TANZANIA’s former president Benjamin Mkapa, who worked to end conflict in East Africa during and after his decade in power from 1995, died on Friday while being treated for an undisclosed illness, the Presidency said.
Mkapa, who was 81, won the country’s first multi-party elections in 1995 and was re-elected for a second five-year term in 2000. He led several regional peace mediation initiatives and afterwards continued to seek reconciliation in Burundi, Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo and the Great Lakes region.
Kenya’s former Prime Minister Raila Odinga eulogised Mkapa, recalling that he mediated peace after 1,200 people were killed in ethnic clashes in 2007-08 resulting from a presidential vote in Kenya whose outcome Odinga, a candidate, disputed.
“(He) helped the country return to peace,” Odinga said.
Mkapa’s successor, former president Jakaya Kikwete, told reporters that he had visited him in hospital on Thursday and they had a long chat although Mkapa was in pain.
Tanzanian President John Magufuli declared a seven-day mourning period, during which flags will be flown at half-mast.
Some streets of commercial hub Dar es Salaam fell quiet after the news, with radio stations airing tributes to Mkapa.
“He managed our nation’s economy well. We will forever remember him,” said Mariam Mrumba, a rickshaw rider.
Mkapa, a former journalist, also served as an ambassador, foreign minister and leading official of the ruling CCM party.
“He loved poetry and read a lot. He was a pan-Africanist. He was preoccupied with the issues of black people everywhere,” said Walter Bgoya, his longtime friend and publisher of his memoirs.
Tanzania’s third president following independence, he oversaw macroeconomic reforms that helped stabilise a struggling economy and secured debt relief from foreign donors.
His re-election in 2000 was followed by post-election clashes in the semi-autonomous archipelago of Zanzibar, in which at least 22 people were killed. He described the incident as a “black spot” of his presidency.
Born in southern Tanzania, Mkapa was an English graduate of the University of Makerere in Uganda and studied international affairs at Columbia University in New York.
“His efforts launched two decades of steady economic growth, fiscal credibility and falling inflation,” said Aidan Eyakuze, executive director of civil-society body Twaweza East Africa.
Former President Thabo Mbeki said he has learnt with deep sadness the news of the passing of the former President Mkapa.
“We extend our deepest condolences to the Mkapa family, H.E. President John Magufuli and through him to the sister people of Tanzania and Ben Mkapa’s organization, Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM),” said Mbeki.
“President Mkapa, like Mwalimu Julius Nyerere before him, was an embodiment of the Tanzanian people’s dedication and commitment to the liberation and development of our continent. It was this dedication and commitment to rid our continent of colonialism and apartheid which enabled Tanzania and her people to serve as the Mecca of the liberation movements in Southern Africa, including the ANC.”
“Thus, for many decades President Mkapa served as a foot soldier to give meaning to the cause of African liberation and development. It was due to this political upbringing, in which Mwalimu Nyerere played no small role, that throughout his life as a political activist, he remained true to the principles of peace, self-reliance, good governance, pan-Africanism and the transformation of the lives of the people of Tanzania and Africa for the better.”
(Compiled by Inside Politics staff and REUTERS)