Human beings are a very complex and intricate species compared to others but we share one thing as living organisms; we have soul and therefore if you are born, be sure to die and return to dust! The first half of 2020 has witnessed the passing away of many of our dear ones! Currently, Benjamin William Mkapa, who had the privilege to serve at the highest office of the land and be responsible for the lives of all Tanzanians for ten years plus, has just joined the ranks and files of our ancestors. May he rest in Peace and Love!
It’s not easy for me to write and express much about BWM because I didn’t have a chance to work or meet him personally. However as an active and vibrant citizen I want to remember him as the Institution, he was like all presidents, a public property, so nothing personal. Then I will look at him as a comrade who shared the vision, mission, principles and values of the founding parents of our nation led by Mwalimu and finally BWM the man.
As we say kwaheri to uncle Ben I feel like we are saying goodbye to a very special era of our history because we have gone full circle; from the ideology of ujamaa and Self-reliance neo-liberalism and back. In simple terms 1961- 1985 we were building our own identity; we were aspiring to be a sovereign state politically, economically and socially. 1985-2015 we tried to be part of the global community programmed to believe that free market is the way to economic recovery. From 2015 we are determined to recapture our identity and the Tanzania we want in the 21st century, because at 59 we know better.
We have learnt many things from globalisation, where the world is supposed to be one village with the free movement of goods and capital but not people, where neo-liberalism is the new global ideology giving new freedom for the expansion of corporate power globally. At first we all celebrated and joined the international community in this new ideology. Hey, why suffer producing and sell expensive to nobody when you can get it ready made and cheap? Consume what you don’t produce!
We were comfortable with privatization because it meant job creation and more production; the new companies got protection as well as their own security forces. In the corporate world our government was criticised for spending a lot on social services so it had to introduce user fees and retrench many workers. Producers especially farmers suffered with no subsidies to buy seeds, fertiliser and pesticides and in education boys were preferred when one had to choose who to send to school. Life was hard.
The wakeup call came from civil society organisations all over the world in defense of the people and our governments which were bullied into embracing impoverishing policies and creating conflict of interest between serving the trans-national companies or the people. When BWM came to power the CSO movement against corporate globalisation had grown worldwide and was hostile to governments which believed in the IMF/WB chicanery. So in Tanzania, the institution of presidency whose face was BWM was presented with a challenge and we knew he had to walk on a tight rope.
At that time I was the chairperson of Tanzania NGOs so I can speak with confidence that we had nothing personal with President Mkapa and the government. We were part of the “Water Warriors” movement fighting against the privatisation of utilities like water and electricity and IMF/WB 60 years is enough movement which was calling for the dismantling of the Bretton Woods institutions and the conditions they imposed on Structural Adjustment Programmes SAPs.
On international platforms we defended our governments and locally we exposed and created awareness on the negative impacts of globalisation. We needed to unpack, understand and analyse the added value to the economic gospel of experts like Hernado de Soto Polar whom BWM admired. Many of us never got the chance to have a dialogue with President Mkapa
Between 2003-2004, the Finnish President Tarja Halonen and BWM co-chaired The ILO World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalisation. This was a quest for a level playing field in the relationship between the North and South answering the call of the people. It was a legitimate space for the voices of the less industrialised nations to get fair hearing. BWM represented the South and after retiring as President he exposed the human errors of corporate globalization which had to be dismantled.
As a senior citizen and statesman, BWM was becoming a comrade who had a God-given chance to climb down from the tower down to earth. He was humbled by the resilience of Africans and especially fellow Tanzanians! He spoke with courage on behalf of many leaders and supported the revolutionary economic transformation which is being carried out by President Magufuli and his government. Therefore, as a human being who happened to be on the hot seat, at a particular time, surrounded by all sorts of advisers, systems, protocols and many limitations due to the demands of collective and democratic leadership, he did his best.
For me, he demonstrated his humility to all people and especially at his home village at Lupaso, by admitting his humble beginnings and preparing himself to end his journey back to his humble roots and rest forever! My salute for your valiant service, BWM!
Marie Shaba is an independent cultural heritage and socioeconomic analyst