March 2, 2007 / 12:04 PM / 12 years ago

FACTBOX: Facts on Tanzania's "Father of Nation" Nyerere

(Reuters) - The Roman Catholic Church in Tanzania is championing a move to have the country’s founding father and respected Pan-Africanist statesman Julius Nyerere beatified.

Here are some facts about Nyerere:

* Although Nyerere died of leukemia in October 1999 at the age of 77, he is still revered by many Tanzanians as “Father of the Nation” for securing independence from Britain in 1961 for what was then called Tanganyika.

* Nyerere became Tanganyika’s first president in 1962, two years before presiding over the country’s union with Indian Ocean archipelago Zanzibar to form Tanzania. He ruled Tanzania for 23 years before voluntarily relinquishing power in 1985.

* Nyerere is credited with sparing the east African country the tribal conflicts and bloodshed that plagued the rest of Africa by promoting Kiswahili as a national culture and language.

* A devout Catholic, who attended Mass on an almost daily basis, Nyerere translated part of the Bible into his native Zanaki language and Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” and “The Merchant of Venice” into Kiswahili.

* Nyerere banned other political parties after coming to power and was a proponent of socialist policies blamed by critics for impoverishing the agriculture-based economy. When he gave up power, he confessed he had made economic mistakes, a rare admission on a continent where few politicians admit fault.

* As a major force behind the Pan-African movement and one of the founders of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1963, Nyerere was a key African player in the 1970s when Tanzania became a magnet for anti-colonial activists and radical intellectuals.

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