A tribute to former President Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania

Monday August 10 2020

 

By Daudi Migereko

The passing away of President Benjamin Mkapa is a big loss not only to his family and Tanzania but to the whole of East Africa and Africa at large. Mkapa was born on Nov 12, 1938 and died on July 23, 2020 after 81 years of great service to the human race of his time.

He was a Tanzanian politician who served his country at the highest office as the third President between 1995 and 2005. He also served in different other key positions capacities such as chairman of CCM, minister for Science, Technology and Higher Education, minister for Information and Broadcasting and minister for Foreign Affairs among others. He has served Tanzania,his country Africa and humanity with total commitment, dedication and distinction.

In his memoir: “My Life, My Purpose: A Tanzanian President Remembers”, which we must all read, he shares his experiences and states that he was mentored and worked very closely with Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, the founding President of Tanzania.

Just like his mentor, President Mkapa became the leading embodiment of Tanzanian nationalism, patriotism and Pan-Africanism.

Tanzania, under President Nyerere, became the headquarters of all the liberation movements that were fighting against colonialism and apartheid in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Angola and Namibia. This was at a huge cost to Tanzania. It was the duty of Benjamin Mkapa as minister of Foreign Affairs, then, to justify Tanzania’s support for liberation movements, before the international community and seek support for their struggle and that of Tanzania. Thanks for the support of Tanzania, under President Nyerere, with the assistance of Benjamin Mkapa as Foreign Affairs minister, and those working under Zambia’s Kenneth Kaunda, colonialism and apartheid were defeated and all those countries became independent. Tanzania helped liberate many other countries.

Similarly, in the 1970s when Uganda was faced with serious problems of dictatorship under Idi Amin Dada, President Nyerere assigned Minister Mkapa the responsibility of organizing Ugandan liberation forces to find a solution to the problem.

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This was successfully accomplished in 1979 through diplomacy and war done following a three-pronged front approach coordinated by Mkapa; diplomatic engagements with concerned forces at the Moshi Conference and the battle front. In that regard, Tanzania under President Nyerere and Mkapa became a major factor in the new and future Ugandan political, economic and social developments.

Indeed, after the fall of Idi Amin, President Nyerere through Mkapa, at a meeting with Ugandan Transport Minister Prof Kyesimira, directed that Uganda be facilitated to use the port of Tanga for some of its export and import items.

Fortunately, both Presidents John Magufuli and Yoweri Museveni are now pursuing the implementation of the Tanga port project to serve not only Uganda and Tanzania but the entire Great Lakes region. This will further enhance the integration agenda and economy of the bloc.

Matters of ideology and integration

As President of Tanzania, Mkapa had a special attachment to shared vision with President Museveni and other Ugandan leaders, who were also mentored by Nyerere. This was the leadership of the National Resistance Movement, particularly in regard to matters of ideology and integration of the East African Community (EAC) plus the Great Lakes region.

As such, in November 1999 due to the glaring economic and political imperatives for integration led to the signing of an agreement to revive the EAC by the three Heads of State: Daniel arap Moi of Kenya, Mkapa and Museveni. Full integration will be the most important accomplishment of the region. It is the major assignment which our generation in East Africa, in our times needs to deliver for the betterment of our people.

In 2015, President Museveni as EAC chairman working with his counterparts made a decision taken to recall President Mkapa out of retirement to lend support to the difficult Burundi Dialogue aimed at establishing peace, security and tranquillity, following the failed coup against President Pierre Nkurunziza. This dialogue process gave me and Dr Kiyonga the opportunity to interact closely with both President Mkapa and Minister Mahiga.

We learnt something about the importance of Africans finding solutions to their own problems and learnt a lot from their love for dialogue and peace. Unfortunately, they are both dead. We pray that the new leadership in Burundi with support from EAC leaders whould be able to build upon and successfully conclude Mkapa’s work for peace.

He had a warm personality. He would instantly make one feel at home, highly engaging, particularly on details and time keeping. His office would strictly follow up on all assignments given and provide feedback to all concerned. He was a highly captivating and eloquent public speaker.

Although President Mkapa, had graduated from Makerere University and left Kampala in the early 1960s, when he visited and toured the city, at the end of his presidency; he had an amazing insightful knowledge of it, its neighbourhoods and surrounding districts plus the developments that had taken place over the years. The city remained special to him.

It is our duty and responsibility to take interest in the character, programmes and vision of leaders like Mkapa, to emulate them, be able to serve with a purpose and with a clear transformative agenda so that we are able to make our countries better.

Our thoughts and prayers go to the family, people of Tanzania and EAC. May his soul rest in eternal peace.

The struggle continues.

Daudi Migereko is chairman, Uganda Tourism Board and ex-minister of Uganda government