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‘He Was a Towering, Multifaceted Personality’: Happy Posthumous 85th Birthday, Benjamin William Mkapa

Mkapa, who died on July 23, 2020, would have turned 85 years today, November 12, 2023.

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Benjamin William Mkapa, who had the rare privilege to serve as the third President of Tanzania for a decade from November 23, 1995, to December 21, 2005, and who completed his earthly race on Thursday, July 23, 2020, at 21:30 hours at the picturesque Emilio Mzena Memorial hospital in Dar es Salaam, would have turned 85 years today, November 12, 2023, had the cold hands of death not taken him away from us. 

Almost three and half years have passed since the nation bid him an emotional farewell. It is mind-boggling how time flies! William Shakespeare, an English playwright, poet and actor widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language,  wrote on July 23, 1690: “The evil that men do lives after them, but the good is often interred with their bones.”

As I do not want “the good” that the late President Mkapa did for our country to be “interred with his bones,” I have, consequently, penned this special article in his honour.

Nativity and education

Mkapa came into the world on Saturday, November 12, 1938. Lupaso, a remote rural village in Masasi district, Mtwara region, was his birthplace. He was the baby in a family of four children to his father, William Matwani and his mother, Stephania Nambanga. 

Two of Mkapa’s siblings, Marcella and Blassius, passed away before him. Marcella, the firstborn, passed away in 2000, while Blassius, the secondborn, passed away in 1993. On the other hand, Bernard “Mwenye Mkuti,” who was the third born, passed away on July 17, 2023.

Mkapa’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.

The late Mzee Matwani enrolled Mkapa at Lupaso mission school in 1945. Mkapa was the youngest and smallest student in the entire school. In 1948, he sat for the STD Four exams. 

He was one of only two students, out of thirty students, who were selected to join Abbey Secondary School, Ndanda, in 1949. In 1951, Mkapa 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.

Mkapa was a super-brilliant student who was regularly awarded for being first in his class. His favourite subjects were English and Maths. In 1954, Mkapa was La crème de la crème after being named ‘Tanganyika One’ ala Edwin Mtei who was named ‘Tanganyika One’ in 1952. 

Mkapa divulged in his autobiography, My Life, My Purpose: A Tanzanian President Remembers, thus: “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.”

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In sync with that, the late Frank Mwanjisi, in an exclusive interview with the RAI Newspaper on August 5, 1999, stated: “In the final exams in 1954, there were about 600 candidates in the country. Among them, only nine candidates scored in Division One. I was among them. The other ones whom I remember are Ben Mkapa and Francis Nyalali.”

In 1955, Mkapa joined St. Francis College, Pugu. One of the teachers there was Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, who taught him History before his resignation on March 22, 1955. 

As expected, Mkapa completed his studies in 1956 and scored Division One in his final exams. Phillip Magani, Benno Nkane and John Kambona were some of his classmates and remained Mkapa’s lifelong friends.

University education

In 1957, Mkapa enrolled in Makerere University, Uganda, known then as “The Harvard of Africa.” He studied History, Economics and English. Francis Nyalali, who was a contemporary of Mkapa, served as the President of the Makerere Students Guild while Mkapa was the Deputy President. 

Mkapa also 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.

Mkapa was a prolific writer, and in 1958, he founded the magazine Penpoint. Kenyan James Ngugi, later Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, arrived in 1959. Ngũgĩ’s iconic literary tour of duty began here, writing three of his outstanding novels in Makerere and becoming the first East African to publish a novel in English, Weep Not, Child.  

Mkapa and Ngũgĩ were writing and publishing literary juvenilia in college magazines, The Makererean and Transition. Mkapa eventually earned a BA (English) honours degree in 1962 and then returned to Tanganyika. In those days, being an ex-Makererian gave one enormous status.

Mkapa’s first port of  call

Mkapa’s career began in local administration in Dodoma as an Administrative Officer in April 1962. In August 1962, Mkapa 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, in 1964, became Personal Assistant to Oscar Kambona, the first Foreign Affairs Minister.

Because of Mkapa’s grasp of the Queen’s idiom and his rich baritone voice,  TBC allowed him to read news in English part-time. He once divulged: “I read the news in English as TBC had asked me to do this because of my fluency in English.”

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Ambassador Ferdinand Ruhinda further narrated, 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.”

Late one evening in May 1966, President Nyerere appointed Mkapa Managing Editor of the TANU party newspaper, The Nationalist, at the tender age of just 28 after he had summoned him. 

A panicky Mkapa shortly presented himself before the Head of State only to be informed that he had been appointed Managing Editor.

“Mwalimu called me to his home,” Mkapa once narrated. “I remember being in awe of him, wondering what business he could possibly have with me. To my great surprise, he asked me to become editor of the party newspaper, The Nationalist

He said: ‘Ben, I think you can help us. I want you to become the editor of The Nationalist. I think you can do it.’ I knew next to nothing about running a newspaper. But I realised it was a challenge I could not refuse. I said yes. In many ways, that decision shaped the rest of my life.”

Mkapa expressed his willingness and yet feared that he was too green for the job. President  Nyerere, thus, sent him to the UK for a six-month training. Thereafter, Mkapa’s stewardship saw the newspaper’s journalism levels increase, his tender age and inexperience notwithstanding.

Mkapa ties the knot

On Saturday, August 27, 1966, Mkapa 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 an ambassador under Mwalimu Nyerere’s presidency, and Lucy Lameck, then Junior Minister, were the Best Man and Matron of Honour, respectively.

“I met my wife, Anna, at work,” Mkapa once divulged. “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.”

In April 1972, Mkapa was appointed by President Nyerere as the first Managing Editor of the government English newspapers, The Daily News and Sunday News. His vast experience in the news media led President Nyerere to appoint him his Press Secretary in 1974.

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In 1976, Mkapa was appointed by President Nyerere as the founding Managing Director of the Tanzania News Agency, Shirika la Habari Tanzania (SHIHATA). In the same year, 1976, President Nyerere appointed Mkapa 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 Mkapa: “I need someone there who can speak English well, knows diplomacy, is well educated and can compete with those fellows. I have decided you should go.”

Mkapa appointed minister

Mkapa continued to edge his way into a special place in President Nyerere’s political heart. In 1977, President Nyerere appointed Mkapa Minister for Foreign Affairs after he had been appointed and sworn in as a nominated Member of Parliament.

Ironically, after the appointment, Mkapa became the Foreign Minister while H.E Ambassador Anthony Nyaki, the Best Man at his wedding in 1966, became his Principal Secretary!

In 1980, President Nyerere transferred Mkapa to the Ministry of Information and Culture. In 1982, Mkapa was appointed by President Nyerere, Tanzania’s High Commissioner to Canada. Some foreigners were surprised as they considered this a demotion. 

However, Mkapa responded, “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.”

In 1983, President Nyerere appointed Mkapa Tanzania Ambassador to the United States. In 1984, President Nyerere appointed Mkapa Minister for Foreign Affairs. In 1985, Mkapa ran for a parliamentary seat in Nanyumbu, Mtwara and won. 

In November 1985, Ali Hassan Mwinyi, who served as the second President of Tanzania from 1985 to 1995, re-appointed Mkapa Minister for Foreign Affairs. In 1990, President Mwinyi transferred Mkapa to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting after he was re-elected as an MP for Nanyumbu Constituency.

In 1992, President Mwinyi transferred  Mkapa to the Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education as founding Minister.

Mkapa contests the presidency

Mkapa had no intentions whatsoever to run for the presidency. However, some Tanzanians coaxed him to pick forms to vie for the presidential nomination on his Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party ticket. 

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These were Joseph Warioba, Ambassadors Ferdinand Ruhinda, Adam Marwa, Saleh Tambwe and Suleiman Hemed. Others were his friends, namely Kabenga Nsa Kaisi, Mateo Quares, Patrick Qorro, Edgar Maokola-Majogo, Jenerali Ulimwengu, Walter Bgoya and Yusuph Mushi.

Consequently, on Sunday, May 7, 1995,  Mkapa 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 Warioba, Ulimwengu and Ambassador Ruhinda.  Mkapa 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. Mkapa was elected and sworn in as the third President of Tanzania on November 23, 1995. 

As Mwalimu Nyerere had endorsed him and 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!

Mkapa immediately embarked on a new economic journey as the country was wobbling in severe economic doldrums.

Mkapa retires gracefully

Mkapa retired gracefully at the end of his second term, on December 21, 2005, as has become the custom amongst presidents in Tanzania. Mkapa’s detractors, who had, in 1995, considered him unfit for the presidency, were all very impressed by his achievements. 

No wonder Mkapa said that he was leaving office a happy man. Better still, Mkapa won kudos nationally and internationally for rejecting calls to extend his rule beyond the constitutional limit of two five-year terms.

After retirement in 2005, Mkapa did not want to sit idle and do nothing. So, he occupied himself with various political and development issues.

“We may have retired, but we are not tired,” Mkapa once remarked. “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.”

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On August 27, 2016, Mkapa and Anna celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary at St. Peter’s church, Oysterbay. H.E. Ambassador Anthony Nyaki, who was his best man on August 27, 1966, was also in attendance. 

Unfortunately, Lucy Lameck, who was the Matron of Honour, wasn’t there as she passed away on March 21, 1993.

Excellent debater

Mkapa’s ability to debate is an attribute many associate with him. Being a good debater requires a mastery of facts, issues and a good command of languages. 

Mkapa was an excellent debater who fitted perfectly Mwalimu Nyerere’s axiom Don’t Shout, Argue. Mkapa was an ace and eloquent debater whose skills in constructing arguments were a rarity in the crop of the leaders of his time.

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, Mkapa’s formidable debating skills were on 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, Augustine Mrema, who had dubbed Mkapa ‘Bubu’ prior to the debate. 

When it came to defending his position, like his mentor Mwalimu, Mkapa was like a lion who would send his opponent shivering. On that day, Mkapa magnificently set the stage for him to become the third President of Tanzania. 

No wonder Patrick Rutabanzibwa 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 and only televised presidential debate in Tanzania. Mkapa’s seriousness, eloquence and ability to effortlessly assemble facts to make his point impressed many.”

Devout Catholic

Mkapa was a devout Catholic, faithfully attending Sunday Mass wherever he was. I had the privilege of attending Sunday Mass with him for many years at St. Immaculate Conception Church in Upanga. 

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Mkapa was always punctually 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 Mkapa assumed the presidency, he changed and started attending the Seven O’clock Swahili Sunday Mass. Mkapa 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. 

On the day he was to be sworn in as president, Mkapa began his day praying the morning mass at St. Immaculate Church and then proceeded to the National Stadium to assume the mantle of leadership from President Mwinyi. 

Similarly, on the day he was passing on the baton, he started his day at St. Immaculate Church and then proceeded to the National Stadium to hand over the leadership baton to H.E. President Jakaya Kikwete.

No wonder the Archbishop of Dar es Salaam, Yuda Thaddeus Ruwa’ichi, said in a video message on July 24, 2020: “Mkapa was a Parishioner of the St. Immaculate Conception Church, Upanga, and I dare say he was a good Parishioner.”

Similarly, Mr William Erio, the Director General of the Fair Competition Commission (FCC), informed me, “My uncle was, indeed, a devout Catholic. Even when COVID-19 was at its peak with many people having opted to stay home, he never skipped Sunday Mass.”

Better still, Mkapa also respected other people’s faiths. Mkapa was a Catholic who married Ms Anna Maro, a Lutheran, and he maintained that cordial and peaceful coexistence with her. 

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.

Mkapa gave government buildings to religious institutions to establish universities. For example, he handed over Mazengo Secondary 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 the Magamba Secondary School buildings to the Evangelical Lutheran Church to start their Moses Kolowa Memorial University.

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Immediately after being sworn in as President, Mkapa made a personal commitment never to sign execution orders while in office, saying: “For as long as I remain President, I will not execute a death warrant.”

Mkapa was, consequently, the first Tanzanian president to desist from authorising the execution of inmates on death row throughout his 10-year tenure of office, commuting them to life imprisonment instead. 

This was due to his religious belief that one human isn’t justified in taking the life of another. He was firmly of the view that God is one who gives life, and he is the one with the right to take a life, not another human being. 

His predecessors, Mwalimu  Nyerere and Mwinyi, authorised 10 and 82 execution orders, respectively. It is worth noting that all successors of President Mkapa have emulated him, and no one sentenced to suffer death by hanging has been executed. 

Thus, although the death sentence is still on the statute books, there have been no executions since 1994. In the same vein, the recent International Federation for Human Rights report is to the effect that: “In Tanzania, no executions have taken place since 1994.”

A staunch ‘Yanga’ fan

It is well-documented that Mkapa was a staunch fan of the Young Africans Sports Club, popularly known as ‘Yanga.’ 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.”

Mkapa always lived the code of life of his Benedictine missionary teachers – “Ora et labora–, that is, Pray and Work. He valued work and gave it the best he had with amazing discipline. 

He wrote in his autobiography: “My sons, Stephan and Nicholaus, ask me, When are you going to settle down and rest? This country will always be there.”

Mkapa was an indefatigable peacemaker at the forefront of brokering peace deals during conflicts in Africa. 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,” Ambassador Masima narrated. “Mwalimu Nyerere was the one who went and enabled him to get out of prison after discussions with the then President of Zambia,  Chiluba.”

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“The man behind all this was Ben Mkapa,” he added. “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 finalised it.”

Furthermore, in DRC,  Mkapa 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 Mkapa 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.”

Philanthropic Mkapa

Mkapa 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.

“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,” Ulimwengu wrote on August 5, 2020. 

“Mkapa was then the Managing Editor of the TANU newspapers The Nationalist and Uhuru. He was a jovial man and quite helpful. He helped me out with the airport fee one had to pay before flying.”

Similarly, 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 them. I was one of them. He paid for all four years of secondary education.”

Along the same lines, former Dar es Salaam Regional Commissioner 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 visited 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.”

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Mkapa himself 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.”

A bookworm

Mkapa was a voracious and an avid reader of books. He had an insatiable appetite for books.

“My favourite hobby is reading,” the late Tanzanian leader once admitted. “I read a lot, 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.”

Ambassador Ombeni Sefue, who once served as Mkapa’s Personal Assistant, also shared this observation on July 14, 2021, appreciating his former boss’ energy of reading.

“Ben liked to read –newspapers, journals and books. He read a lot,” Mr Sefue noted. “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, Mkapa’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.”


For some who did not know Mkapa well, he wrongly seemed arrogant. This was because he possessed this aura of being confident and authoritative. 

No wonder Mwalimu Nyerere once said, “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.”

Mkapa was a devout Catholic whose religious beliefs didn’t allow him to see any man, including a president, as being Mtukufu

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It is, therefore, no surprise that when he was appointed Minister for Foreign Affairs on November 5, 1985, he sought an appointment with H.E. President Alhaj Ali Hassan Mwinyi and with great humility, he informed the President that he would address him as ‘Your Excellency the President’ and not Mtukufu Rais.

President Mwinyi, being a humble man himself, understood Mkapa’s proposition and promptly agreed with him.

On November 28, 1995, when announcing his Cabinet with invited guests and reporters, Mkapa refused to be glorified and only wanted to be called ‘Mr President’ or ‘Your Excellency’, not Mtukufu Rais. He also refused to have his picture on the national currency. 

“I dislike glorification,” Mkapa clarified in his autobiography. “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 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.”

A selfless leader

Unlike some past and present African presidents, including Mobutu Sese Seko of DRC, Mkapa did not favour his native home village, Lupaso ala Mobutu’s Gbadollite. 

Mkapa always considered the country a home, not just where he was born. In fact, even the tarmac on the road to Lupaso was poured in under John Magufuli’s presidency. 

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, I am building for him so that when the time comes for his burial, the body will pass on a paved road.”

Mkapa was a true patriot and a brilliant public servant who dedicated his entire life to serving his nation with honour, dignity and excellence. 

H.E Jakaya Kikwete said thus, 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.”

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Mkapa 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 his country’s interest.

He 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, Mkapa, 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 Resident Magistrate Court as a defence witness in a Sh2.5 billion theft case against Prof Costa Mahalu, former Tanzanian Ambassador to Italy, regarding the purchase of the Embassy building in Italy. 

This is because Mkapa had been shocked to find Prof Mahalu charged while he was the one who had authorised the said purchase as President. Eventually, Prof Mahalu was acquitted.

Stickler for punctuality

Mkapa’s former bodyguard and former Regional Commissioner for Arusha, Hon. Idd Hassan  Kimanta, narrated on July 26, 2020: “Mkapa’s time-

consciousness was out of this world.”

Similarly, former Chief Secretary Ambassador Matern Lumbanga, who served alongside Mkapa, stated on July 25, 2020: “Mkapa was a very smart President. He was very conscious of time. If the meeting were set to begin at 10.00 am, he would step in the boardroom at 9.55 sharp.”

The economy was shambling when President Nyerere retired on November 5, 1985. Consequently, President Ali Hassan Mwinyi had to send Mkapa to Zimbabwe and India to ask for economic assistance. They rescued us. 

President Mwinyi divulged this after the death of President Mugabe on September 6, 2019. Likewise, when Mwinyi retired on November 22, 1995, the economy was also a shambles. 

Ultimately, it was Mkapa who brought the country back from the brink of bankruptcy in 1995, as he reveals in his autobiography: “I was sworn in on 23rd November 1995, and in the following morning my Chief Secretary Matern Lumbanga held a frank meeting with me which really shocked me- the economy was a shambles!”

Mkapa was the first Tanzanian President in history to leave the country economically stable at the end of his presidency in 2005. Consequently, Kikwete, who served as the fourth President of Tanzania, thus, inherited a solid economy.

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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.”

Mkapa’s last appearance in public was on July 18, 2020, at Azania Front Church, where he went to pay his last respects to the late Philemon Mgaya, former Mwalimu Nyerere’s Aide de Camp. 

On the other hand, Mkapa’s last public speech happened just a few weeks before he died, at the foundation stone laying ceremony for the construction of the Chamwino State House on May 30, 2020. 

With eloquence and his hallmark authoritative voice, he put the record straight by highlighting the foundational work of previous administrations.

“There is time for everything: a time to be born and a time to die.” (Ecclesiastes 3:2).

Tanzania woke up on July 24, 2020, to the shocking news that the Almighty had called Mkapa home. Mkapa bid adieu to the world on Thursday, July 23, 2020 at the Emilio Mzena Memorial hospital, Dar es Salaam at 9.30 pm. 

Mkapa’s sudden demise, which shocked the entire nation, was announced by the then-President, Dr John Magufuli.

Mr Erio divulged the following info on Sunday, July 26, 2020: “Mkapa was admitted for malaria treatment on Wednesday. He had shown signs of recovery 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, Mkapa was heroically laid to rest close to his father and mother in the clan’s graveyard in his natal village of Lupaso, Masasi, Mtwara. Lupaso’s most famous son had come home, and the world shared in his family’s grief.

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It marked the end of an extraordinary journey for Mkapa, who was survived by his wife, Mama Anna, his two children, Mr Stephan Mkapa and Mr Nicholaus Mkapa, and his wife, Mrs Foster Mkapa, as well as his two grandchildren, namely Nigel Mkapa and Nathaniel Mkapa.

A towering personality

Mkapa was a towering and multi-faceted personality. There is no president who did not have their shortfalls.  Mkapa was not perfect in any sense of the word. His work, like the work of many other presidents, has its highs and lows.

I concur entirely with Her Excellency, President Samia Suluhu Hassan, that the history of this country cannot be written without a Golden Chapter of the late President Mkapa, who has left behind a shining legacy. 

I call on everyone to tap into Mkapa’s legacy and ensure that everything he stood for lives on. Dr Hellen Senkoro, the CEO of the Mkapa Foundation, stated on July 14, 2021, that Mkapa did so much to his country while in office and after his term in office. 

“He dedicated his life to the poor and underserved. We feel strongly that we have a duty to honour his life and celebrate his legacy,” she said. “We are determined to carry over from where he ended and do our level best to keep his ideas and conviction immortal and impactful. It is why we commemorate this day from now onwards.”

In sync with that, Mama Anna Mkapa stated on December 15, 2022: “While the late Benjamin Mkapa’s body is gone, his soul and inspirations remain in the battles he left behind.”

Journey well in your eternal journey, Benjamin William Mkapa!

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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