Kutoa ni moyo, siyo utajiri. Generosity of heart was a consistent theme in eulogies at the late Dr Reginald Mengi’s last respects in Dar es Salaam on Tuesday with many testimonies with regard to his generous giving / philanthropic activity.
However, one of his greatest and most enduring gifts will be the inspiration and passing on of knowledge to others.
“When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground” is one of the most familiar African proverbs - at the same time symbolic of the value placed on the wisdom of experience, and also a reflection of the risk of loss of knowledge in the context of an oral tradition that at least traditionally eschewed keeping history into a formal written format.
But as with many other things Dr Mengi bucked this tradition with his compelling autobiography, I Can, I Must, I Will - The Spirit of Success (iCiMiW), and what an inspiration this book is both in terms of life lessons for individuals and policy choices for the country. Deep observations but always with great quotes interspersed and humour to boot.
Courage and vision, and a drive to always do something different and push the boundaries are consistent themes throughout the book - with real practical examples of the power of entrepreneurship allied to a strong sense of purpose.
“Entrepreneurs are simply those who understand that there is little difference between obstacle and opportunity and are able to turn both to their advantage”: Nicole Machiavelli, the Prince.
On a number of occasions when we met he would recount to me initiatives he took in the late seventies as Coopers and Lybrand Senior Partner - in particular the establishment of a consulting practice to advise the emerging parastatals - so as to ensure the survival of the practice against a background of a decimated private sector market following the move to a state controlled economy. This aspect is covered in depth in iCiMiW.
“Sometimes we must get hurt, in order to grow...we must fall, in order to know … sometimes our vision becomes clear only after our eyes are washed away with tears” is a Megz quote from an unknown author cited in iCiMiW as a particular favourite.
A pervasive theme throughout the book is the impact of the loss of his son Rodney in 2005 on his outlook to life including his attitude towards material possessions.
At a personal level I derived much comfort when with his usual generosity of spirit he reached out a few years ago when I lost my daughter and shared with me his experience and counsel based on his own experience.
“Over-complicated regulation can indeed be the disease of which it purports to be the cure…[and] the gamekeeper [could] turn poacher”: Professor Niall Ferguson. For the country, there are many interesting insights and reflections on policy issues ranging from regulation (“who regulates the regulators?”), regional integration (encouraging a move “away from dominant zero-sum mindsets and mistrusts, especially about Kenya”), agriculture (citing “the advantage of opening up to commercial agriculture”) and education (arguing for the need for debate so as to “forge a national consensus on solutions” for problems facing the education sector).
“If you can imagine it, you can achieve it; if you can dream it, you can become it”: William Arthur Ward; “to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield” Ulysses by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Watching Liverpool’s unlikely victory over Barcelona on Tuesday night, I found myself wondering what underpinned such self belief and drive.
It would be fanciful to suggest that Jurgen Klopp got the Liverpool players to read iMiCiW over the weekend - but this type of unwavering spirit and never say die attitude sums up the late Dr Mengi.
“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived, it is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead”: Nelson Mandela. Fare thee well Reg, RIP.
David Tarimo is Country Senior Partner - PwC Tanzania. Other than the library proverb, the quotes cited are ones referenced in Dr Mengi’s book I Can, I Must, I Will - The Spirit of Success