Dar es Salaam. Former President Benjamin Mkapa has opened up about his 10-year leadership at the helm, pouring out his heart on some of the issues that defined his legacy and also those that blotted his tenure in office.
The retired president gave his candid assessment of his stewardship of the country in a 320-page autobiography unveiled yesterday in Dar es Salaam at a well-attended function.
It is the first of such writings by a former Head of State and opens up the sanctums of political power in a manner not seen before. In his book that took four years to compile, the former president talks about his lows and highs, and fears too as Tanzania’s chief executive.
His recollection sheds more light into infamous scandals in the country at the time such as the Sh133bn External Payment Arrears (EPA) account rip-off, the over Sh120bn radar purchase deal, the bangled up privatization of state parastatals and the sale of government houses, among others.
Mr Mkapa also relived the torment he went through following the callous shooting to death of dozens of Zanzibar post-election protestors in 2001, which he described as his darkest moment as president. He also said he was “hurt” when he faced criticism as an individual and not his policies.
President John Magufuli and two of his other predecessors Ali Hassan Mwinyi and Jakaya Kikwete were in attendance during the launch of the book and sat through the revelations, including controversies touching on their respective roles as ministers in Mkapa’s cabinet.
The book by Mkuki na Nyota Publishers will retail at Sh60,000 for the hardbound edition before an online edition is made available from November 15, 2019 on Amazon at a cost of $40 (Sh92,000).
Proceeds from the sale will fund Uongozi Institute which is a governance and leadership think-tank founded by President Kikwete and is funded jointly by the governments of Tanzania and Finland.
The former president’s recollection also mirrored on some of the challenges the government and the ruling party, CCM, as well as the opposition were currently facing. He also shared his view on the president term limit.
Mr Mkapa describes the relations between Tanzania Mainland and Zanzibar “somewhat sensitive,” calling the police killing of 22 people in Pemba in 2001 “a black spot on my presidency.” Some accounts say up to 40 people were shot dead as they protested alleged rigging of elections.
He says the “deaths were tragic” and, though absent when they happened as he was attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, “I accept full responsibility for what happened.”
On EPA scandal, Mkapa revealed that the funds were used for the 2005 campaigns. He said fraudsters exploited his loyalty to CCM to persuade him to agree on to debt purchase.
He said then BoT Governor Daudi Ballali assured him all was clear, and that those who wanted to buy the debts at a discount were prepared to give some money for CCM election campaigns. But Mr Mkapa writes that he was shocked to learn later about the forgery, concluding: “I have to say that I feel I was used.”
On Kiwira, he says he “felt very bad” when corruption allegations were directed at him over the sale of Kiwira coal mine in Mbeya region. He says the allegation so levelled on his family and relatives were “absolute nonsense” as everything was done overboard.
“The government took the property back in 2008 due to political pressure, it was returned to the State Mining Corporation (Stamico) and nothing has since happened,” he writes. “It annoys me that in this country which suffers from insufficient electricity supply, the mine remains idle.”
He also defended his brother-in-law involvement in Net Group Solutions, the South African management firm that was contracted to run Tanesco. He said the firm was hired purely on merit and as President, he had no knowledge of his brother in law’s involvement and what he was paid for his work with the company.
Mr Mkapa shares his fears of retirement which made him to borrow some money from NBC bank.
He says: “Despite knowing that I would receive a retirement benefit as a former president, I was concerned that a new government might change the terms of retirement.”
On the radar scandal, Mr Mkapa writes that he did not know that a Tanzanian holding a British passport Shailesh Vithlani, who worked as a marketing advisor to BAE reportedly received a 30 per cent commission from the $40 million sale. “Though I cannot swear that the ‘big man’ in the ministry of communications, ministry of defence or the attorney general did not get something, I don’t know; frankly I just don’t want to know.”
On presidential term limits, Mkapa says he had “no desire whatsoever to ask parliament to allow me to increase the term of office.” He was tired, he says, adding: “I had done enough for my nation and the media had started getting to me.”
Mr Mkapa thinks that a limitation on the number of terms a president may consecutively serve is good, adding that two terms “are an absolute necessity to bring about change, then it is time for someone else to take over.”
Defending his decision to make these issues clear in his memoir, Mr Mkapa said during the launching ceremony that was graced by President John Magufuli that he was driven by the belief that a true leader is being shaped by both positive and negative events in his/her personal life as well as life as a public leader.
“In retrospective, some of the decisions and steps I took as a leader, based on the information which was on my disposition [at that time], can completely looked at differently from today’s perspective,” said Mr Mkapa.