Dar es Salaam. Former President Jakaya Kikwete took time to narrate the 1998 bombings of the US embassy in Tanzania, describing the role he played in an effort to quell tension at the site.
Speaking during a dinner gala to celebrate the US Thanksgiving tradition held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Tanzania (AmCham-TZ), Mr Kikwete said he was the first Tanzania government official to arrive at the scene after the incident.
The ex-President said he was travelling with former President Benjamin Mkapa on that day. He went home from the office - just to be informed of the incident that was described as ‘barbaric.’
“When I was at home, I heard a loud bang. My house is somewhere in Mikocheni, a kilometre or two from the embassy. Then, I got a phone call informing me about the bombing,” he told participants of the event.
Mr Kikwete - who, during that time, was serving as the minister of Foreign and East African Cooperation - said he accompanied Mr Mkapa to a meeting at the Victoria Falls...
“At night, I got a call from the (American) White House. It said “Talk to President Clinton”.
Mr Clinton said he was trying to reach President Mkapa, but “it hasn’t been possible - so, I want you to transmit the following message. Our people from the US intelligence community are on their way - the FBI, CIA and everybody else,” he said.
“I have two requests; everything metallic at the scene shouldn’t be touched, instead it should be handed to our analysts.”
According to him, he decided not to bother the president, and instead he passed the message to the-then Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mr Mahita (Omar).
He said after the meeting at the Victoria Falls, a team of Foreign ministers, defence forces and intelligence officers were dispatched to DRC and visit Kinshasa and Goma.
The meeting, as well as the visit, aimed to resolve the dispute after President Kabila (Laurent) accused Kigali (Rwanda) and Entebbe (Uganda) of the attack, accusations that were strongly denied by the two East African countries, according to him.
“I travelled overnight from Kinshasa to Nairobi, and then Dar es Salaam to meet the waiting US Secretary of State, Ms Madeleine Albright,” he said.
According to him, when serving as the president (of Tanzania: 2005-15), another Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and other senior US government officials visited the country.
Mr Kikwete - who was speaking on cooperation between two the countries during his time as Foreign minister and, later, as Tanzania President - said more US leaders visited Tanzania than at any other time in the country’s history.
He said US ex-presidents Bill Clinton (1993-2001); George W. Bush (2001-09) and Barack Obama (2009-17)separately visited the country in 2000, 2008 and 2013 respectfully.
“One interesting thing that happened when President Obama was visiting is that President G. W. (Bush) was also in town. President Obama was the first to come. They went together to the former US Embassy to pay tribute after the bombing,” he said.
Mr Kikwete said the two former heads of state were accompanied by their spouses ,Michelle Obama and Laura Bush who collectively organised a joint event at Serena Hotel that was attended by several African countries’ first ladies.
“But, we came to learn that President Clinton was also planning to visit.
“I was in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), but I had to intervene and asked if President Clinton’s schedule could be delayed,” he said, revealing that it would be difficult to accommodate the three.
He added, “After President Obama and Bush left on the same day, President Clinton arrived after a week.”
Furthermore, Mr Kikwete said serving as the Foreign Affairs minister, he received two sitting US secretaries of state, Warren Christopher, who visited the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha, and Ms Madeline Albright, who arrived in Dar es Salaam in the midst of the Congo troubles.
Mr Kikwete said during his presidency that he received the visiting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and many other senior US government officials.
President Kikwete said that, after President Julius Nyerere visited the White House in 1961, he was the second to visit the US twice.
“The first time with President Bush and the second with President Obama.
“That’s why I say, we had an excellent relationship,” with the Uniter States, he said.
According to him, the US and Tanzania have been collaborating on a number of regional and continental bilateral cooperation.