Julius Nyerere: “The Party Must Speak for the People”

Julius Nyerere: “The Party Must Speak for the People”

June 07, 1968

Tanzania and Uganda and Kenya once had a dream – or a vision that we will one day become part of one larger unit. Some of us still hold to that dream and believe it can be made into reality. We have simply accepted a change in the timing for its implementation, and adopted a more gradualistic approach to it, for we know that federations can only survive when they are based on the whole-hearted enthusiasm of all the people involved.

For the present, therefore, your country and mine are still separate sovereign states. TANU and UPC are separate political parties. But our states are partners in a tripartite economic community; our governments are close friends who consult and co-operate together on all matters of common interest. And our parties too are brother organizations. For the truth is that our separateness is not, and cannot be, complete. We are part of our movement, which is greater than any of us. We are part of an African movement. We are part of the movement for the real freedom, the unity, and the progress of the people of Africa.

It is in that spirit I bring greetings to the Uganda People’s Congress Party from TANU and the Afro-Shirazi Party. We watch your progress with great interest; we rejoice in your successes and sympathize with your difficulties. For our relationship, and our friendship is not a new thing. Indeed, it goes back to the beginning of UPC – and before! Our parties were both members of PAFMECA. Our struggles for independence were the struggles of friends and allies forced into separate organizations by the needs of the colonial situation in which we found ourselves. Our current struggle to maintain the political independence we have won, and to attain the economic independence and prosperity which we need, is also part of a common African struggle.

The tactics adopted by our different countries are different now as they were different before we each achieved our first goal. We each take account of our own circumstances. But I do not believe there is any difference in the objectives of our Parties. We are all aiming to build societies in which the people control their own destiny and work for their own benefit as they see it. We are all concerned to exclude external interference in our affairs and securing national control of our economies. Each of our Parties has adopted the basic principle of human equality, and all of us know that equality and dignity is a matter of economics as well as of law and politics.

We all know these things. And yet we have sometimes acted as if the work of the Party is finished once we have a nationalist government – once we have independence. Nothing could be further from the truth. Whether we have a one-party system or a multi-party system, the objectives of our nationalist movements can only be fulfilled on one condition. Our people’s government must be backed up by strong political parties, deeply rooted in the people and capable of providing a living link between the people and the governments which the people have elected to serve them.

… Mr. President ladies and gentlemen: government is a complicated business in a modern world. There may have been a time where the job of a government was simply to ensure that all citizens live in peace together, and were jointly capable of withstanding an invasion by outside armies. But nowadays that is only the beginning of a government‘s work and a government’s problems. An African government in the year 1968, which wishes to act in accordance with the aspirations of its people, must take an active part in the economy of the country; it must organize institutions of trade, commerce, manufacturing. A modern government has to help the people to modernize their agriculture; it has to help them to get clean water supplies. It has to organize and provide education and health services – and so on.

In the midst of all these responsibilities, governments can lose their way – they can forget what is the purpose of all their activities! Seeking the most efficient agricultural system, it is very easy to forget that the purpose of that efficiency is the service of the people. seeking for development they can forget that the people may have some things they are not willing to sacrifice for material benefit. And even if neither the elected government nor its civil service, ever forget that the purpose of its activity is the people. They can still get so immersed in the problems of giving good service that they lose touch with the people. And if that happens, the people can misunderstand what is being done and can sabotage their own purposes by a failure to understand what co-operation is needed from them, and why they should give it.

Let me give a very simple example of what I mean. Our people want a higher standard of living for themselves and their children. They expect their government to work for this but in an agricultural country, a higher standard of living means there must be increased agricultural output- which requires harder work and more modern methods. Suppose then the government taxes the people so as to be able to provide trained agricultural extension workers, and to subsidize fertilizers. The people will be better off as a result- if they use their services! But if people fail to learn from the experts, and do not use the fertilizers, then they will be worse off than ever before. They will be worse off because they pay more taxes and do not benefit from the services those taxes are providing. In effect, the government will be trying to serve the people, but the people will be sabotaging their own development.

The job of a strong party is to act as a bridge linking the people to the government they have elected, and the government to the people it wishes to serve. The party has to help the people to understand what the government is doing and why; it has to help the people to co-operate with their government, in a combined effort to overcome the poverty which still holds us in close touch with the feelings, the difficulties and the aspirations of the people. It has to speak for the people. And it has to educate the people and help them to see what the government‘s actions mean in terms of their own future security and their own future opportunities.

Mr. President, the job of our political parties is much more difficult now than it was when we were struggling for independence. Then we called mass meetings: we shouted ‘Uhuru’; we abused the colonialists – who I may add, richly deserved it! But now we are building nations. If we have mass meetings we cannot abuse the government – for we are the government, and the people are the government. Our job now is to educate, to learn, and to build. We have to lead the people in the constructive work of development, we have to listen to them, co-operate with them, and work with them. And we have to speak to them to our instrument – the Government.

For the truth is that it is not the Party that is an instrument of the Government. It is the Government that is an instrument through which the Party tries to implement the wishes of the people and serve their interests. And the party has therefore to determine the basic principles on which the Government should act; it has to determine the policies its government will follow. Of course, the Party cannot replace the Government, it cannot do the detailed legislative and executive work which governments have to do. But only a Party which is rooted in the hearts of the people, which has its devoted workers in the villages and the towns throughout the country – only such a Party can tell the Government what are the people’s purposes and whether these are being carried out effectively. Only the existence of such a Party can ensure that Government and people work together for the people’s purposes.

It is for this reason the Party Conference is the most important event in the country’s political calendar. Parliament is important – Members of Parliament are important. But Members of Parliament are able to represent the people only if they are supported by a strong party consisting of thousands upon thousands of active, intelligent, and selfless men and women. Presidents, Ministers, Members of Parliament, and so on, may get their names written in the newspapers, they may appear on television. But if they are good, they are good largely because they are backed up by a strong Party, which knows and understands the people’s news and the people’s feelings. And if such leaders are abusing their position, or getting out of touch with the people, then it is largely because the Party is failing to speak up for the people and to act as the People’s watchdogs.

Mr. President, it is a little odd to come to your Party Conference and talk about the importance of the Party. Every diligent present today must be here because he knows the Party is important! Yet we Party workers do sometimes suffer from a sense of inferiority. We know that the Government has executive power and the Party does not have it. We know that the President and the Parliament make laws, and the Party Conference does not. And some of us then begin to think that members of these bodies are therefore more important and we begin to lose interest in our Party job. From Tanzanian experience, it would appear that some of us do not make that mistake; but we try to convince others of our importance by throwing our weight around and trying to intimidate people! Yet the truth is that the Party is the foundation of democratic government if it is working properly. And the Party worker is the most important person in our towns and villages if he is doing his job properly – that is if he is working with the people, earning their confidence and their trust as the one of themselves whom they go to in cases of difficulty, or with ideas, or when they do not understand something. If you doubt the truth of these words, look around Africa – indeed, around the world – and see what has happened in those states where parties failed to be or ceased to be active representatives of the spokesmen for the people.