Tuesday, July 18, 2006


Controversy with a potential to divide the Catholic Church is brewing in the most unlikely place, Africa, following the nomination of former Tanzanian president Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere for sainthood.

The late African statesman's nomination last year by bishops of the diocese of his native Musoma district is already causing a re-look at the Catholic Church's criteria of declaring someone a candidate for sainthood.

Catholic doctrine states that apart from living strictly by the tenets of the church's teachings, an individual has to have done outstanding faith-guided deeds for humanity when they were living and caused documentable miracles after their death.

It is these merits that Nyerere's supporters have to publish with testimonials to prove the late politician is worthy of joining the exclusive class of people holier than most mortals. That is going to be an uphill struggle.

Not because Nyerere was a politician, as some people are already implying. What will prove difficult is to follow the rules of the process of beatification and fulfil them as expected. Nyerere was known to have been attending Mass and following all the steps of Catholicism on a daily basis and he often fasted.

Fr. Michael Meunier, a Toronto priest who worked in East Africa in the 1990s and is a proponent of the beatification of the late president, recounted to me a story of how a few years before his death, Nyerere was being honoured for his work. Nyerere was said to have not touched the food he had been given because it was during Lent. One of his hosts suggested that when Nyerere meets with God in Heaven, he would confidently declare that he accomplished the work he was put on earth to do.

"Nyerere replied that only Jesus Christ has the right to stand before the Lord and say He accomplished His work. He said when he gets before the Lord, he would only say 'I tried,'" said Meunier. The question is what did he try and how did it turn out vis-à-vis his proposed beatification.

Compared to such candidates as the late Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Nyerere's case will be rather arduous to prove. He attended Mass every day, fasted and did other Christian things, but thousands more unknown people could have done that and even have surpassed him.

As a politician he is as revered as the likes of Nelson Mandela of South Africa and he led his people to self-rule as well as democracy by the time he retired in 1985. However, it is in that process of becoming a national leader and continental statesman that he made decisions and actions that would make his beatification controversial.

Upon leading Tanzania out of British colonial rule in the early 1960s, Nyerere introduced his own brand of socialism, Ujamaa (familyhood), a policy of communal agriculture modelled on Mao Zedong's collectivization in China — minus the brutality.

Ujamaa failed dismally and by the time Nyerere resigned from the presidency and declared "I failed" in 1985, Tanzania had been reduced from Africa's largest exporter of agricultural products to the largest importer of the same.

Tanzania still has not recovered from that disastrous policy and is now rated one of the world's poorest countries. Nyerere is considered father of Pan Africanism and is one of the leaders who came up with the idea to start the Organization of African Unity.

He was personally instrumental in the formation, funding and successful execution of the independence movement that swept east and southern Africa from the late 1960s right up to 1994 when South Africa became democratic. However, during all that time, Nyerere was suppressing the need for multiparty democracy in his own country.

He also took his country to war with Uganda to drive out the brutal dictator, Idi Amin, but in his place, he re-imposed another dictator, Milton Obote, whose authoritarian rule had caused Amin to come to power in the first place. He was also instrumental in the coup that brought France-Albert Rene to power in The Seychelles.

Of the freedom movement protégés he supported actively, President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe has turned out to be a dictatorial monster in the same mould as Idi Amin. Admittedly, Nyerere cannot be penalized for actions of the Obotes and Mugabes, but his own actions in it all will make his candidacy for beatification very hard to defend.

In my view, Nyerere was an African scholar-turned-politician who played his part to free the people of Africa admirably. He led his people with the compassion only a true Christian could do, but his desire to produce a perfect community in the region also caused him to make some mistakes. Will these mistakes stand the test of beatification? I doubt it.

TO READ MORE OF MY WRITING, PLEASE VISIT; www.torontosun.ca/News/Columnists/Madawo_Innocent/

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