Dar es Salaam. When the spirit of cooperation sunk to its lowest point between Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, leading to the collapse of the East African Community (EAC) in 1977, villains and heroes were made in the drama that ensued. One of the heroes was a daredevil Tanzanian pilot who risked being shot down from the Kenyan skies when he clandestinely took off with an East African Airways plane from Nairobi to Dar es Salaam.
Forty-one years ago, Mr Naziz Peter Mapunda took a bold action for his country, for which he has received a presidential golden handshake of Sh10 million cash and an offer to enjoy free, lifetime Air Tanzania flights to any destination across the country.
The retired pilot was launched into the limelight when President John Magufuli went down memory lane during a function to receive a new Air Tanzania Company Limited (ATCL) aircraft at the Julius Nyerere International Airport (JNIA) yesterday.
According to President Magufuli, Mapunda took off from Nairobi without clearance from the Kenyan aviation authorities after the then-EAC owned East African Airways, which was based in the Kenyan capital, collapsed at the height of tension among the partner states in 1977.
“He pretended to be landing the plane at the (Nairobi) airport, but decided to take off with it without clearance by the authorities, risking his life for his country. That is patriotism, and we must all emulate him,” the President said.
The plane was operated by East African Airways – the now-defunct airline that was jointly run by Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda as one of projects in the 10-year marriage that fell apart due to divergences of policy and practice.
Back then, each member state provided the headquarters for a number of community-wide services. Kenya housed the two of the regional bloc’s major earners—and spenders— the Railways Corporation and East African Airways. Both collapsed.
“The plane that Mapunda flew all the way from Nairobi without being cleared for take-off was one of the first planes Air Tanzania used to start its operations,” President Magufuli said. He also suggested that the national carrier considers doing something for the ‘hero’ pilot.