The setting was November 2008, at Serena hotel in Dar es Salaam, one of those active continental organizations had convened a meeting of Africa’s minds (leaders and technocrats outside and within the political systems) to discuss Africa’s future in the context of security, economic growth among other things.
One of the main participants was Dr Salim Ahmed Salim(SAS) and as was his way of doing things, he was in time, arriving just before 7.30am.
I wanted to engage him on issues planned for discussion that day, but a Bloomberg journalist in Dar es Salaam then, Sarah McGregor was ahead and quickly grabbed the opportunity to interview him. Just before I got time for the same opportunity, the continental meeting officially started.
SAS, as some casually refer to him, has been all the following over the years: Tanzania’s Ambassador to Egypt, India, China, Permanent Representative to UN, President of the 34th UNGA, Amb of Tanzania to Cuba, Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana, Minister for foreign Affairs, Prime Minister, Minister for Defence, Deputy PM and Secretary General of Organisation of African Unity.
Therefore, going through the recently launched Dr Salim Ahmed Salim digital archive has been a welcome opportunity for scholars and ordinary enthusiasts on national governance and international relations to explore the past works and the mind of a man whose personal and official writings in the archive reveal that he believed that every issue of public concern needs to be openly talked about in the hope that such engagements can illuminate the complexity and multidimensional nature of the subject and find a real solution, either immediately or through a gradual process.
But first, a brief insight into what some leaders who have worked closely with Dr Salim said at the launch of this digital archive in Dar es Salaam on 30th September.
At the event officiated by President Samia Suluhu Hassan, the main panelists were: retired Prime Minister Joseph Warioba(discussed Dr Salim) in how he viewed him as a former Prime Minister for Tanzania),Ambassador Christopher Liundi(explored Dr Salim as a Pan Africanist and politician) and Ambassador Amina Salum Ali(discussed Dr Salim as a patron and advisor).
Retired Prime Minister Joseph Warioba described Dr Salim as a friend, adding that at just 22 years, he became Ambassador to Egypt then. By all standards, he said, this was extra ordinary since 22 is an age that many young people in life are still discovering themselves.
He said that when Dr Salim was appointed Prime Minister of Tanzania in 1985, he re-organized the office of the Prime Minister in terms of service delivery and precise follow-ups of national issues with grit.
That he divided the office of the Prime Minister (PM) into departments with heads who followed up on a daily basis and in turn took on-the- ground reports to him on a daily basis.
In short, Dr Salim used the same sophistication he had gained from his remarkable global engagements to dynamically innovate methods to confront local citizen’s challenges of the time.
“Dr Salim put a new system of coordinating government activities that was unique and brought tangible outcomes. It's that moment the country noticed his performance abilities as Prime Minister, ”said Ex PM Warioba who is also a retired Judge.
He recalled that initially, Dr Salim had been viewed with a bit of prejudice from some sections, that as a PM , he would fall short on grounds that he only understood global matters and not well versed with domestic challenges then.
But with Dr Salim’s top-notch competence at an individual level, he quickly illustrated the contrary.
“It took only 6 months for the public to understand and admit beyond doubt that Dr Salim was a proper efficient Prime Minister of Tanzania,” said Warioba
Ambassador Christopher Liundi had similar recollections, saying that , as PM, Dr Salim performed beyond expectations.
According to him, as a leader, at meetings, Dr Salim had great listening abilities and wrote notes, which meant that . .. ..information captured by his officers was only complementary to him....
“That's leadership” ..he said, Dr Salim was multi lingual. …and used languages such as English, Swahili and Spanish at meetings and engagements seamlessly.”
What’s more, he recalled that whilst Dr Salim was involved in efforts to bring peace in Sudan’s Darfur region, he argued passionately for women groups to be included in the process.
Other descriptions Amb. Liundi made of him were, “Dr Salim is well read, reads all papers, listens to/watched news, reads books and persuasive using his facts to sway opinions of his teams.”
With that, Liundi urges that youths should use the website of the archives and ensure it becomes part of Africa’s heritage.
Ambassador Amina Salum Ali(she was AU Ambassador to the US) described him as a tolerant leader with a conviction that politics of hate cannot build anyone, but rather truth and delivery which follow an individual forever.
“Whilst I was at African Union, I always run to Dr Salim for advice. He was the AU encyclopedia and he did not disappoint. He guided me throughout my assignment at the AU. He is a star that shines all over the world, ” she said
Experiences shared by these panelists gave us a smaller glimpse into the life of Dr Salim.
However, the Dr Salim Ahmed Salim digital archive which presents his speeches, personal notes and photos , for the first time, offers us rare insight and reflections of his thoughts and efforts he put into his work, in various respects, to put Tanzania, Africa or the world where it is today.
Before this archive was made public, perhaps the camaraderie he shared with world leaders around the world could only be imagined.
In there, Dr Salim’s work and personal story has been packed into this modern digital space for the current and future generations to tap into, reference, and credibly verify while relying on this first ever gold-star repository for this Tanzanian, African and global leader.
The archive takes us on a 60-year journey of a young man exploring uncharted waters since he was 22 years old, profoundly breaking barriers in the process and ultimately having overwhelming impact on his homeland and countries which had different challenges around the world.
As one explores the archive, one constant attribute is that in his work, Dr Salim believed that while 2 or 3 parties may differ in perspective and tactics, it was always important to maintain an open channel of communication with mutual respect.
Further traversing the archives, its highly likely that one will struggle to find a country that has not been impacted by Dr Salim’s work, or a country whose leadership he has not directly communicated with over a national, continental or international issue in the last 60 years of service.
With decades that saw post conflict management abilities highly needed across the world between 1960s and post 2000, the archive shows that Dr Salim’s engagements on this front presents an image of a man highly knowledgeable on how to deal with governments just coming out of guerrilla wars with humility but in an assertive mien.
The archive illustrates how he used his skills to engage with such groups, new or established governments in a manner that was structural and formal, and in some cases it comes off implicitly that some had to learn from how he diplomatically singled out their mistakes.
From engaging with him, it comes out clearly that many were able to refine themselves to run their affairs more properly.
This treasure digital mine also shows us how Dr Salim closely engaged with leaders from all continents.
From engaging closely with Mwalimu Julius Nyerere (both leaders seemed to be accomplished enthusiasts of the English language often with clear and refined ways of communicating to each other, punctuated with interesting literary devices, humour and seriousness depending on the occasion.
Thus reading communication between them is an interesting literary journey). Other meetings with Prime Minister Melez Zenawi of Ethiopia, Pérez de Cuéllar de la Guerra (UN),Rwanda’s situation during and after genocide, Israel,US, Guyana, UK among so many countries around the globe.
From attending further studies while simultaneously working as ambassador to building a new continental body in the name of Organisation of African Unity (OAU), to being involved in continental initiatives such as the committee of 24 , Dr Salim’s notes suggest that his early entry into solving multi-national challenges seems to have resulted into a personal long term commitment to develop skills that he would need to achieve certain goals for his country, the continent and the world- and he did with success.
One such note that Dr Salim wrote on 15th February in 1974 to Ambassador Nyakyi who was the Principal Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs..it states:
"Currently, I am taking a total of 6 courses at the University. So you can imagine how tough life is really for me here considering my responsibilities both in the Mission and in the Committee of 24.
Anyway, I hope to both survive and manage. One of the many papers that I am writing to fulfill my course requirements is entitled, "The Egyptian-Israeli Negotiations in the Aftermath of the October War Background and Prospects."
The only problem with this paper is that, the more I write the more involved I become and the more fascinating research I encounter.
When the paper is ultimately completed, it is my hope that it can also serve as a background preparatory briefs for our anticipated participation in the Security Council." - Dr. Salim, February 15, 1974
The archive is so rich with hoards of more prominent notes and letters to leaders around the world, but I chose the above quote from Dr Salim, particularly the last 2 sentences, in the context of the recent development that the Centre for Foreign Relations in Dar es Salaam has been renamed Dr Salim Ahmed Salim Centre for Foreign Relations.
Isn’t it crucial, that, just as Dr Salim did as a Masters student in 1974, students at the Centre find it motivating to research on topics with the objective of producing ground breaking knowledge that can be relied on by the country’s formal structures on foreign relations now and in the future?
I believe this is one of the reasons that necessitated making the SAS archives public.
Authentic and impactful knowledge transfer for common good. We hope that through this archive, younger people will be able to dream and become.
But first, this will be through hard work to improve themselves in line with the world demands, as its clear that the main protagonist in the Salim Ahmed Salim digital archives did the same to accomplish what he did.