Behind every great man is a great woman

Sunday March 8 2020

The second president of the United Republic of

The second president of the United Republic of Tanzania, Ali Hassan Mwinyi with former first lady, Sitti Mwinyi. photo|FILE. 

By Abdullah Mwinyi

I have always been interested and committed to public service.

Maybe I got this from my parents who have been – throughout my life – committed to service to others. My father as a teacher, civil servant and politician. My mother even more so. The core of her being is giving. Giving her time, giving her resources and everything she owns to those less fortunate than herself. Her first priority is those that live around her, closest friends and relatives. And her closest friends and relatives have invariably been those who are less fortunate than her in life.

I have grown-up not knowing any different, the duty to others and society was nurtured very naturally in our family.

“Behind every great man, there is an even greater woman.”

This quote is oft repeated and I have been guilty of using it several times myself without thinking too much as to its significance or even its accuracy. It was usually a nice way of honoring the significant other of a dignitary. A polite way of mentioning the wife (more often than not it’s the wife) before proceeding with the order of the day.

As a child born in a family committed to public service I understood more than most the role played by the wife of a public figure.


Managing extended family matters

From very early in their marriage, our mother took responsibility for not only looking after her children, but also dealing with and managing all the extended family matters on both sides of the family, her side and her husband’s side, including all friends, associates and neighbors.

In the African context, this could be dealing with thousands, and the more prominent a family becomes in society the higher the number.

Throughout our life, this task lay with our mother. She dealt with this heavy responsibility with grace. Those who understand our way of life will know what an arduous task it can be. She took it upon herself to assist in any way she could. Making sure that everyone who needed assistance was assisted.

This meant sending basic foods, attending to those that needed medical care, ensuring that kids of extended families attended school and were not lacking of the basics. At any given time, we had a revolving door of extended family and friends at home. We learnt the lesson of sharing and giving very early in our life.

It wasn’t always easy, we often yearned for a time where we could just spend quality time with our core family, but that has never happened throughout our lives.

This huge burden of leadership and in many families – can make or break a family – was never dealt with by our father. Our mother dealt with this and more often than not using her own personal resources. Whatever she has, she rarely thinks of herself, her thoughts are always with those less fortunate.

I truly believe that without her contribution, our father’s career would never have reached its zenith.

My true inspiration

In life there are instances that families go through, phases where there is plenty and phases where they struggle. We as a family went through such a phase in early 1981. Looking back, it must have been quite challenging.

Our father was re-called as Ambassador of Egypt – upon the insistence of the President of Zanzibar – amidst rumours that he would be appointed to be Zanzibar’s Chief Minister under Aboud Jumbe’s government in Zanzibar.

This did not materialise, thus for a period of approximately 2 years our father was out of work. Soon the Ambassadorial savings would run out. At the time, there were limited opportunities in trading or any meaningful employment outside of government.

Fortunately, we had a home in Tandika, in Temeke District, where we moved to. We set-up home and our mother decided to make ice lollies (we had freezers from Egypt) and cook maandazis for sale and upkeep. Our mother through this venture was the bread winner throughout this time.

My personal memories of this period were very happy, and did not feel the sudden change in our life. I was enrolled, at Forodhani Primary School, and had to take public transport for the very first time. It was all a big adventure. With hindsight, it was all about how mother dealt with the situation and instilled in us her children a self-confidence to deal positively with whatever situation life throws at you.

I frequently get asked who has been my true inspiration and there is always an assumption that it must be someone in the public sphere.

The truth is my greatest inspiration has been someone very private, who is more God fearing, wiser, stronger, more generous and more disciplined than anyone I have ever known. My mother, Sitti Abdallah Ali.

*Abdullah Mwinyi is a Corporate Lawyer and Advocate of the High Court. He has spent 10 years at the East African Legislative Assembly and many years working in multi nationals in the Oil and Gas Sector. His current interests lie in Governance, Rule of Law and Democratisation.