HAPPY 83RD BIRTHDAY IN HEAVEN H.E BENJAMIN WILLIAM MKAPA-: A MAN OF MANY GRAND ATTRIBUTES WHO LEFT A SHINING LEGACY!!!
Written By: Mzee wa Atikali
November 12, 2021
“I first communicated with Ben Mkapa in 1969. He had a very sharp mind, extremely hard working and with a great command of the English language. He was very diplomatic and non-confrontational” Prof. NGILA MWASE, July 19, 2021.
His Excellency, Benjamin William Mkapa (hereinbelow “Ben”), who had the rare privilege to serve as the Third President of the United Republic of Tanzania from Thursday, November 23, 1995, to Wednesday, December 21, 2005, and who completed his earthly race on Thursday, July 23, 2020 at 2130 hours at the Emilio Mzena Memorial hospital in Dar es Salaam at the age of 81, would have been 83 were he alive today.
In view thereof, this 83rd Anniversary of Ben’s birth allows us to reflect upon his extraordinary life & legacy.
2. Birth Date and Place
Ben was born on Saturday, November 12, 1938, at Ndanda, Masasi in Mtwara region. He was the baby in the family of four children to his father, the late William Matwani and his mother, the late Stephania Nambanga. Two of his siblings passed away before him. The late Marcella (FCC DG William Erio’s mother), who was born in 1928 and passed away in 2000, was the first born and the late Blassius (“Mzee wa Atikali”) once worked with one of his daughters, Ms Blasia), who was born in 1932 and passed away in 1993, was the second born. Mzee Benard (Madame Judge Susan’s father) who was born in 1935 is the third born and the only one who is still alive todate.
Ben’s tribe was the Makua and his surname, Mkapa, was his mother’s clan name because of the matrilinear nature of the Makua traditional society.
3. Ben’s Educational Journey
3.1 Primary & Secondary education
The late Mzee Matwani enrolled Ben at Lupaso mission school in 1945. Ben was the youngest and smallest student in the entire school. In 1948, he sat for STD Four exams. He was one of only two out of thirty students who were selected to join Abbey Secondary school, Ndanda in 1949. In 1951, Ben joined Ndanda Secondary school and in 1952 joined Kigonsera seminary in Ruvuma. In 1953, he returned to Ndanda secondary school where he completed STD Ten in 1954.
Ben was a Super-brilliant student whose favourite subjects were Maths and English. In 1954, he was Tanganyika’s brainiest student and no wonder he was named “Tanganyika One” ala Hon. Edwin Mtei who was named “Tanganyika One” in 1952:
“I passed the Territorial Standard Ten National Exams well, being First in my class at Ndanda and given a First by the Ministry of Education”.
In 1955, Ben joined St. Francis College, Pugu. One of the teachers at St. Francis College was Mwalimu JK Nyerere who taught him History before his resignation on March 22, 1955. Ben completed his studies in 1956 and scored, as expected, Division One in his final exams. Phillip Magani, Benno Nkane and John Kambona were some of his classmates and remained Ben’s lifelong friends.
3.2 University education
In 1957, Ben enrolled in Makerere University in Uganda “The Harvard of Africa” in its heyday. He studied History, Economics as well as English and mingled and locked minds with fellow future notables Kenyan Phillip Ndegwa, who was to become Governor of the Central Bank of Kenya, was his classmate as was John Nagenda who would become a presidential advisor in Uganda. Kenyan James Ngugi, later Ngugi wa Thion’go, arrived in 1959. Ngugi’s iconic literary tour of duty began here, writing three of his outstanding novels, including “The Black Hermit” in Makerere! Ben and this celebrated and acclaimed African Academician were writing and publishing literary juvenilia in college magazines “The Makererean” and “Transition”. In 1958, Ben commenced a magazine “Penpoint” and eventually earned a BA (English) honours degree in 1962 and then returned to Tanganyika.
4. Ben’s First Port of Call
Ben’s first port of call was Dodoma as an Administrative Officer in April 1962.
5. Ben Leaves for the United States
In August 1962, Ben travelled to New York, USA where he attended Columbia University. In 1963, he was awarded a master’s degree in International Relations & Diplomacy. He then returned to Tanganyika and became Personal Assistant to Hon. Oscar Kambona, the first Foreign Minister. Before March 1963, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Defence was under the President’s office.
6. Ben Gets a Part-Time Job
Because of Ben’s grasp of the Queen’s idiom and his rich baritone voice, RTD gave him the opportunity to read news in English on part time basis:
“I read the news in English on RTD as they had asked me to do this because of my fluency in English”.
Hon. Ambassador Frednand Ruhinda narrated thus, on August 11, 2020, “Ben would come to TBC to read English language bulletins, as a part-timer. I was one of those preparing those bulletins. He liked my job and we became friends”.
7. Ben Appointed ME
Late one evening, in May 1966, President Julius Nyerere appointed Ben Managing Editor (ME) of the TANU party newspapers namely The Nationalist and Uhuru at the tender age of just 28 after he had summoned him. A panicky Ben shortly presented himself before the Head of State only to be informed that he had been appointed ME, “Ben, I think you can help us. I want you to be the editor of the Nationalist” “I think you can do it…….”
Ben expressed his willingness and yet feared that he was too green for the job. President Nyerere, thus, sent him to UK for a six-month training after which he was somehow ready for the monumental task.
Thereafter, Ben’s stewardship saw the levels of journalism of these newspapers increase, his tender age and inexperience notwithstanding.
8. Ben Ties the Knot
On Saturday, August 27, 1966, Ben and Ms Anna Joseph Maro were united in marriage. They exchanged wedding vows at the Christ the King Cathedral, Catholic Diocese of Moshi, Kilimanjaro. Mr. Anthony Nyaki, who was to become ambassador under Mwalimu Nyerere’s presidency, and Hon. Lucy Lameck (then Junior Minister) were the Best Man and Matron of Honour, respectively, “I met my wife Anna, at work. She was Secretary to the Minister of Home Affairs; I was Personal Assistant to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and our offices were in the same building. I dated her for two and half years before I married her”
9. Ben Appointed Inaugural ME
In April 1972, Ben was appointed by President Nyerere the first Managing Editor (ME) of the government English newspapers namely The Daily News and Sunday News.
10. Ben Appointed PS
In 1974, President Nyerere appointed Ben his Press Secretary (PS).
11. Ben Appointed Founding MD
In 1976, Ben was appointed by President Nyerere the founding Managing Director of the Tanzania News Agency, SHIHATA (Shirika la Habari Tanzania)
12. Ben Appointed HC
In the same year, 1976, President Nyerere appointed Ben High Commissioner to Nigeria, a key posting at the time, coming six years after that country’s civil war. It was a delicate moment as relations between Tanzania and Nigeria were frosty because Tanzania had recognised the secessionist Biafra and it was now time to mend fences. President Nyerere told Ben, “I need someone there who can speak English well, who knows diplomacy, who is well educated and who can compete with those fellows. I have decided you should go”
13. Ben Appointed Minister
Ben continued to edge his way into a special place in President Nyerere’s political heart. In 1977, President Nyerere appointed Ben Minister for Foreign Affairs after he had been appointed and sworn-in as a nominated Member of Parliament.
Ironically, after the said appointment, Ben became the Foreign Minister while H.E Ambassador Anthony Nyaki, who was the Best Man at his wedding in 1966, became his Principal Secretary!
14. Ben Transferred to MIC
In 1980, President Nyerere transferred Ben to the Ministry of Information and Culture.
15. Ben Appointed HC
In 1982, Ben was appointed by President Nyerere Tanzania High Commissioner to Canada. Some foreigners were surprised as they considered this a demotion. However, Ben’s response was, “My friends, you must get to know Mwalimu better. There are some key bilateral issues with Canada that need to be addressed and Mwalimu thinks I am the best person for it. We do not stand on rank and titles in our place”
16. Ben Appointed Ambassador
In 1983, President Nyerere appointed Ben Tanzania Ambassador to the United States.
17. Ben Appointed Foreign Minister
In 1984, President Nyerere appointed Ben Minister for Foreign Affairs.
18. Ben Elected MP
In 1985, Ben ran for a parliamentary seat in Nanyumbu, Mtwara and won.
19. Ben Re-Appointed Foreign Minister
In November 1985, H.E Ali Hassan Mwinyi, who served as the second President of Tanzania from 1985 to 1995, re-appointed Ben Minister for Foreign Affairs.
20. Ben Transferred to MoI
In 1990, President Ali Hassan Mwinyi transferred Ben to the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting after he was re-elected as an MP for Nanyumbu Constituency.
21. Ben Transferred to MoS
In 1992, President Ali Hassan Mwinyi transferred Ben to the Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education as founding Minister.
22. Ben Contests the Presidency
On Sunday, May 7, 1995, Ben announced at the Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education building that he would contest the presidency. While making the announcement, he was escorted by Hon. Joseph Warioba, Hon. Jenerali Ulimwengu and Ambassador Frednand Ruhinda. Ben*ultimately threw his hat in the presidential ring and was one of 17 CCM stalwarts who picked nomination forms. On Saturday, July 22, 1995, the CCM’s Congress picked him as the party’s flag bearer. Thereafter, Ben was elected and sworn-in as the third President of the United Republic of Tanzania on November 23, 1995. As Mwalimu Nyerere had endorsed him and singlehandedly campaigned for him throughout the country, his detractors dubbed him Mwalimu Nyerere’s “errand boy” and considered him incompetent and a total waste of space!
Ben immediately embarked on a new economic journey as the country was wobbling in severe economic doldrums.
23. Ben Retires Gracefully
Ben retired gracefully at the end of his second term, on December 21, 2005, as has become the custom amongst presidents in Tanzania. Ben’s detractors who had, in1995, considered him unfit for presidency, were all very impressed by his achievements. No wonder Ben said that he was leaving office a happy man. Better still, Ben won kudos nationally and internationally for rejecting calls to extend his rule beyond the constitutional limit of two, five years terms.
24. Ben’s Post Presidency Life
After retirement in 2005, Ben did not want to sit idle and do nothing. So, he occupied himself with various political & development issues, “We may have retired but we are not tired. What we have retired from is active politics, but we have not said we are not going to put in our shares of energies solving our country’s problems”
25. Ben’s Grand Attributes
25.1 Ben was an excellent debater
Being a good debater requires a mastery of facts, issues and a good command of languages. Ben was an excellent debater who fitted perfectly Mwalimu Nyerere’s axiom “Don’t shout, argue “. During the 1995 General elections, a Presidential debate was organised and conducted involving four leading presidential candidates at the then Kilimanjaro hotel. In that hotel, Ben’s formidable debating skills were in full display. In a booming, clear and confident voice, he delivered a masterful performance and stole the show surprising many including NCCR’s formidable and widely popular candidate, Hon. Augustine Mrema, who had dubbed Be “Bubu” prior to the debate. On that day, Ben magnificently set the stage for him to become the third President of Tanzania. In sync with that, Hon. Patrick Rutabanzibwa, former Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Energy & Minerals, wrote on August 11, 2020, “Mkapa’s extraordinary intellectual ability had been well known since his days as a newspaper editor. However, many Tanzanians did not actually witness it until 1995, during the first televised presidential debate in Tanzania. Mkapa’s seriousness, eloquence and ability to effortlessly assemble facts to make his point, impressed many”
25.2 Ben was a Devout Catholic
Ben was a devout Catholic faithfully attending Sunday Mass wherever he was. “Mzee wa Atikali” had the privilege of attending Sunday Mass with him for many years at St. Immaculate Conception church in Upanga. Ben was always punctual present at the second Mass which was said in English at 8.30 am. Mind you, this was an intellectual who was rubbing shoulders with different presidents and prominent people in the world, but every Sunday morning made a commitment to spending time with God! When Ben assumed the presidency, he changed and started attending the Seven O’clock Swahili Sunday Mass. Ben was a well-known figure in the church and even on days when he did not attend Mass, out of respect, loyal fellow worshippers, would leave his seat open. No wonder, the Archbishop of Dsm, Yuda Thaddeus Ruwa’ichi, said in a video message on Julai 24, 2020, “Mkapa was a Parishioner of the St. Immaculate Conception Church, Upanga and I dare say he was a good Parishioner…….”
In the same vein, a few months ago, Ben’s nephew, Hon. William Erio, Director General of NSSF (as he then was) informed “Mzee wa Atikali” that, “Ben was, indeed, a devout Catholic. Even when Covid-19 was at its peak with many people having opted to stay home, Ben never skipped Sunday Mass”
Better still, Ben also respected other people’s faiths. Ben was a Catholic who married a Lutheran and he maintained that cordial and peaceful coexistence with his wife. As the Head of State, you would expect him to pressurise his wife to convert to Catholicism, but he never did that and Mama Anna is still a Lutheran.
Ben gave government buildings to religious institutions to establish universities eg he handed over Mazengo sec school buildings to the Anglican church to establish St. John’s University. He gave the Tanesco buildings in Morogoro to Bakwata to establish the Islamic University, he handed the Iringa bank college buildings to the Catholic Church to establish the Ruaha University and he handed over the Magamba sec school buildings to the Evangelical Lutheran Church to start their Moses Kolowa Memorial University.
25.3 Ben was a Staunch “YANGA” Fan
It is well documented that Ben was a staunch Yanga Fan. In sync with that, the late President Joseph Magufuli said on July 28, 2020, at the “Uhuru”stadium, “I have heard that the late Mkapa was an ardent Yanga fan” (Translation mine)
25.4 Ben was a Workaholic President
Ben always lived the code of life of his Benedictine missionary teachers- “Ora et labora” ie Pray & Work. He valued work and gave it the best he had with amazing discipline. He wrote, “My sons, Stephan and Nicholaus, ask me- “When are you going to settle down and rest? This country will always be there”
25.5 Ben was a Peacemaker
Ben was an indefatigable peacemaker at the forefront in brokering peace deals during conflicts in Africa. Hon. Job Masima, Tanzania’s Ambassador to Israel, gave one example on July 25, 2020, to buttress this view, “In 1997, Kenneth Kaunda, the first President of Zambia, was arrested and imprisoned at Mkubeko in Kabwe, Zambia. Mwalimu Nyerere was the one who went and enabled him to get out of prison after discussions with the then President of Zambia, Chiluba. The man behind all this was Ben Mkapa. He was the one who had tirelessly discussed with Chiluba and then asked Nyerere to intervene. Ben was the one who facilitated the whole issue and Nyerere finalized it.
Furthermore, in DRC, Ben served as co-mediator along with former President of Nigeria, H.E O. Obasanjo; and in Kenya where he was a member of a panel comprising Eminent African personalities namely Dr. Koffi Annan and Graça Machel helping the country to return to peace after the 2007-08 election violence.
No wonder, President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, on July 24, 2020, hailed Ben for being “a close friend and brother, who stood with Kenya during some of our darkest hours”
In the same vein, UN Secretary General, Hon. Antonio Guterres said on July 24, 2020, “Former President Mkapa was an experienced diplomat and a respected regional peacemaker”
25.6 Ben was Philanthropic
Ben was a generous human being who inspired, guided and helped many people before, during and after his presidency. Mr. Jenerali Ulimwengu pays witness to this fact. He wrote, on August 5, 2020, “I first met Mkapa when I was a first year Law student at Udsm and had gone to Addis Ababa to attend a Conference in 1970. Mkapa was then the Managing editor of the TANU newspapers ie The Nationalist and Uhuru. He was a jovial man and quite helpful. He helped me out with the airport fee that one had to pay before flying”
In the same vein, one Ms Benigna Joseph, stated on July 29, 2020, “I am one of the beneficiaries of Mkapa’s generosity. In 2002, he paid school fees and other costs for 17 students from Masasi who had passed their exams, but their parents couldn’t afford to pay the costs. I was one of them. He paid for all four years of secondary education”
Along the same lines, former DSM RC, Hon. Paul Makonda, on his part, narrated on February 17, 2020, “In 2012, I was among contestants in CCM elections scheduled to be held in Dodoma. So, I went to visit Hon. Mkapa at his residence for guidance and financial assistance as I was struggling financially. He listened to me patiently, guided me and assisted me financially. That was the beginning of my political journey”(Translation mine).
Ben also once wrote, “When I was appointed Managing Editor in 1966, my personal car was the office car, with the journalists often joining me at home for dinner and Anna was very supportive”
These four examples, out of many, suffice to show that Ben was, indeed, a Model Philanthropic Politician.
25.7 Ben was a Bookworm
Ben was a voracious and an avid reader of books. He had an insatiable appetite for books, “My favourite hobby is reading. I read alot especially biographies as other people’s lives fascinate me. When I travelled abroad, I always wanted to spend a little time in a bookshop. Sadly, so few people read nowadays”
This was echoed by his former Personal Assistant, Hon. Ambassador Ombeni Sefue, who stated on July 14, 2021, “Ben liked to read- newspapers, journals and books. He read alot. I often helped him identify and acquire new books and journals., he would strive to find time to visit bookshops to browse and buy. If he didn’t have the time, I will do this for him. He preferred reading books to idle chatter or self- serving flattery”
Likewise, Ms Rose Magnus Mkapa (95), Ben’s maternal aunty, narrated more or less the same on July 31, 2020, “Benjamin was a boy you could never meet in the village wandering aimlessly. It was him and his books. He was doing extremely well in school” (Translation mine).
25.8 Ben was a Humble Gentleman
For some who did not know Ben well, he wrongly seemed arrogant. This was because he possessed this aura of being confident and authoritative. Mwalimu Nyerere once said, “You know, Ben is an intellectual. He is intellectually arrogant. He doesn’t entertain stupidity and when some people want to chat, Ben doesn’t have time for that “
Ben always hated the cult of personality. Immediately after being sworn-in as President in 1995, he refused to be called “Mtukufu” and also refused to have his picture on national currency, “I dislike glorification. I was the first Tanzanian president not to have my face portrayed on our currency. I also insisted I shouldn’t be addressed by the usual honorific title of “Mtukufu”
Ambassador Ruhinda summed it up nicely on August 11, 2020, “Ben was almost a complete human being. All the good qualities of a good human being, Ben had. True, he was also a severe and no-nonsense person. But all these are good human qualities”
25.9 Ben was a selfless President
Unlike some past & present African presidents eg Mobutu Sese Seko of DRC, Ben was not the type of person to favour his native home village, Lupaso ala Mobutu’s Gbadollite. Ben always looked at the country as home not just where he was born. In fact, even the tarmac on the road to Lupaso was poured in under Dr. Magufuli’s presidency. No wonder, Dr. Magufuli stated, on April 4, 2019, when launching Mbonde Heath Center in Masasi, “Is it wrong to construct a road going to Mkapa’s village? Yes am building for him so that when the time comes for his burial, the body would pass on a paved road”(Translation mine).
25.10 Ben was a Patriot Par Excellency
Ben was a true patriot and a brilliant public servant who dedicated his entire life serving his nation with honour, dignity and excellence. No wonder, H.E Dr. Jakaya Kikwete said, on July 24, 2020, “Mzee Mkapa lived a remarkable life of service, civility and patriotism. Today, we grieve the loss of a lifelong public servant “
Ben was not a populist who sought to just please people but was prepared to annoy them or lose friends if that was the price to pay for the interest of his country.
25.11 Ben was an Even-Handed Person
Ben was an even- handed person who always stood for justice. He hated injustice. This is evidenced by the following unique example.
On May 6, 2012, Ben, in an unprecedented move, made history by becoming the first retired Head of State in Tanzania to appear in person and testify before the court. He appeared before the Kisutu RM Court as a defence witness in a 2.5B theft case against Prof. Costa Mahalu, former Tanzanian Ambassador to Italy, regarding purchase of the Embassy building in Italy. This is because Ben had been shocked to find Prof. Mahalu charged while he was the one who had authorized the said purchase as President. Eventually, Prof. Mahalu was acquitted.
25.12 Ben was a Stickler for Punctuality
Ben’s former bodyguard, who went on to become Regional Commissioner for Arusha, Hon. Idd Hassan Kimanta , narrated on July 26, 2020, “Mkapa’s time consciousness was out of this world”
In the same vein, former CS, Ambassador Martens Lumbanga who served alongside Ben, stated, on July 25, 2020, “Mkapa was a very smart President. He was very conscious with time. If the meeting was set to begin at 10.00 Am, he would step in the boardroom at 9.55 sharp”
25.13 Ben was an Economic Reformist
When President Nyerere retired on November 5, 1985, the economy was in shambles. Consequently, H.E Ali H. Mwinyi narrated after the death of President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe that he had to send Ben to Zimbabwe & India to ask them to rescue us. Likewise, when H.E Ali H. Mwinyi retired on November 22, 1995, the economy was also a shambles! Ultimately, it was Ben who brought the country back from the brink of bankruptcy in 1995. Ben wrote thus, “I was sworn in on 23rd November 1995, and in the following morning my Chief Secretary Martens Lumbanga held a frank meeting with me which really shocked me- the economy was a shambles!”
Ben was the first Tanzanian president in history to leave the country economically stable at the end of his presidency in 2005. Consequently, H.E Dr. Jakaya Kikwete, who served as the fourth President of Tanzania, thus, inherited a solid economy.
In 1994, Tanzania’s GDP growth rate was an abysmal 1.57 % but by the end of Ben’s term, it soared to 7.48%! A similar story exists for Tanzania’s inflation rate, in 1994, it was 37.9% but by 2005, it had dropped to 4.36%! Ben halved the National debt from 143.7 in 1994 to 60% of GDP in 2005. Consequently, Tanzania credit worthiness before the creditors and lenders was restored.
Furthermore, Hon. Anthony Mtaka, Regional Commissioner for Dodoma, wrote on July 28, 2020, “The late Mkapa had an impressive record in building state institutions (TRA, Tanroads, TACAIDS, NHIF, TNBC, PCCB, NEEC and TASAF). He was deeply religious and also respected other people’s faiths” (Translation mine).
No wonder thus, the late President Magufuli admitted at the “Uhuru”stadium, on July 28, 2020, “Many of the successful projects that we see today were initiated by Mzee Mkapa…. Even the National vision to make our country a middle- income economy was established by him…”(Translation mine).
26. Ben Goes to Meet his Maker
Ben bid adieu to the world on Thursday, July 23, 2020 at the Emilio Mzena Memorial hospital, Dar es Salaam at 9.30 PM. Hon. *Erio* divulged the following info on Sunday, July 26, 2020, “Mkapa was admitted for malaria treatment on Wednesday. He had shown signs of recovering on Thursday and I was with him until 8.00 Pm. After watching the evening news bulletin, he died of cardiac arrest”*_.
On Wednesday, July 29, 2020, Ben was laid to rest close to his father and mother in the clan’s graveyard in his natal village of Lupaso, Masasi, Mtwara. Ben predeceased his wife, Mama Anna, his two children Mr. Stephan Mkapa & Mr. Nicholaus Mkapa and his wife, Mrs Foster Mbuna Mkapa, as well as his two grandchildren namely Nigel Benedict Alexander Mkapa & Nathaniel Joseph Mkapa.
27. Concluding Remarks
The late Benjamin William Mkapa was an English Language Makerere Graduate, US trained Diplomat, UK trained Journalist & Editor and a Tanzanian Politician who set a unique record of improving the country’s economy during his 10-year term in office.
In view thereof, “Mzee wa Atikali ” strongly believes that the history of this country cannot be written without a Golden Chapter of Ben who has left behind a shining legacy. He will be remembered fondly in the annals of Tanzania’s history.
HAPPY 83RD BIRTHDAY IN HEAVEN BEN, ADIOS AMIGO !!
“By Mzee wa Atikali”
0754 744 557 firstname.lastname@example.org