14th July 2021
Keynote Address by Ambassador Ombeni Sefue at the Benjamin William Mkapa Legacy Symposium
Your Excellency Mama Samia Suluhu Hassan,
President of the United Republic of Tanzania;
Your Excellency Dr Hussein Ali Mwinyi, President of Zanzibar;
Your Excellency Dr Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete,
Former President of the United Republic of Tanzania;
All Former Presidents and Prime Ministers;
Honourable Ministers and Regional Commissioners;
Excellencies High Commissioners and Ambassadors;
Dr Ellen Mkondya-Senkoro,
CEO, Benjamin William Mkapa Foundation;
Honourable Religious Leaders;
Ladies and Gentlemen
A sad year has passed since President Mkapa was called to glory. Fond memories and deep emotions simmer within me. What can I possibly say in 15 minutes that will do justice to his life and impact on society? Let me try.
I am grateful for the honour to speak today as we remember him: an outstanding individual – a loving husband, a dedicated father, a dotting grandfather; and president of the 3rd phase government of Tanzania.
But who really was Mkapa?
He began his public career in the Foreign Service. His passion for foreign relations and international cooperation never ended; his masterful conduct of our diplomacy has left a lasting impact on Tanzania’s image in the region, Africa and the world.
He also went into the media, and fell in love with it; not just any trash that masquerades as journalism, but quality journalism.
Then politics called and, fortunately for Tanzania, he heeded the call. The rest is history.
He liked to read – newspapers, journals, books. He read a lot. I often helped him identify and acquire new books and journals. When travelling abroad, he would strive to find time to visit bookshops, to browse and buy. If he didn’t have the time, I’d do this for him.
It could be difficult to get to his inner circle. An excellent student of literature, he lived William Shakespeare’s dictum: “Love all, trust a few. Do wrong to none.” He preferred reading books to idle chatter, or self-serving flattery.
He was a leader always, never a ruler. He wanted people to follow him, not because they are fearful of him, but rather because they trusted him. And he earned their trust.
He hated the cult of personality, refusing to be called “Mtukufu”. He refused to have his picture on the national currency.
He refused the notion that politics is a dirty game; to him it never was.
An erudite debater, he welcomed, even cherished, being challenged and dared anyone to dislodge him from his intellectual pedestal of thought and belief.
During the 1995 elections, a political debate was conducted between presidential candidates; his formidable debating skills were in full display.
Others saw him as arrogant; but they misconceived him. He just did not like mediocrity always listened to all kinds of opinions and perspectives. I could see this during cabinet meetings, and the regular meetings he had with elders during his regional tours.
He believed people should be able to disagree without being disagreeable. Aristotle said: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” President Mkapa would concur.
He loved, trusted and respected people, until they proved unworthy of his trust and his respect.
When he had to take measures against people, he always tried to be objective, fair and proportionate.
He was a devout Catholic, faithfully attending mass every Sunday wherever he was. He respected other peoples’ faiths, a matter he insisted was personal and private. His faith did not influence the way in which he ran the government or related with people.
He valued work, and gave it the best he had, with amazing discipline, in whatever capacity. He lived the code of life of his Benedictine missionary teachers: ‘Ora et Labora’ – ‘Pray and Work.’
He worked hard even when he was sick, like when he was admitted to hospital in Zurich for surgery; even insisting on delivering his customary monthly address to the nation from there.
That was Mkapa.
As a leader, he held the country together and helped us overcome political, social, economic and natural challenges as one people, one country.
A firm believer and defender of the union between Tanzania mainland and Zanzibar, he spared no effort to defend and strengthen it.
One thing that disturbed him greatly was to hear people talk as if Tanganyika and Zanzibar did not unite in 1964, as if we were into some kind of loose cohabitation. He always insisted that even in the context of our unique union structure we are and must remain one nation: The United Republic of Tanzania.
He was the national leader and comforter in chief when Mwalimu Nyerere passed away; when his vice president, Dr Omar Ali Juma died; when El Niño floods wreaked havoc killing people, destroying critical infrastructure and means of livelihood; when MV Bukoba capsized, killing over 800 people, and when the nation faced political challenges, including those in Zanzibar.
He led the nation in coming to terms with terrorism threats, threats which were made plain when terrorists blew up the American Embassy in Dar es Salaam on 7th August 1998; and invested a lot in building capacities and legal frameworks to deal with it.
He led increased national efforts to fight the scourge of HIV and AIDS and its impact.
President Mkapa turned the economy around. When he came to power, he faced a number of challenges. Revenues were in decline, international development partners were withholding aid and credit; the debt burden, both local and foreign, was unsustainable. Relations with trade unions and students were strained.
He realised that a number of promises in the election manifesto that brought him to power would not be achievable.
His moral compass led him to be open about this, and was criticised for not being ‘political’. His response was that “I’d rather you hate me for being open with you than having you love me for not being straight with you.”
He believed in good governance and strong but accountable institutions and strengthened them, believing that the government is not about an individual, but about such institutions led by capable people of integrity and dedication. He hated, no abhorred, corruption. One of his first decisions as president was to establish the Warioba Commission on Corruption, whose report he took seriously and acted upon.
He believed in truth and transparency; (uwazi na ukweli) and decided to talk directly to the people through radio and television so that they can hear from his mouth as he expounded on government policies and actions.
The monthly addresses also were like a civic education at the national scale. Citizens would always stop whatever they were doing to listen to him.
That is also why he established the President’s Communication Directorate and ultimately communication departments in all ministries.
He carried forward the open economy agenda of his predecessor, President Ali Hassan Mwinyi, and went much further, wider and deeper into these reforms, also create a more conducive environment for private sector participation in the economy.
He developed a new partnership between government and the private sector. He restructured the public sector and the public service, including through divestiture of public interest in parastatals and public corporations, not for ideological reasons, just common sense and coming to terms with reality.
He tried hard to win the trust and confidence of both local and international investors and business people, creating institutional frameworks for enduring dialogue with them, including those in the mining sector whose response was encouraging, enabling him to open four gold mines during the last four years of his administration, a largescale gold mine every year.
He established forums for this dialogue, which he personally chaired, including:
- The CEO-Roundtable
- The Tanzania National Business Council (TNBC)
- The International Investors ́ Roundtable (IIRT)
These were open and objective dialogues; his government did not go there to defend entrenched positions.
Although deep down he remained a socialist, he believed there were many ways to skin the cat; that the socialist ideals he held could also be achieved through well-facilitated and incentivised market forces. Had he been alive today, he would have been happy to see these frameworks and processes being revitalised by the current government.
The economic reforms he undertook and the good governance agenda he pursued won the support of development partners and creditors. Development assistance increased, he got debt relief with the support of President Bill Clinton and other leaders of governments and international financial institutions.
He invested heavily in expanding primary school enrolment PEDP (2001) and SEDP, removing school fees in primary schools, aiming to ensure all school age children complete a full primary education by 2006.
He created Development Vision 2025, to have a set of timed priorities for the transformation of the country; and established a stable macro-economic framework, and the fundamentals for growing the economy.
He created the space and the environment for large scale investments; but he remained a firm believer in inclusive development, that no one should be left behind.
He, therefore, established the Business Environment Strengthening for Tanzania (BEST) Programme to reduce the cost of doing business including for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises.
He believed in the concept of Smart Partnership, a win-win situation for everyone, nationally and globally.
He co-chaired the Investment Climate Facility (ICF), that strived to make Africa more attractive to domestic and foreign investment.
Pan Africanist and International Actor
President Mkapa was close to Mwalimu Nyerere, developing a lifelong bond of shared views and character with him.
Like Mwalimu, he strongly opposed the notion of exploitation; nothing to him could justify oppression and exploitation of man by man, country by country. He had great empathy for suffering people everywhere. Mwalimu’s Pan-African and nationalist agenda and thought rubbed off on him, no, he soaked it up.
He strongly promoted and defended African interests in the global political and economic spheres, including the right to political and economic freedom in an integrated and globalising world.
This was evident in the regional, continental and global responsibilities he undertook, in and out of power.
These included the World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalisation aimed at creating a fair globalisation, which he co-chaired with the then Finnish President, Tarja Halonen.
They also include the Blair Commission, the Commission for Africa, that focussed on how to address historical injustices and unlock Africa’s capacity for growth and competitiveness.
He was very active in the Smart Partnership International Dialogue, a consultative forum where governments engaged to share information, knowledge and experience so as to find solutions to development challenges.
In retirement, he was Patron of the Uongozi Institute’s Africa Leadership Forum, which is a space for Africa’s eminent elders to interact with current and future leaders around the strategic challenges facing the Continent. He brought together similar minded fellow retired African presidents like Presidents Thabo Mbeki, Olusegun Obasanjo, Festus Mogae, Joachim Chissano, among others, to discuss matters of topical interest for the continent with sitting presidents and other current and future leaders and stakeholders.
The week he died he was busy preparing for the 2020 ALF under the theme “Promoting African Intra-trade to unlock Agricultural Potential in Africa” that had been planned to take place in less than a week later in Dar es Salaam, 29 – 30 July 2020. I do hope the forum will be sustained in his honour and memory.
President Mkapa believed in peace and stability in Tanzania and in Africa. He was active in peace-making efforts in the Eastern African region and the Great Lakes region.
From him I learnt that peace comes not from the absence of conflict in life, but from the ability to cope with it. And that is a lesson he wanted Tanzanians to learn and internalise as we seek to strengthen the foundations for a stable, dignified, democratic and peaceful Tanzania.
In his second term of office, he became increasingly concerned that the economic growth generated from the initiatives he undertook was not reducing poverty at the rate he would have liked to see. This concerned him greatly as he did not want to see anyone left behind.
From an idea he picked from his friend, Dr Bakili Muluzi, he established the Tanzania Social Action Fund (TASAF), to empower the poor to work themselves out of poverty, create employment and provide needed social and economic infrastructure, including schools, health facilities, roads, bridges, through self-help.
The impact of TASAF on poverty reduction is demonstrable. From its humble beginnings in 2000, TASAF has now reached all corners of Tanzania, and touched many poor households, giving them the tools that they need for self-development.
He then established MKURABITA, a property and business formalisation programme to empower the poor by increasing their access to financial markets and other services through formalisation of their property rights and businesses. He realised that there were too many poor people who for lack of title could not grow their businesses by leveraging their assets, or their businesses, in a market economy dispensation.
Tanzania Mini-Tiger Plan 2020.
His other initiatives to unlock growth included special economic zones and industrial parks, hoping to use them to attain the 10% GDP growth target he had hoped for. So, he established the Tanzania Mini-Tiger Plan 2020 which was expected to realise this goal.
In short, President Mkapa built the foundation for a modern economy in Tanzania.
As he was approaching the end of his term, on the advice of his friend, President Bill Clinton, President Mkapa decided to establish a foundation that can support government efforts in the health sector. He was deeply disturbed by unequal access to quality health care, especially in very remote and underserved areas and wanted to ensure they have the requisite human resources, facilities and financing for that. He wanted to see universal quality health coverage to all people in Tanzania. The scope of health interventions of the foundation has expanded in content and distribution across the country, as we have heard during this week. I am sure there are many men, women and children who are alive today, thanks to President Mkapa’s vision in establishing the foundation, and the tremendous support of all the partners.
This work must continue, and I am glad the Foundation is today launching the BWM Endowment Fund for this purpose and carry forward his work and legacy.
For 10 years President Mkapa provided leadership to Tanzania, a poor country struggling to fight the hydra that poverty is. He did a lot, and has left us with considerable experience and knowledge of what works and what does not. What to do with this knowledge is the challenge of current and future leaders and citizens.
He believed in human rights, whether political or civil; whether economic, social or cultural. This included the right to life, a life in peace; the right to earn a livelihood through equal economic opportunities and job creation; the right to basic health care, both preventive and curative; the right to justice, justice that is neither delayed nor denied; the right to political expression, not political thuggery; the right to freedom of expression and worship without infringing or curtailing the freedom and faith of others.
He fully respected the Constitution, always abiding by it in all he did; and at the end of his term he handed over power smoothly and graciously to his successor, President Kikwete, wanting not even a single day more, continuing this glorious tradition in Tanzania.
For me, the 10 years I spent with him at the State House were a huge learning experience; it prepared me well for when I later returned to the State House as Chief Secretary under President Kikwete.
I do hope I have done justice to his legacy; above all I hope that were he to hear me today, he would have approved and felt vindicated for having trusted me to be his personal assistant during those 10 years, and on and off ever since until his death.
After he launched his autobiography 2 years ago, he had determined to translate it into Kiswahili so that all Tanzanians could read and learn from it. As always, I agreed to support and assist him in this task. The week he died I had planned to see him so we could start.
Now he is gone, but with Mama Mkapa’s approval and the support of Uongozi Institute, I am determined to conclude the work exactly as he had intended, and with the penmanship he would have approved. May God help me to serve him well even now.
Yes, even this sad time has flown; a year has passed, but his memory remains fresh and enduring in our hearts and minds. May he continue to rest in eternal peace, and may God continue to grant solace to Mama Anna, his children and grandchildren.
I thank you for your kind attention.