaa,” socialism, and you have acknowledged that it was a miserable failure. What lessons, in retrospect, do you draw from that and the kind of economies that African countries might more profitably pursue?

JULIUS NYERERE: Where did you get the idea that I thought “Ujamaa” was a miserable failure?

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, I read that you said socialism was failure; the country economically was in shambles at the end of the experiment.

JULIUS NYERERE: A bunch of countries were in economic shambles at the end of the 70s. They are not socialists. Now, today it needs so much courage to talk about socialism, therefore, perhaps we should change the phraseology, but you have to take in the values of socialism which we were trying to build in Tanzania in any society.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And those values are what?

JULIUS NYERERE: And those values are values of justice, a respect for human beings, a development which is people-centered, development where you care about people you can say leave the development of a country to something called the market which has no heart at all since capitalism is completely ruthless, who is going to help the poor, and the majority of the people in our countries are poor. Who is going to stand for them? Not the market. So I’m not regretting that I tried to build a country based on those principles. You will have to–whether you call them socialism or not–do you realize that what made–what gave capitalism a human face was the kind of values I was trying to sell in my country.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: So what’s the answer? Because, with all due respect, the economy of Tanzania did not thrive under the socialism that you practiced. So what is the–what do you see as the answer for African countries which are still predominantly poor?

JULIUS NYERERE: The problem is not a question of socialism. You have to deal with the problem of poverty. You have to deal with the problem of poverty in your country, and your country is not socialist, or we’re in trouble. People in rich countries don’t realize the responsibility of handling poverty in countries like mine. But those countries will develop. Countries in Africa are poor, both capitalists and socialists, and today we don’t have a single one with these socialists.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Finally, you’ve been critical of some western countries and their roles in Africa. At the same time you’ve called on western nations to help–I think your phrase was clean up the mess in Rwanda and Burundi. Can you explain what at least sounds like a contradiction?

JULIUS NYERERE: Well, I’m saying some of the problems we are now handling in Africa, some of the mess we’re trying to clean up in the continent we have inherited, the mess of the borders we have inherited.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: The colonials who–

JULIUS NYERERE: The colonial–

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: The colonial powers drew the borders.

JULIUS NYERERE: Yes. The colonial powers and some not colonial powers in Africa have supported regimes which are very corrupt on that continent. I think now they should stop backing up these corrupt regimes and let Africans in their own way try and establish regimes which can care about people. Some of the governments of the West, and including the United States, has really been very bad on our continent. They have used the Cold War and all sorts of things to back up a bunch of corrupted leaders on our continent. I think they should stop now and let the people of Africa sort out their own, their own future.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Does that include the leader of Zaire, Mobutu Seseseko?

JULIUS NYERERE: Well, I didn’t say so.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Many people say so.

JULIUS NYERERE: When we have African problems, we, ourselves, have a duty to solve our problems. I think we must accept that. When you have African problems, we should try on our own to solve those problems. We would prefer the outside world to keep out. If we want help, we can seek for help. But do you realize sometimes we ask for help, and it doesn’t come. On the 5th of last month our leaders met in Nairobi, and if said need an external–we need a force to go into Zaire to help the refugees to come back. It’s not happening. And we appealed to the United Nations to establish that force, and we said we would also be participating in that force. Well, quite frankly, this is not happening. What is happening is a kind of self-help within Eastern Zaire, itself. And the refugees are going back. I hope–I think the lesson which Africa should draw from that is that they should rely upon themselves to the maximum when it comes to dealing with African problems.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, Mwalimu Nyerere, thank you.