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Paul Rupia: Remembering the Highly Distinguished Diplomat One Year Since His Death

He remains in the history of Tanzania as a smart politician and a great diplomat.

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Today, September 16, 2023, marks the first anniversary of the passing of Paul Milyango Rupia, Tanzania’s Fifth Chief Secretary, who also had the privilege to serve as the country’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations.

Mr Rupia was snatched by the cold hands of death in the early morning hours of September 16, 2022, at the age of 86, in South Africa, where he was undergoing specialised treatment. It is, indeed, one year since that gloomy Friday when news of his passing filtered through.

The late Ambassador Rupia was a jovial man and once invited me to his beautiful house in Oysterbay, Dar es Salaam, where we had a lengthy tete-a-tete just a few months before he succumbed to death.

On that day and thereafter, through telephonic conversations, I learnt a lot from him and concluded that he was a walking encyclopedia regarding the history of Tanzania.

Today, on the first anniversary of his passing, my lifelong love of writing has propelled me to craft this special article in honour of the departed Ambassador I considered a friend.

Early life, education

Paul Milyango Rupia was born on Tuesday, January 7, 1936, at Nkolandoto Hospital in Shinyanga, a hospital established in 1913 by the African Inland Church Missionaries. The land to build the hospital was officially allocated to the said hospital on November 23, 1913.

Rupia’s father, John Rupia, was the first Vice President of TANU when it was founded on July 7, 1954. As one of the wealthiest African businessmen in Tanganyika, his financial contribution to TANU was immense and unparalleled. He was, consequently, the most respected TANU leader apart from Mwalimu Julius Nyerere.

Rupia’s mother passed away when he was only five years old. As a result, his father had to make a special request, which led him and his brother to be given special rooms at St. Andrew’s College, Minaki. Consequently, the two boys obtained their primary and middle school education there.

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At this time, their father and family were living in Ndanda Street, Mission Quarter area, Dar es Salaam. Dar es Salaam was, in those days, divided into four areas: Kariakoo, Gerezani, Kisutu and Mission Quarter.

The Mission Quarter area was an exclusive African Mission area set aside by the British to separate the Christian minority from the Muslim majority in the town.

Street names in the Mission Quarter had names of settlements in Tanganyika where Missionaries had managed to penetrate and establish themselves. Street names such as Masasi, Ndanda, Likoma, Muhonda, Muheza and Magila have survived to this day.

Rupia, thereafter, obtained his secondary education at the Aga Khan Secondary School in Dar es Salaam, later renamed Tambaza Secondary School.

Before independence, TANU was sponsoring Tanganyikan students to go abroad to study.  In 1957, all but one of the 12 Tanganyikan students in Liberia were sponsored by TANU after obtaining scholarship grants.

One of those lucky students was Rupia, who joined Cuttington College, Liberia, where one of his contemporaries was the late Kingunge Ngombare-Mwiru. Rupia thereafter joined New York University.

Decorated public service

After successfully completing his college education in the US, Rupia joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where his journey in public service began in 1963. He narrated as follows to me on the day when we had a tete-a-tete:

“I started civil service at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1963. It took me two years before I was confirmed. I served my probation for a long time, and during that period, I was highly scrutinised to ensure I  had integrity and credibility.

“The Government had to investigate from the grassroots level to check your behaviour and conduct during school times and the background of your parents. I was employed as an Administrative Officer on June 3, 1963.”

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When Rupia joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1963, he had just one colleague in the Division of African Affairs, a young Benjamin William Mkapa. Between 1964 and 1968, Rupia was a Foreign Service officer (Ethiopia).

In 1968, President Julius Nyerere, who served as the first President of the United Republic of Tanzania, appointed Rupia as Deputy High Commissioner to the U.K. He became a Counsellor in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1971. From 1972 to 1974, he was the Director of the African & Middle East Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In 1976, Rupia was appointed as an Alternate Representative of Tanzania to the UN, assisting Dr Salim Ahmed Salim, Tanzania’s Permanent Representative to the UN.

Mr Rupia was one of those who kept the Tanzanian flag flying high; President Nyerere appointed him as Tanzania’s Ambassador to Ethiopia in late 1976 before he was sent to the UN to replace Dr Salim. He returned to Tanzania to serve as the Principal Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In 1986, President Ali Hassan Mwinyi, who served as the second President of Tanzania, appointed Ambassador Rupia as Chief Secretary to the Government of the United Republic of Tanzania. In 1995, Ambassador Rupia retired from public service.

Venturing into politics, business

In 1995, Ambassador Rupia ventured into politics and vied for the Ukonga Constituency, becoming one of the first Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) members to be elected as Members of Parliament after the re-introduction of the multi-party system in Tanzania.  He represented the Ukonga constituency, Dar es Salaam.

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In the 2000 general elections, Ambassador Rupia was one of the most surprising casualties of the elections as he lost his Ukonga constituency parliamentary seat.

In 2000, Ambassador Rupia decided to involve himself in various businesses. At the same time, he was a Board member of various institutions and a shareholder in various companies. He was also developing the business left by his father, the late John Rupia.

Distinguished diplomat

As a way of concluding, I should say that the late Ambassador Rupia was a highly distinguished diplomat with a long record of public service. No wonder President Samia Suluhu Hassan stated after his death:

“I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of former Chief Secretary Ambassador Paul Rupia. We have lost someone who greatly contributed to diplomacy, economic revolution and public service.”

In the same vein, Dr. James Alex Msekela, Chairman of the retired Ambassadors of Tanzania, stated: “The late Ambassador Rupia will remain in the history of Tanzania as a smart politician and a great diplomat.”

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In sync with that, Former Attorney General Judge Frederick Mwita Werema told me: “Thank you for giving Mzee Rupia a deserving eulogy. There are rare of such dedicated souls in this country. May the Lord grant him a safe passage.”

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Ambassador Rupia’s widow, Aunty Rose, for all the insightful WhatsApp religious texts she sends me every day. I’m absolutely thankful.

I also thank one of Ambassador Rupia’s children, Peter, who also happens to be my friend, for WhatsApping me almost daily and, in the process, keeping me updated and informed of the latest news.

Paul Milyango Rupia, today marks one year since you left us, but your memory still shines like the brightest star in the sky. Continue to rest in peace!

Mzee wa Atikali is a writer based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. He’s available at +255 754 744 557. These are the writer’s own opinions and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of The Chanzo. Do you want to publish in this space? Contact our editors at for further clarification.

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