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Mzee Rukhsa: Farewell to an African Statesman

The best way to honour the Mwinyi’s legacy is to identify the “insects” that came with fresh air and complete his reforms like the Chinese with Tanzanian characteristics.

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Tanzania has lost one of its greatest icons. Mzee Ali Hassan Mwinyi, affectionately known as Mzee Rukhsa among his people, is gone, announced President Samia Suluhu Hassan on February 29, 2024, declaring seven days of mourning with the national flag flying at half mast symbolic of a nation in grief.

President Mwinyi assumed the mantle of leadership in 1985 under trying moments, implored former Prime Minister Joseph Warioba, and almost everyone paid homage to this great yet humble statesman at Uhuru Stadium on Friday. The nation was in a dire economic situation, with the most essential commodities becoming luxuries.

Tanzania had its challenges, yet to recover from the damages of war, actively engaged in the liberation struggle and was not immune to the intricacies of the bipolar order. A year before, in 1984, political turmoil in the Isles culminated in the dramatic resignation of President Aboud Jumbe Mwinyi.

The circumstances in Zanzibar of 1984 brought Mzee Mwinyi to the helm of the Revolutionary Council of Zanzibar as President and its Chairman, making history later in 1985 to become President of the United Republic in an unprecedented fashion to date.

Taking over from Mwalimu, the giant of the nation’s independence and liberation struggle and crafter, was no easy task.  In his own words, Mzee Rukhsa likened Mwalimu to Mount Kilimanjaro and himself to an Antihill, perhaps of the Savannah, in the words of Chinua Achebe.

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

In the words of former President Jakaya Kikwete, Mwinyi had tough decisions to make, and he made them because he believed in their value to the national fabric. Certain compromises and balances had to be made. 

President Mwinyi had the daunting task of carrying out reforms with a huge risk of being seen to be undoing the deeds of his giant predecessor. He held the Arusha Declaration by its horns and, in his own words in an address to the Elders of Dar es Salaam, explained what was called the ‘Zanzibar Declaration,’ seen as an alternative to the Arusha blueprint document that set the nation on a socialist path.

President Mwinyi insisted he was not usurping the Arusha declaration but perfecting it to race with time. Life became cheaper, and commodities flowed in shops. Mwinyi criticised his decision that his intention to open the windows was to let in fresh air, but with it came “insects, perhaps in resonance with a British saying that the way to hell is full of good intentions.

Besides the economic reforms, it was under his watch as President and Chairman of the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) that the nation reintroduced the multi-party system. Whether, as a nation, we are better off with the system or not remains a discussion for another day. 

I was among the students of the University of Dar es Salaam who matched to Jangwani grounds in solidarity with the decision of the government to adopt political pluralism in the country.  Mwinyi met us there, telling us, “We’re not an island,” and thus can’t be unconcerned with global affairs.

Mzee Ruksa is credited with these two monumental reforms, economic and political; like Deng Xio Ping to China, he remains our Father of Reforms.

While these two reforms are more pronounced, we must not forget that Mwinyi carried the flickering torch of the continent’s liberation and delivered it safely to posterity. Under his watch, with Tanzania in the lead, we saw the last vestiges of colonialism and the revival of the East African Community (EAC).

The best way to honour the Mwinyi’s legacy is to identify the “insects” that came with fresh air and complete his reforms like the Chinese with Tanzanian characteristics.  

Mwinyi did not intend to throw away the Arusha Declaration. He wanted to perfect it to suit modern times. We could borrow a leaf from the Chinese and embrace a market economy with Tanzanian characteristics.

President Mwinyi left office peacefully, leaving the nation stable and united. Let us go forth and finish his reforms and perfect the values enshrined in the Arusha Declaration.

Hamba kale, Mzee Rukhsa.

Allen C. Kasamala is an Advocate of the High Court of Tanzania and a pan-Africanist. He’s available at allenkasamala@gmail.com. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of The Chanzo. If you are interested in publishing in this space, please get in touch with our editors at editor@thechanzo.com

4 Responses

  1. Kasamala, you have summarized the long story short and very keen to specific…
    Let’s find kick out the “insect”…

  2. Well said Allen. He left a great legacy. May his humble soul rest in eternal peace. Amen.

  3. Being humble is not being weak. Loud politicians often demonstrate their weakness in substance. Mwinyi was a gentleman and a great leader through his humble approach and our politicians today should borrow a leaf from his life experiences. They should also learn to stop lying to the masses which seems to have become something of our norm with many of our politicians.

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