Julius Kambarage Nyerere

Julius Kambarage Nyerere remains one of the University of Edinburgh’s most renowned and remarkable alumni.

Nyerere was among the first East Africans to study in the United Kingdom. After his time spent as a student in Edinburgh, he went on to lead an influential life, especially as the President of the Republic of Tanzania. His story remains significant and worthy of exploring in more detail as the University celebrates the centenary of his birth.

Nyerere plaque
Julius Kambarage Nyerere

The earliest days

Julius Nyerere was born in 1922 in the Mara region of northwest Tanganyika, which would go on to form part of Tanzania. His first formal studies were at the Native Administration School in Musoma, where he quickly proved his academic prowess, skipping a grade and earning a scholarship to the prestigious Tabora Government School.

While studying at Tabora, Nyerere was encouraged to continue his education abroad in the United Kingdom. In 1949, he was part of the first wave of East Africans to reach the UK, after receiving funding from the Colonial Development and Welfare Scheme.

Nyerere and Edinburgh

It was initially anticipated that Nyerere would study biology at a university in England; however, a well-timed meeting with a Welfare Officer from the University of Edinburgh motivated Nyerere to change course. Instead of studying the sciences, Nyerere argued to study in Edinburgh for an undergraduate arts degree. This was a rather controversial position given the racial biases of the time, where many considered Africans more suited to practical subjects rather than the arts. Nyerere, like many others, would go on to prove the fallacy of these assumptions.

In Edinburgh, Nyerere resided at what was then called Colonial House, which also served as a meeting place for the Afro-Scottish Society and the Edinburgh African Association. He soon proved to be a skilled student, taking courses in British History, Moral Philosophy and Social Anthropology, and at the same time engaged in politics. Nyerere wrote for ‘The Student’ magazine and participated in protest meetings, one of the most public being in 1952 when, alongside the future President of Malawi, Hastings Banda, he spoke against the Central African Federation at the Church of Scotland Assembly Hall. This meeting resulted in the formation of the Council on African Questions, which ran as an attempt to combat the racist attitudes of colonialism. 

Nyerere at 100: Life and Legacy

Although Nyerere graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1952, he continued to associate with the University for the rest of his life and created a lasting legacy.

Julius Kambarage Nyerere
Julius Kambarage Nyerere

In 1962, the same year in which Tanzania gained its independence from colonial rule, Nyerere was acknowledged with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University. He returned to Edinburgh a number of times, including in the late 1990s when he delivered teaching at the Centre of African Studies.

During his time in office, Nyerere arranged generous grants for Tanzanian students to follow in his footsteps and study abroad. At the University of Edinburgh, the Nyerere Postgraduate Scholarship continues to provide funding to Tanzanian learners. This year, the University will welcome three excellent scholars from Tanzania via this scholarship programme.

To commemorate the life of Julius Nyerere, the University will be celebrating the centenary of his birth with a wide-ranging event, featuring esteemed visitors and Nyerere scholars who will draw insight from various aspects of his legacy. The University will welcome visitors from Tanzania including the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Dar es Salaam and Edinburgh Graduate, Professor William-Andey Lazaro Anangisye and Professor Ng’wanza Kamata, Nyerere Biographer and Senior Lecturer at University of Dar es Salaam.

Her Excellency Dr Asha-Rose Migiro, High Commissioner of the United Republic of Tanzania to the United Kingdom is also expected to attend the celebrations to address the attendees.

A range of experts from Dar es Salaam and the University of Edinburgh, including Dr Tom Molony, will reflect on aspects of Nyerere’s life, leadership and legacy. The University’s Special Collections will showcase exhibits of Nyerere’s life in Edinburgh, and Swahili poetry will be performed at the evening reception.



1922 Born in the Mara region of Tanganyika, which would go on to form part of Tanzania.
1949-1952 Studied at the University of Edinburgh, graduating with an Ordinary Degree of Master of Arts that included courses in English, History, Law, Political Economy, Philosophy and Social Anthropology.
1961 Tanganyika becomes independent with Nyerere as its first prime minister
1962 University of Edinburgh awards Nyerere an Honorary degree.
1964 Elected President of the United Republic of Tanzania (Tanganyika and Zanzibar) and was returned to serve three more successive five-year terms.
1985 Resigns as President of Tanzania.
1987 Returns to the University of Edinburgh to attend a conference on ‘The Making of Constitutions and the Development of National Identity’, where he gives the opening address on post-independence Africa
1997 Returns to Edinburgh to deliver the Lothian European Lecture and teach at the Centre of African Studies.
1999 Nyerere dies on 14 October. Two months later the University holds an event celebrating his life.
2009 Creation of the Julius Nyerere Scholarships and unveiling of the commemorative plaque at 21 George Square.



Related links

Centre of African Studies

School of History, Classics and Archaeology


Nyerere Postgraduate Scholarship

Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program