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Goodbye, Mzee Rukhsa, You Leave Us Stronger And Better As Tanzanians

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His Excellency, Alhaj Ali Hassan Mwinyi, affectionately known as Mzee Rukhsa, who had the rare distinction of serving as the third President of Zanzibar from January 30, 1984, to October 24, 1985, and as the second President of Tanzania for a decade from November 5, 1985 to November 23, 1995, passed on, Thursday, at 5.30 PM, succumbing to lung cancer at the ripe old age of 98 at the picturesque Emilio Mzena Memorial Hospital in Dar es Salaam where he was hospitalised. 

President Samia Suluhu Hassan broke the news in a brief televised address to the nation Thursday evening, fulfilling her obligation as stipulated in Section 7 of the National Leaders Funerals Act, 2006, which mandates the Head of State to announce the death of a national leader. Mr Mwinyi passed on three months shy of his 99th birthday.

Mr Mwinyi was born to his parents, Hassan and Asha Sheikh Mwinyi, in the wee hours of the morning of Friday, May 8, 1925, in Kivule, Mkuranga district, Pwani region in what was then Tanganyika and in what is now Tanzania Mainland.

Initially, his parents named him Sihaba, as he was the only male child in the family of five children, and later, they named him Nsaza. He was subsequently named Ali, a religious name. His father wanted him to be a Sheikh; hence, at four, he sent him to Zanzibar to live with his friend, Suwedi Bin Mgeni. 

While in Zanzibar, Mr Mwinyi attended religious classes and was brought up as a devout Muslim. When he reached school age, he was sent to Mangapwani Primary School in 1933, after which he joined Dole Secondary School in 1937. Thereafter, he did a two-year training course at the Zanzibar Teachers Training College and then obtained a teaching Diploma from the University of Durham, England.

Mwinyi began professional life as a teacher in 1945 at his alma mater, Mangapwani Primary School, before becoming the school’s headteacher in 1950. He was then appointed Principal of the Zanzibar Teachers Training College.

Public service

Mwinyi got into politics in 1964 when he joined, as a member, the Afro Shiraz Party (ASP), which was founded on February 5, 1957. He left his post as Principal of the Zanzibar Teachers Training College in 1964 after he was appointed Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Education by Abeid Amani Karume, the founding President of Zanzibar. 

In 1965, Mwinyi was appointed Deputy Director of the Zanzibar State Trading Corporation (ZSTC) and served from 1965 to 1970. In 1968, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, the founding President of Tanzania, appointed Mr Mwinyi as chairperson of Baraza la Kiswahili Tanzania (BAKITA).

In 1970, Mwinyi was appointed to the Tanzanian cabinet as Minister of State in the President’s Office. He once divulged:

“I was summoned to the Zanzibar State House by President Karume. To be honest, when I reached the foot of the stairs leading to his sitting room, I could not help a mild chill running down my spine. President Karume was not only highly respected but he was also feared. He was known to be a man who tolerated no nonsense. 

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“He told me that he had received a phone call from President Nyerere asking him to nominate two Zanzibaris suitable for ministerial posts. Nyerere would choose one of the two. He finished by telling me jokingly to keep my fingers crossed and that I should listen to the 8 o’clock news bulletin broadcast over Radio Tanzania. I was the luckier one. Nyerere had preferred me.”

In 1972, President Nyerere appointed him Minister of Health. In 1973, he was transferred to the Ministry of Home Affairs. On January 22, 1977, Mwinyi resigned from the Minister for Home Affairs position. The police in Mwanza and Shinyanga were arrested and incarcerated for the killings of civilians who had allegedly killed old women who they believed were witches because they had very red eyes. 

Mwinyi resigned honourably, for it was out of his will, not a push from President Nyerere. His resignation was driven by the much-cherished doctrine of ministerial responsibility. He felt compelled to resign simply because the atrocities took place in his docket, and no wonder he stated in the last sentence of his resignation letter: “Due to this embarrassment, I request you to accept my resignation.”

The said resignation remains a rare act of accountability by a public leader in Tanzania to date. Later in the same year, President Nyerere, acting on the advice of the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Benjamin Mkapa, appointed Mwinyi Ambassador to Egypt.

After a few years in Egypt, Mwinyi was recalled by President Nyerere as his son, Abdullah Mwinyi (MP), told The Citizen newspaper on March 8, 2020:

“Our father was recalled as Ambassador of Egypt- upon the insistence of the President of Zanzibar amidst rumours that he would be appointed to be Zanzibar’s Chief Minister under Aboud Jumbe’s government in Zanzibar. This did not materialise; thus, our father was out of work for approximately two years. Soon, the Ambassadorial savings would run out. 

“At the time, there were limited opportunities in trading or any meaningful employment outside of government. Fortunately, we had a home in Tandika, Temeke, where we moved. We set up home, and our mother decided to make ice lollies; we had freezers from Egypt and fried maandazi for sale and upkeep. Our mother, through this venture, was the breadwinner throughout this time. I was enrolled at Forodhani Primary School and had to take public transport for the very first time. It was all a big adventure.”

In 1982, President Nyerere appointed Mwinyi Minister of Tourism and Natural Resources. In 1983, he was appointed Minister of State in the Vice President’s Office.


In April 1984, Mwinyi was installed President of Zanzibar and Chairman of the Zanzibar Revolutionary Council on the recommendation of Sheikh Thabit Kombo. He succeeded Aboud Jumbe, who was forced to resign to take responsibility for the growth of secessionist tendencies in Zanzibar. 

When Mwinyi became the President of Zanzibar, he introduced economic reforms that allowed market forces a more significant role than CCM’s socialist policies would typically permit. These reforms improved living standards in Zanzibar.

READ MORE: Getting to Know Archbishop Protase Rugambwa 

President Nyerere announced he would not vie for President in the 1985 general elections. Hence, a search for his successor began. On August 15, 1985, President Nyerere presented the name of Mwinyi to the Special CCM Conference as a sole candidate after being endorsed by CCM’s Central Committee. 

Three names had been proposed to the Committee, but Rashid Mfaume Kawawa withdrew his name, and Dr Salim Ahmed Salim wasn’t considered. Initially, there was a fierce battle, and it is well documented that Dr Salim was Mwalimu Nyerere’s preferred successor. Even Dr Salim stated so at a press conference in Dar es Salaam in 2005.

In the October 1985 elections, Mwinyi garnered 92 per cent of the votes and was sworn in as the second President of Tanzania on November 5, 1985. He was succeeded in Zanzibar by Idriss Abdul Wakil. Mwinyi was a promising leader, as evidenced by his achievements in the short period he led Zanzibar.

Mwinyi, who had the rare distinction of serving as President of Zanzibar and Tanzania, passed on February 29, succumbing to lung cancer at the ripe old age of 98 at the Emilio Mzena Memorial Hospital in Dar es Salaam.
Newspaper clipping with an announcement of Mwinyi as the President elect of Tanzania | Wikipedia

Mwinyi faced severe economic problems when he assumed the presidency of Tanzania. Without mincing words, Tanzania was on the brink of collapsing economically. Mwinyi had to send the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Benjamin Mkapa, to Zimbabwe and India to seek economic assistance. They rescued us. Mwinyi divulged this information after the death of former President Robert Mugabe on September 6, 2019.

The most essential goods, like sugar, soaps, etc., were unavailable in Tanzanian shops; roads had deteriorated; hospitals had no drugs; schools had no books. So Mwinyi sought to reach an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which Tanzania had been negotiating for six weeks. 

As a result of the agreement, donor countries agreed to a debt restructuring, whereas some countries wrote off Tanzania’s debts entirely. As part of the 1986 IMF Agreement, Mwinyi introduced a three-year Economic Recovery Plan.

These pragmatic economic and trade liberalisation policies revived Tanzania’s economy, and the shortage of essential commodities was significantly reduced if not completely eliminated. The hassle and torment of queuing for a long time, coupled with the need to offer inducements before one got essential commodities, was totally eradicated. Mr Mwinyi had ended a crippling shortage of consumer goods. President Samia, thus, was absolutely right when she once said:

“When President Mwinyi entered office, the country was experiencing a deep recession brought about by various factors, including the rise of oil prices in 1973, drought in 1975, the collapse of the EAC in 1977, the Kagera war and tough conditions imposed by development partners plus international financial institutions. 

“All of these resulted in an acute shortage of dollars, leading to a lack of essential commodities such as food items, clothes and spare parts. [Mwinyi] was the one who led economic reforms that ushered in a free market economy.”

Mwinyi and print media industry

In 1988, Mwinyi’s government opened the print media industry to private participation. The first private company to take the plunge was the Business Times Limited, which began publishing a weekly newspaper called Business Times

READ MORE: Sofia Kawawa: The Legendary Mouthpiece for Tanzanian Women

Tanzania had been a political oligarchy state in which the only media available was owned and controlled by the State. That was the government newspaper, the Standard, later the Daily News, the Sunday News, the party newspapers Uhuru and Mzalendo, and Radio Tanzania Dar es Salaam (RTD). The media in those years had been every inch the tool of State thinking and policy direction.

No wonder Andrew Bomani, son of the first indigenous Attorney General of Tanzania, Mark Bomani, wrote in The Citizen newspaper on January 10, 2024: “I contend that Mzee Mwinyi deserves hands down the title of ‘Father of Free Media in Tanzania.’ I sincerely urge the Media Council of Tanzania (MCT) to handsomely award the man on the ‘World Press Freedom Day.’”

Mwinyi was forced to shut down the University of Dar es Salaam on May 12, 1990, after an endless strike which targeted him personally, calling him names. The strike was dubbed ‘The mother of all strikes’ at the Hill. Students had allegedly disrespected him. 

On that day, he had no option but to close the University and re-open it in January 1991. He reinstated some of the expelled students to complete their studies. However, thirteen were not allowed to return after being identified as the ringleaders.

Mwinyi was re-elected as President of Tanzania in 1990. He garnered a resounding 95 per cent of the votes in the general election. He was the last Tanzanian President to be elected into office as a sole presidential candidate.

Nyalali Commission

On February 27, 1991, Mwinyi appointed a Presidential Commission, popularly known as ‘the Nyalali Commission,’ comprising distinguished Tanzanians under the leadership of His Lordship Francis Nyalali, the then Chief Justice, to collect people’s views on whether they wanted a multiparty or single party system. Eighty per cent of Tanzanians proposed that the country retain the mono-party system, against 20 per cent who preferred the multiparty system.

The Commission visited the Father of the Nation, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, in Butiama to tap his wisdom. Mwalimu advised the Commission to recommend the reintroduction of the multiparty system to widen democracy even though the majority were in favour of the single-party system. 

The Commission subscribed to Mwalimu’s views and submitted its report to Mwinyi on January 16, 1992. On January 17, 1992, CCM’s Central Committee and National Executive Committee (NEC) met and endorsed the recommendations. A historic decision to make Tanzania a multiparty state was taken at the CCM Congress held in Dar es Salaam on February 18, 1992. 

Thus, on May 28, 1992, the National Assembly passed the Political Parties Bill. Mwinyi assented to the Bill on May 29, 1992, allowing for a multiparty system. The Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania was amended accordingly via the Eighth Amendment.

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

The reintroduction of the multiparty system in Tanzania on July 1, 1992, triggered the demand for a three-tier government. In 1993, Mwinyi was confronted with a situation where a faction of radical Parliamentarians from the ruling party, CCM, popularly known as G-55, demanded a Tanganyikan government within the Union. The move necessitated Mwalimu Nyerere’s intervention. He stepped in and thwarted their plan, and silenced them altogether.


Treason depends on its outcome; if it succeeds, it’s a revolution; if the coup d’etat fails, it’s treason. Once treason has occurred, all involved are considered traitors. This is what happened in the early 1980s. Several Tanzanians, including the late businessman and football devotee Zacharia Hanspope, were convicted of treason and sentenced to life imprisonment. The late Hanspope once narrated:

“By 1982, Tanzania was going through an economic crisis with an acute shortage of essential commodities. Some of us got fed up and looked for change. The only viable option to achieve change was through the use of force. We had nothing personal against President Nyerere. The only thing was that he was surrounded by hypocrites whose survival depended solely on maintaining the status quo. 

“One Tom Lugangira engineered the plot from November 1982 and was to take place on January 9, 1983. However, the plot never saw the light of day because the system got wind of the arrangement, and most of us were rounded up two days to execution. On Friday, January 7, 1983, we were to assemble at a house in Kinondoni for a final briefing as the coup was to take place the following night. 

“I was close to the house when I saw Commando Mohamed Tamimu being chased by three people. I heard shots, and Tamimu fell off the pick-up truck that he had jumped into in his attempt to get away. When I saw the body being taken to the mortuary, I approached the attendant. I gave him some money and requested to see the body. 

“What he told me was very scary. He said those guys had taken a piece of paper from Tamimu’s pockets with a list of names. I returned to the Kinondoni house and found most of my colleagues arrested. At that point, it was every man for himself as everything had fallen apart. I was arrested the same night, and the rest is history.”

However, Mwinyi pardoned them towards the end of his second term in 1995 under Article 45(1) of the Constitution, which empowers the President to grant a pardon to any person convicted of any offence by a court of law. Mwinyi followed in the footsteps of President Nyerere, who pardoned Bibi Titi Mohammed in 1972 after being convicted of treason in 1970.

No human being is perfect; hence, Mwinyi was not perfect as a human being. Towards the end of his last presidential term, he abruptly appointed numerous district commissioners. This was seen as a way to reward his cronies since good practice dictated that he left the task to his successor, President Mkapa, who was to be sworn in on November 23, 1995. Thus, Mwinyi set a bad precedent. 

As it were, President Jakaya Kikwete continued to make appointments despite the general elections having been held on October 25, 2015.

Book launch

President Samia launched Mwinyi’s memoir on May 8, 2021, during his 96th birthday, titled Mzee Rukhsa: Safari ya Maisha Yangu, loosely translating to Mr Permission: The Journey of My Life

The book is fully packed with the history of Tanzania’s second-phase President, from birth, childhood, and school life to extraordinary political career. Mwinyi candidly assessed his stewardship of the country in the 491-page book.

READ MORE: Remembering Justice Robert Kisanga: A Giant of Tanzania’s Legal Profession

Mwinyi follows former President Benjamin Mkapa, who launched his autobiography, My Life, My Purpose: A Tanzanian President Remembers, on November 12, 2019. There are many lessons to learn from Mwiny’s book, including the importance of leading with humility, empathy, commitment and the power of owning your mistakes.

Mwinyi’s predecessor, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, wrote many books but never an autobiography.

Many Tanzanians are unaware that Mwinyi ushered in a new era of ownership of mobile phones and television sets in the country. In other words, before 1995, Tanzanians were prevented from owning a TV set or these gadgets.

“My government allowed investment in mobile phones whereby, for the first time, Tanzanians owned the phones,” Mwinyi reveals in his memoir. “On March 28, 1995, I officially launched the first mobile phone service provided by Mobitel. The government also allowed citizens to own computers and televisions, whereas before, one had to have a permit; otherwise, one could be called an economic saboteur.” (Translation mine).

Mwinyi was the third President of Zanzibar and the second President of the United Republic of Tanzania. He is the only Tanzanian to have served as President of both Zanzibar and Tanzania.

After serving two consecutive terms as President of Tanzania, Mwinyi retired gracefully on November 23, 1995, in compliance with the Constitution. He will be remembered for many notable achievements. Still, the tremendous economic reforms he instituted during his term of office stand high. Admittedly, the task was not easy, but then changes were inevitable.

In recognition of his exemplary service, Mwinyi was awarded honorary titles. In 2011, he was awarded the Order of Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere. In 2012, the Open University of Tanzania awarded him the Doctor of Letters. In 2013, he was awarded the Doctor of Philosophy in Business Management by the East African University.

The following are notable eponyms of Mwinyi: Ali Hassan Mwinyi Road, Ali Hassan Mwinyi Stadium, Tabora, Ali Hassan Mwinyi Islamic Secondary School, Tabora and Mwinyi Secondary School, Pwani region.

As was the case with Amani Abeid Karume, the son of Abeid Amani Karume, the founding President of Zanzibar, Mwinyi’s son, Dr Hussein Ali Mwinyi, was also elected President of Zanzibar in 2020.

Mwinyi, a key figure in the country’s political landscape, enjoyed more longevity after his office tenure than his predecessor or successors. He had been out of office for over a quarter of a century.

Mwinyi was once asked about the secret of such a long and enriching life. He cited the following: not getting angry easily, exercising daily, being a teetotaller and observing what goes into his mouth, i.e., always eating a healthy diet. He is survived by two wives, Sitti and Khadija, and many children and grandchildren.

He will be laid to rest on Saturday in Zanzibar.

In view thereof, as day follows night, Mwinyi’s will, if any, will take precedence over any family decision. Mwinyi has left us, but he has left us stronger and better. We take comfort in the knowledge that he has left us for a better place, the shining city that awaits him.

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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