Julius Nyerere...sainthood beckons

JULIUS Nyerere, one of Africa’s most revered political figures could be made a Saint if Pope Francis accedes to calls for his beatification.

Nyerere, who was Tanzania’s first president died of leukemia on October 14, 1999 in a hospital in London. He played a pivotal role in the development of Tanzania and in giving bases to liberation movements for Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Prayers are being held today at Namugongo Catholic Martyrs shrine on the outskirts of Uganda’s capital, Kampala for Nyerere’s beatification.

Christians from around the world are expected in Kampala tomorrow for the main Martyrs Day celebration at the shrine which is dedicated to people martyred for their faith in the 19th Century.

The process towards Nyerere elevation started on May 13, 2005, when Pope Benedict XVI, declared him the Servant of God, which is the first step for the start of the beatification and canonisation to sainthood.

Calls for Nyerere’s sainthood were subsequently made on June 1, 2009, when the Rev Fr Deogratius Ssonko, the Rector of the Namugongo Parish, proposed that the Day was to pray for the cause of his process of beatification and canonisation.

Born on April 13, 1922 in Butiama, on the eastern shore of lake Victoria in north west Tanganyika, Nyerere didn’t start school until he was 12. Even so, he had to walk 26 miles to and fro each day to get to school.

The Roman Catholic fathers who taught Nyerere quickly recognised his intelligence and with their help, he went on to train as a teacher at Makerere University in Uganda.

After teaching for three years Nyerere in Tanzania Nyerere obtained a government scholarship to study history and political economy for his Master of Arts degree at the University of Edinburgh. He became the first Tanzanian to study at a British university and only the second to gain a university degree outside Africa.

On his return to Tanganyika, Nyerere became involved in politics and was subsequently elected president in 1962.

As a committed pan-Africanist, Nyerere provided a home for a number of African liberation movements including the African National Congress (ANC), the Pan African Congress (PAC) of South Africa, Frelimo of Mozambique, and Zanla of Zimbabwe.

Nyerere also opposed the brutal regime of Idi Amin in Uganda and was instrumental in restoring president Milton Obote to power in 1978 when he sent a 20,000-strong Tanzanian army in 1978 to invade the neighbouring country.

One of Nyerere’s last high profile actions was as the chief mediator in the Burundi conflict in 1996.