Building a Peaceful Nation
Julius Nyerere and the Establishment of Sovereignty in Tanzania, 1960-1964
Rochester University Press 2015
Let’s begin with what Paul Bjerk’s new book isn’t: “a biography or evaluation of Julius Nyerere.” Instead, according to a letter that Bjerk sent me in advance of our interview, Building a Peaceful Nation: Julius Nyerere and the Establishment of Sovereignty in Tanzania, 1960-1964 (University of Rochester Press, 2015), “focuses on sovereignty and discursive agency as main interpretive lenses” of the peaceful course pursued by Nyerere and his colleagues before and after Tanzanian independence.
Although Nyerere’s biography is not the focus of this book (during the interview Bjerk nonetheless tantalizingly alludes to a biographical project currently in the works), Nyerere’s formative exposure to British Utilitarianism, and the thought of John Stuart Mill in particular, is unquestionably fundamental to his vision of postcolonial statehood, including his unwavering belief in the one-party state.
The central contention of Building a Peaceful Nation is that meaning-making is at the core of political activity, and that without understanding how meanings are produced through discourse, Tanzania’s continental exceptionalism is difficult, if not impossible, to understand. The book, and the interview, explore in depth the development (and pitfalls) of a discursive strategy designed to work at both the grassroots and cosmopolitan levels, produce a sustainable democratic system, and “minimize conflict during the transition to independence”, all within a highly complex geopolitical context.