Dar es Salaam. President Samia Suluhu Hassan on Friday led Tanzanians in sending condolences messages following the death of former Foreign Affairs Minister and 2020 presidential aspirant Mr Benard Membe.
Reports indicate that Mr Membe died on May 12, 2023, at the Kairuki Hospital in Dar es Salaam where he was rushed following a sudden chest pain. Mr Membe, who served as Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2007 to 2015, died aged 69.
He also served as a Member of Parliament for the Mtama constituency in Lindi, southern Tanzania, under the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) from 2000 to 2015.
In her condolence message, President Samia described Membe as a “competent diplomat and public servant,” saying the politician served his country “professionally.”
“I extend my condolences to the family [of Mr Membe], relatives, and friends,” the Head of State wrote on Twitter. “May his soul rest in peace.”
A distinguished diplomat
Born in Rondo, Lindi region, Mr Membe was a national security analyst at the State House between 1977 and 1990.
A political scientist by profession, Mr Membe also served in other ministerial positions during his lifetime, including Deputy Minister of Energy and Minerals and Deputy Minister of Home Affairs before he started serving as Tanzania’s Foreign Affairs Minister, a position he served from 2007 to 2015.
As a Foreign Minister, Mr Membe played a critical role in several continental and international issues, which include, but it is not limited to, expressing support for the Palestinian people; defending democracy in Zimbabwe, Guinea, and Mauritania; and taking part in efforts to resolve ownership issues regarding the Lake Nyasa.
Membe was sacked from CCM, Africa’s second longest-ruling party, in February 2020, after accusing him of “indiscipline and flouting the ethics and constitution of the party.”
Membe denied any wrongdoing and explained that his expulsion was because he planned to stand for nomination as CCM’s presidential candidate in the election scheduled in October of that year.
On July 15, 2020, Mr Membe joined the opposition ACT-Wazalendo party, which ultimately fielded him as its presidential candidate in the October election. Membe came third in the final results, losing to CCM’s John Magufuli.
But in an interesting turn of events, on May 30, 2022, Mr Membe rejoined CCM after four years after writing a letter asking for readmission, going back on his word that he would never return to the party he served for almost his entire adult life.
Zitto Kabwe, leader of ACT-Wazalendo party, who played a huge role in convincing Mr Membe to join the left-wing party in 2020, said he was “at a loss for words” following the “overwhelming shock” he experienced upon learning the passing of Mr Membe.
He described Mr Membe as a “competent politician” and “popular diplomat” who “dedicated his life to serving his people.”
“On my behalf and that of members of my party, I’m extending my condolence to the family, friends, and all people of the Mtama constituency,” Mr Kabwe wrote on Twitter.
“We stand in solidarity with them through this difficult moment.”
Bernard Membe attended Rondo-Chiponda Extended Primary School for his primary education. He got his O-Level education at the Namupa Seminary Secondary School. He earned his A-Levels at Itaga Seminary High School.
He then studied political science at the University of Dar es Salaam. He also bagged a degree in international relations from John Hopkins University. Mr Membe also did a one-year national service at the Oljoro Military Camp in Arusha.
A national treasure
CHADEMA national chairperson Freeman Mbowe said Friday news on the passing of Mr Membe shocked him, writing on Twitter: “[He] served our nation in various capacities. He was indeed a national treasure. May his soul be at peace.”
Membe’s death comes amidst his legal wrangling with Cyprian Musiba, the self-styled activist who, on October 28, 2021, was found guilty of defaming Mr Membe through his newspapers and demanded to pay Membe Sh6 billion as compensation.
A few days before his death, Mr Membe rumped up his calls to get the activist to pay him, with some urging the veteran politician to forgive Mr Musiba, citing his inability to pay him such an amount of money.
Among many things Tanzanians will know Mr Membe for include the joke he made while running for the presidency, which has since become a meme revelled by Tanzania’s internet users.
“Once sworn in [as President of Tanzania],” Mr Membe told his enthusiastic supporters in 2020, “And sign my red ink [on the oath of office], we’ll throw a party in the evening.”
Lukelo Francis is The Chanzo journalist based in Dar es Salaam Tanzania. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.