Julius Nyerere: Former Tanzanian leader honoured by African Union statue (read full statement from AU & SADC)


ADDIS ABABA – Tanzania's founding father Julius Nyerere has been honoured with a statue outside the African Union headquarters in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa.

Nyerere led what is now Tanzania from independence in 1961 until 1985.

Julius Nyerere honoured with statue in Addis Ababa
Image: BBC

Known as Mwalimu, Swahili for teacher, he was a committed pan-Africanist and hosted independence fighters opposed to white minority rule in southern Africa.

He played a key role in the creation of the Organisation of African Unity, which later became the African Union.

Unveiling the statue at a ceremony attended by numerous African heads of state, AU Commission leader Moussa Faki Mahamat said: "The legacy of this remarkable leader encapsulates the essence of Pan Africanism, profound wisdom, and service to Africa."

He recalled Nyerere's own comments at the inaugural OAU summit in 1963. "Our continent is one, and we are all Africans."

But when he became prime minister of what was then Tanganyika in 1961, his first task was to unite the new country, made up of more than 120 different ethnic groups, including Arab, Asian and European minorities.

He managed to do this, by promoting the use of Swahili as a common language and through his vision of "African Socialism" or ujamaa (familyhood).

In 1964, Tanganyika united with the Zanzibar archipelago to form Tanzania.

It later became a one-party state. Nyerere defended the absence of multi-party elections by declaring that Tanzanians had far more freedom under him than they had ever had under British rule, and that the one-party system was vital for stability.

Known for his modest lifestyle, Nyerere tried to create an egalitarian society based on co-operative agriculture - meaning farmers no longer worked their individual fields but instead worked together on communally-owned land.

Julius Nyerere statue
Image: @SADC_News/X

He wanted Tanzania to be self-reliant, rather than depending on foreign aid and investment.

However, this largely failed and Tanzania's economy was in dire straits when he stepped down in 1985.

Yet he oversaw a huge improvement in healthcare and literacy and remains widely revered in Tanzania.

The country's main international airport is named after him, as are many roads, bridges and stadiums.

During the 1970s, Nyerere lobbied Western governments to take a stronger stance against white-minority rule in Rhodesia, later Zimbabwe, and South Africa, and backed armed groups fighting those regimes.

Paying her tribute to Nyerere, Tanzania's President Samia Suluhu Hassan said: "To him, Africa's wellbeing came first, before popular approval, personal fortune or country wellbeing."

Nyerere was strongly opposed to the expulsion of Asians in neighbouring Uganda under Idi Amin in 1972. Relations continued to deteriorate and seven years later, Nyerere sent his army into Uganda to oust Amin.

In a post on X, Zambia's President Hakainde Hichilema described the unveiling of the statue to "one of our continent's iconic figures" as a "proud day".

He was a trained teacher and became the first person from Tanganyika to study at a British university, when he went to study in Edinburgh in 1949, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

He died in 1999, aged 77, and the anniversary of his death, 14 October, is a public holiday.

Nyerere is the third leader to be honoured with a statue outside the AU headquarters, after Ghana's founding father and pan-Africanist Kwame Nkrumah, and Ethiopia's emperor Haile Selassie, who became a symbol of African nationalism for resisting Italy's attempts to colonise the country in the 1930s, and later agreed to host the OAU.

Read the full joint statement from the AU and SADC below: 

African Union and SADC Unveil Commemorative Statue of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere at 37th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the Union

The African Union together with the Southern African Development Community (SADC) unveiled a commemorative statue of the revered Mwalimu Julius K. Nyerere of Tanzania during the 37th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the Union at the AU Headquarters in Addis Ababa.

The magnificent statue stands atop a granite base inscribed with Nyerere’s impactful words from October 22, 1959: “We would like to light a candle and put it on top of Mount Kilimanjaro which would shine beyond our borders giving hope where there was despair, love where there was hate and dignity where before there was only humiliation.”

Situated on the grounds of the building complex named in honour of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere hosting the African Union Political Affairs, Peace and Security Department, the statue pays tribute to his pivotal role in Pan-Africanism and peacebuilding.

As the first Prime Minister of independent Tanganyika (1961) and subsequently the first President of the new state of Tanzania (1964) the effigy of the former Tanzanian leader and Pan-Africanist joined the distinguished ranks of monuments at the AU Headquarters. 

In 2012, the statue of Ghanaian Pan-Africanist Kwame Nkrumah was unveiled, followed by the statue of Emperor Haile Selassie in 2019, recognizing their significant contributions of the OAU.

Aligned with the 2024 AU theme of Education, Mwalimu Nyerere’s statue emphasizes his philosophy on education. He believed that education’s primary purpose is to transmit accumulated wisdom and knowledge to people, resonating with principles such as self-reliance, critical consciousness, equality, social justice, and common good. 

Nyerere’s innovative theory links education for liberation to the goal of building an egalitarian society based on Ujamaa.

The unveiling ceremony took place in the presence of H.E Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, President of Mauritania and AU Chairperson, SADC leaders including: H.E. Samia Suluhu Hassan, President of Tanzania, H.E. Hakainde Hichilema, President of Zambia and Chairperson of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation, H.E. João Lourenço, President of Angola, H.E. Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, President of Zimbabwe, H.E. Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa, President of South Africa, H.E. Pravind Jugnauth, Prime Minister of Mauritius and H.E. Abiy Ahmed, Prime Minister of Ethiopia. 

The event drew further distinction with the presence of leaders from Comoros, Ghana, Kenya and South Sudan, as well as the AUC Chairperson, Commissioners, Heads of Regional Economic Communities (RECs) along with high officials and representatives of the media. Among the esteemed guests were former President of Tanzania, H.E. Jakaya M. Kikwete, and former AU chairperson, H.E. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

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