Remembering Dr Mwele Malecela

Tuesday May 24 2022
By Kasera Nick Oyoo

As Rwanda prepares to welcome delegates to the Kigali Summit on Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases on June 23, it is time for Tanzania to remember the late bubbly and amiable Dr Mwele Malecela (pictured below). She was no ordinary woman.

A scientist par excellence with a love for evidence, Dr Malecela transcended many barriers for women to be mentioned in the same breath and space as other respected Tanzanian women pioneers such as the legendary Bibi Titi Mohammed, Prof Anna Tibaijuka, Dr Asha-Rose Migiro, and now Joyce Msuya, who is Assistant Secretary General for Humanitarian Services at the United Nations.

There was a time Dr Malecela needed Tanzanians to stand by her. It was a sad and difficult time.

The political knives were unsheathed and unleashed against her with startling ferocity. There was no shortage of political attack dogs baying for her blood. Many a time she shared privately her inability to speak freely over fears that her phones were routinely being tapped.

The late Dr Malecela remains one of the few Tanzanians who stood up to authoritarianism that brooked no difference of opinion, and demanded nothing but blind loyalty, even if it was against one’s better judgement.

There are those who think that all and sundry must subscribe to the “Zidumu fikra za mwenyekiti” (May the chairman’s thoughts prevail) mentality unquestioningly. Towards Agenda 2025 and to meet Africa’s Agenda 2064, Tanzania needs to re-make itself, if you will, to be a thinking nation. It will not be found in political exhortations of the kind of which, sadly so, our political party systems have encouraged and thrived on, or endless sloganeering.


Our best bet will be in respecting differences in political opinion, judicial and intellectual independence of thought and findings of robust research. In this, we all know Dr Malecela was relentless. Like Abdullah Mwinyi, the Member of Parliament for Mahonda Constituency in Zanzibar, she knew that one can be Tanzanian, East African and a global citizen of Africa at the same time.

As Kigali brings together nations which are still afflicted by neglected tropical diseases, we must remember her for the role she played in health in Tanzania and beyond. In fact, the government, through its delegation, should make a high-profile presentation in remembrance of Dr Malecela’s efforts to confront the disease challenge not just in Tanzania but on the continent and globally when the grim reaper finally came calling at the prime of her professional contribution.

Her personal zeal for excellence despite the lack of political will required for her high-profile job of course put her on a collision course with the powers that be. One hopes that we have learnt our lesson that this country is much larger than the short-term interests of those wielding power.

Tanzania must ask itself who we want to be in the community of nations of the world. Who do we want to be? Complainers? That is the easiest part. There is no point in celebrating the greatness and achievements of Dr Malecela whenever Tanzanians land plum international appointments and at the same time be inward-looking and sidelining members of the international community who can make a huge difference in Tanzania.

The Rwanda conference will bring together philanthropists, government and international development leaders and will, among other, things hope for high-level commitment to ending malaria and neglected tropical diseases.

Dr Malecela has left behind a legacy of boldness and believing in the bigger picture. It is a legacy we would love our daughters to borrow a leaf from – a leaf of being international even when we are Tanzanian.