The Chanzo is hosting Digital Freedom and Innovation Day on April 20, 2024. Register Here

Close this search box.

Marking Nyerere’s Centennial: Reflecting the relevance of Self Reliance Policy Today

The question of self-reliance was key to Nyerere's political and philosophical foundation. Because to him, there is a link between development and freedom and it was impossible for a nation to be dependent on the foreign nations while at the same time maintaining its freedom. 

subscribe to our newsletter!

April 13, marks 100 years since the founding father of Tanzania Julius Kambarage Nyerere was born in the Lake Victoria region of the former British colony, the Tanganyika territory later known as Tanzania after the union between post-independent Tanganyika and Zanzibar.

Mwalimu or a ‘teacher’ in English has been famously known all around the world for his vehement commitment to anti-colonialism, national building, Pan-Africanism and advocating for economic and political justice for developing nations of the global south.

Much has been written about the philosophy and political ideology of this iconic figure of Africa’s independence generation. With a recent biography written by the known left scholars who some of them were critical of his government, a lot has unfolded, both the light and dark side of his pragmatism as a head of state for almost twenty-five years.

It will take thousands of pages to describe life and times from his  birth to his demise on October 14, 1999.

Since Mwalimu was a man of discussion, debate and a believer in the power of reasoning, my conscience wouldn’t let me silence on one of the great historical days like this. So, remembrance of Mwalimu Nyerere’s birthday made me to pick up my notebook and share a short reflection of my observation of the current affairs in this part of Africa [Tanzania] relating to what the founding father of the nation theorized on the issue of  self-reliance.

The question of self-reliance was key to Nyerere’s political and philosophical foundation. Because to him, there is a link between development and freedom and it was impossible for a nation to be dependent on the foreign nations while at the same time maintaining its freedom.

Mwalimu believed foreign dependency comes with the price of compromising your citizens’ ability to determine their future and govern themselves without any interference from outside.

Mwalimu saw self-reliance as a matter of life and death for maintaining people’s development, sovereignty and dignity. To him, it was not about the question of disengagement from international economics or unsubscribing from world order as it has been perceived by many of the perpetrators  of the status-quo of the global economy.

For the nation to develop in freedom it should look first internally to see how its people can utilize available resources to the maximum to improve their living standards. Social and political organizations should condition people to devote themselves to hard work and use their intelligence to satisfy their material conditions and needs.

After almost sixty years of independence, it should amaze every human being in this part of the continent to see that despite being rich with both human and natural resources we are still insufficient in the production of basic items like clothes and food.

Despite being a cotton exporter, until recently, Tanzania produced about 20 million pieces of clothes while importing 540 million pieces of second-hand clothes and 177 million of the new ones. This means 73% of clothes worn in Tanzania were second-hand clothes.

Maybe we should call ourselves the Mtumba nation. But that is not enough, imagine 65% of edible oil and 90% of the wheat used in the country is imported despite having land, a favorable climate for the crops and enough manpower to engage in the production of these food items. Because it might get awkward on this and push me outside the main point, let me not mention more specific examples.

Here again, how  can we depend on FDI for development while 66.4% of our labour force has only attended primary schools while 11.2% never attended school at all? Even with 3.8% of the labour force with tertiary non-university and university education, what kind of skills and technological advancements we expect to imitate or acquire with this labour force characteristics after years of FDI investments so that we develop a significant amount of local startups which will help to build an ideal national economy?

Lack of self-reliance esteem has produced a syndrome of dependency in every sphere of life today. Economically, Socially and Politically. The problem has severely developed symptoms that cannot be treated easily because of the ongoing practices of NGOs in the community, political populism and adoption of global policies which perceive development as an item that can be just imported to us.

That’s why we have a significant number of elites and people in power who think we can have development through available foreign resources without concentrating on developing our production force and utilising our resources effectively to satisfy our needs.

While commemorating 100 years of Mwalimu, I think it’s time to rethink our plans and visions of the central and local government levels, civil societies, political parties, social movements and other organisations to reflect on Mwalimu’s philosophy of self-reliance.

Joel Ntile is a Pan-Africanist and socio-economic analyst based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. He can be reached through his e-mail address which is or you can follow him on Twitter at @Ntilejoel. These are the writer’s own opinions and they do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of The Chanzo Initiative. Want to publish in this space? Contact our editors at for further inquiries. 

Digital Freedom and Innovation Day
The Chanzo is hosting Digital Freedom and Innovation Day on Saturday April 20, 2024 at Makumbusho ya Taifa.

Register to secure your spot

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *