Mkapa: Our future lies in the hands of youth

Tuesday February 25 2020

Retired President Benjamin Mkapa

Like in other countries, the youth in Tanzania make up the bigger piece of the population cake. This indicates the crucial role young people play today in the country.

Power lies in numbers and with the number advantage on their side, youngsters could do so much in their communities. Youth participation at hand has been under public scrutiny for some time now as the role young people play in their communities is questioned every day.

However, Retired President Benjamin Mkapa offers his snippets of wisdom to the youth as far as leadership and grabbing of opportunities is concerned.

He was addressing Aga Khan University (AKU) graduates as he graced the institution’s 15th graduation ceremony held in Dar es Salaam recently.

“There are qualities you can demonstrate, actions you can take, and attitudes you can adopt that I strongly believe will maximise your success as leaders in the years to come,” Mkapa said.

Lessons from Julius Nyerere


Giving his recommendations born out of his own long experience, Mr Mkapa says among the most important lessons he learnt from the country’s first president, Mwalimu Nyerere, was importance of consulting widely and listening carefully before making decisions.

The country’s former leader said that when Mwalimu Nyerere faced a major issue, he sought a wide range of perspectives. He (Nyerere) knew he did not have a monopoly on wisdom or virtue.

However humble the person, whatever their faults or motives, Mwalimu Nyerere would always listen carefully to them, seeking the kernel of truth or insights they had to share.

“I have always tried to follow his example in this regard, and my decision-making has undoubtedly been the better for it,” Mr Mkapa said.

“We must put behind the monarchical style of leadership. Its time has passed. Our country is diverse and pluralistic, and our world is even more so. It is only proper that we lead in a consultative manner,” he added.

He says once one has listened carefully to the views of both the expert and the common person, the powerful and especially the powerless, then one must be decisive and resolute.

“One must articulate a course of action and communicate its rationale clearly, both to those who will execute it and those who will be affected by it,” said Mr Mkapa.

He said after all that, comes the hardest part: following through and obtaining results.

He says it is essential to be tenacious, to hold yourself and others accountable for achieving the desired outcome.

“Too often in my life, I have seen visions propounded, but little done to ensure their enactment. A leader must not be afraid to do the heavy lifting alongside his colleagues, or to do himself what he has asked or advocated others to do,” he said.

Mr Mkapa narrates that early in his career, he was a strong proponent of national service. Yet some criticised him, saying he was asking others to do what he had not done himself.

So he went ahead and volunteered for the national service, leaving his job for several months to work alongside his fellow Tanzanians.

“I have always treasured that experience. To see illiterate farmers and university graduates working together was an inspiring reminder of the essential unity of our nation. My service silenced the sceptics. It showed I was ready to act upon my convictions,” Mr Mkapa explained.

He says yet one must not allow conviction to become stubbornness, the world is constantly changing, and when the facts change, “we must reconsider our views.”

He said that it was Mwalimu Nyerere himself who advocated most strongly for transition from a single-party state to a multi-party system.

According to him, Mwalimu Nyerere had followed closely the agitation for change that was occurring in other countries, and could sense the early tremors of dissatisfaction in “our own.”

Mr Mkapa quoted Mwalimu Nyerere’s statement as: ‘We must change ourselves or we will be changed...We will be swept along by waves.’ “As resolute as he was, he remained ready to continue learning, growing and changing with the times,” Mr Mkapa said.

He further noted that one thing that he believes has defined his career both within government and outside, it is concern for the common person.

“As I look back on my career, I can see many turning points. Today I want to single out just one, as an encouragement: the moment when Mwalimu called me to his home early in my career, I remember being in awe of him, wondering what business he could possibly have with me.”

“To my great surprise, he asked me to become editor of the party newspaper. I knew next to nothing about running a newspaper. But I realised it was a challenge I could not refuse. I said yes. In many ways that decision shaped the rest of my life,” he said.

Mr Mkapa said that the future of the country depends on the youth and that they have an awesome responsibility. He said the country depends on the youth’s ability to prevent needless suffering and bring happiness as well as productivity in the society.

Youth’s response to Mkapa’s leadership wisdom

Dr Gadiel Mfumbuzi, 36, an advocate based in Dar es Salaam, who also attended the graduation ceremony, appreciated former president’s ‘great’ wisdom for the youth.

“Our point of departure from mzee’s wisdom should then be to discover our mission in our lifetime and to define our role in our respective communities. Our first and most important role is education. Education is our only option to liberate the people out of poverty and hunger,” said Dr Mfumbuzi.

He urged fellow youth to take education very seriously, warning that young people should not allow themselves to be used as salad dressing in this year’s general election, just for attending political rallies.

“The reality is that we are going to take over this country, and when we do, we are not going to look at how many political rallies you have attended, but what has been your role in the community,” he said.

For her part, Yvonne Lekey, a Masters of education student at the University of Dodoma told Success that it was time the youth got themselves prepared for opportunities.

“Young people, we are never found prepared and we are never present when important decisions are made.

Let us read. Let us think and let us get involved and be prepared,” she said, adding, “the preparations that we are making while in our compasses mean that whenever we come out, we’ll be expected to immediately bring a change to our communities.”

During the ceremony, a graduate, Dr Masawa Klint, confirmed to have been equipped with myriad of lifelong learning skills, critical thinking and analysis, self-reflection, and has become an independent thinker with the ability to appraise a challenge and to formulate solutions.

“With our unique set of experience, and achievements such as these; we are confronted with a local society that has existed in poverty with its associated limitations on the ability to progress and advance,” he said.

He said that recently the rate of growth of some of these indicators like the GDP have been promising.

“However, despite this growth we continue to face enormous challenges and especially as it appertains to health and education. It is becoming increasingly evident that these challenges, coupled with competent leadership, provide fertile ground laden with opportunities to advance the development of our society,” he said.