05 March 2007

St. Julius?

The Roman Catholic bishops of Tanzania are spearheading an effort to have the country's late president, Julius Nyerere, declared a saint. Why? Here's one account:

The son of a tribal chief, Nyerere was said to have remained true to his mission upbringing, becoming a devout Catholic who often fasted, attended Mass on an almost daily basis and translated parts of the Bible into his native Zanaki language.

He earned respect for his integrity and his lifestyle was modest to the point of austerity -- in stark contrast to the excesses of his contemporaries, including Uganda's Idi Amin, Zaire's Mobutu Sese Seko and Ethiopia's Mengistu Haile Mariam.

On the other hand, there are obstacles to his canonization:

In 1967, Nyerere issued the Arusha declaration, which announced a program of collectivization called Ujamaa or “familyhood.” Nyerere’s vision of African socialism won the admiration of many in the West. As the Cold War intensified, many saw it as the best alternative to Soviet-style Communism in the Third World. Moral and financial support poured in.

When Tanzanians didn’t move into the ujamaa villages the way he had hoped, Nyerere began losing patience with voluntary socialism. Nyerere veered toward Mao Zedong’s China as a more appropriate model for a developing country. In 1973 he began forcefully relocating villagers, uprooting communities in the middle of the agricultural season and moving them to new locations that didn’t always have a supply of water. The harvest suffered. By 1976, Tanzania had gone from being one of Africa’s largest exporters of agricultural products to its largest importer. Clashes with Uganda in the 1970s and the global oil crises only exacerbated the failing cycles of agricultural production. Nyerere retired in 1985, and Tanzania began to reverse some of the socialist policies that led to Tanzania’s economic collapse.

The Vatican would probably be wise not to rush his case.

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